Guardians of Angels: 2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats experts prepared a 2014 annual report for Guardians of Angels: A History of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people. Thank you all for showing an interest in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Click here to see the complete report.

1911 LAPD: A Leader in Technology … Well, Sort Of

In 1911, the Los Angeles Times warned “Lawbreakers Beware” as the Los Angeles Police Department was at again. You see, LAPD loves technology—whatever it takes to get one-up on the bad guys. Seemingly always outnumbered, the department of 1911 had to be inventive; so as they would throughout their history, its leaders instinctively turned to technology.

An LAPD officer trying out the "Power Skates."

An LAPD officer trying out the “Power Skates.”

With the benefit of cutting-edge devices, the modern LAPD patrolled the entire city in the early 20th century using automobiles and motorcycles, leaving the old, dependable foot beat cop in the dust. The new machinery only seemed to emphasize the slowness of patrolmen. But the street-smart cop was not about to fade away like his four-legged friends.

So when a local citizen came to then Chief Charles Sebastian (1911-1915) with an invention to literally propel the foot beat cop as fast as those in the new automobile, the chief quickly ordered a field trial of what Mr. Herbert Chamberlin termed his “Power Skates.” According to his design, these specially created skates would allow properly equipped foot beat officers to “speed past” their motorized colleagues. There were two types of these skates: One had two wheels and was a “high-speed” design that would allow the cop to reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour; the other had four wheels for each skate and was for regular, slower foot beat duty. The skates were propelled by the weight of the officer stepping forward as if walking; a worm gear “commuting the vertical to circular motion” drove the officer forward—or so it was promised.

As history would have it, the “Power Skates” were not approved, possibly saving hundreds of days of lost time from injuries—as the one big drawback of the design was clear: no brakes!

What’s In a Picture: The Entire Los Angeles Police Department 1904

This particular photograph of the entire Los Angeles Police Department, taken circa 1904, has continually been mistakenly marked as being snapped in 1890. To photo historians, this 14-year error is important to correct. The image was taken at the entry to the newly constructed Los Angeles County Courthouse at Broadway and Temple Street. The building was completed 1891.

The entire Los Angeles Police Department in 1904

The entire Los Angeles Police Department in 1904

If one was to accept the date of 1890, then I would argue, where is Chief John Glass (1889-1899), who was never absent from any LAPD group photograph during his tenure. No one in the photograph has the stars of the chief of police displayed on their uniform. They all wear the series two badge that was worn from 1890 to 1909.

Those present for this official portrait of the LAPD lends itself to identifying the year of the image. Standing at attention, with his trademark long, drooping mustache, is Walter Auble (front row on left), who was chief of police from 1905 to 1906—a year after this photo was taken. The chief of police in 1904 was William Hammell. Why he would not be present for this significant image is not known, but he is nowhere to be found.
The two ladies present give substance to the date of 1904. The diminutive Lucy Gray and her daughter Aletha Gilbert (1902-1929) are given the prominent position of being framed by Auble and the Detective Bureau. Matron Gray died in March of 1904, eliminating the date of 1905 when Auble was chief.

Chief Walter Auble would serve one year as chief and would later be gunned down by a burglary suspect. Lucy Gray died of pneumonia shortly after this photo was taken. Aletha Gilbert became LA’s first “City Mother” and served the LAPD until her retirement in 1929. The iconic Los Angeles County Courthouse was torn down in 1932.

National Radio Interview

bill

LAPD Historian James Bultema on Bill Martinez Live – Tuesday, Oct. 29th at 9:47 AM ET
Duration: appoximately 9:47 AM ET to 10:10 AM ET (appoximately 25 minutes)

Topic:  Guardians of Angels-A History of the LA Police Dept. from a police insider on the LAPD including:
  • Frontier Justice – LA Style – when Los Angeles justice dispensed with niceties
  • How a Chief of Police was gunned down by one of his cops over reward money
  • The “Man from Mars” bombing that almost leveled Central Station
  • The Dirty 30´s-gangsters & corruption
  • Christopher Dorner Rampage
  • The Simpson-Goldman Murders
  • Bultema on Mark Fuhrman, the OJ Trial and its effect on the LAPD
  • Rodney King Beating & Riots-20 years later and what needs to be told

What’s In a Picture: Historical Research Using Vintage Photographs

I love old photographs. I relish the stories that emanate from every pixel. It’s a moment in time that can never be duplicated. It allows the viewer to travel back to that instant and share with the people pictured whatever was occurring at that particular second in time. Fortunately for historians, LAPD was very photogenic. Taken by the press or a local photographer and, later, the department’s own photographers, thousands of images record the history of the Los Angeles Police Department from the Wild West era through to today’s digital age.

Photographs contain a treasure-trove of information just waiting to be discovered and used effectively in historical research. I believe these images are underused as a primary historical research tool—yet it’s a resource I enjoyed taking full advantage of through a variety of techniques. In compiling Guardians of Angels: A History of the Los Angeles Police Department, I used historical images to help illustrate the story of the department. As I wrote, I would always strive to locate the precise photograph to support the text. Once discovered, the real work began.

Most photographs from the earlier era of the department have no identifying inscriptions, such as handwritten captions identifying the occasion and the people in the shot. But with a little research, the details captured in the photograph can lead to very precise dating. LAPD has worn six badges since its formation in 1869. Since the time span for each badge is readily available, date ranges can be narrowed down simply by examining the particular badge being worn as well as by the type of uniform. Once I have that information I can look up who was chief of police during that span and narrow it down further by examining the image to see which chief might be pictured. Most made sure to be included in the photograph. By using today’s digital enlargement, fine details barely discernible in the original image can now be brought to life. It might be a close-up of weapons used, the uniform or an individual. Finally, if the image in question is vintage (not a copy), the researcher can date the photograph by the format and type of photograph taken further closing in on the year of the image.

Case in point. In researching for Guardians of Angels, I discovered a very old, unassuming vintage photograph showing two men in suits (above). The image was a carte-de-visite (also known as a CDV), which was a common style of photography from the 1860s to the early 1870s. This fact allowed narrowing down the date of the image. Further research of an old newspaper article accompanying the photo identified one of the individuals pictured as William “Billy” Sands.

sands earlyWilliam Sands, on the right, wearing the earliest known uniform of the Los Angeles Police Department, circa 1870.

In one of the oldest police annual reports of the LAPD, in October 1883, 16 officers were listed as employed, one of whom was: “William Sands, age 57, entered service February, 1870.” Subsequent investigation led to a glimpse into the life of Billy Sands, who posed for this photograph more than 140 years ago. Sands was born in Tennessee in 1826 and grew up in Arkansas. With the discovery of gold in California, the 23-year-old headed west. Briefly involved with the Civil War in 1861, Sands eventually settled in Los Angeles and became one of the earliest known city firemen.

Eight years later in 1869, LAPD hired its first six full-time paid officers. A few months later, Sands was hired as a replacement officer for one of the original six officers. Because LAPD did not adopt an official police uniform until several years later, the photograph of Sands standing with an unidentified individual (almost certainly another officer) is vital to the history of the department. It appears that the clothes worn by these two men are the earliest known example of what the LAPD uniforms resembled, before the official formal uniform was adopted in 1876.

The fact that both men are very similarly dressed, including their hats, jackets and pants, has to be more than a coincidence. Additionally, while most histories of the LAPD credit Chief William Warren with development of the sunburst-designed badge in 1869, I would argue that the first badge was not issued until 1877, under Chief of Police Jacob Gerkens. If these officers took the time to have their photograph taken in uniform, they most definitely would have displayed a metal badge on their lapels.

Officer Billy Sands remained on active duty until his death on November 9, 1885, at the age of 59. At this time, he was the most senior officer in the young department. The photograph, hidden from sight and deliberation for years, represent the founding officers’ uniform of the 1870 LAPD.

Over the next few months, I want to share just “What’s in a Picture” and several of the photographs I discovered in writing Guardians of Angels. Each one makes for interesting viewing, reading and historical research. Please comment on my blog and share if you have any special interest you would like to see in this column.