Recalls & Memories

I came across this document several years  ago written by Eric Ekebom in 1990 about his time on the department (1933-1964).  This gives a little insight as to what it was like to be an officer in the 30's and 40's.  The original was hand written, I have recopied it here.


My first two night as a merchant officer on Broadway began Feb. 2nd 1933 with snow a foot or so deep & on Feb. 3rd the temp. went down to 26º below zero.   I was  a most happy guy.  A job paying $125.00 per month.  $85.00 paid by the Broadway Business Assoc. & $40.00 was paid me each  month through a tax anticipation certificate that oft times was discounted by the merchants to whom it was tendered in return for merchandise.  The $85.00 had to be collected and often when I went to collect the $3.00 a month that the merchants paid it was necessary to return several times as they had not taken in any money on my first visit.

I purchased my uniform from officer Roy Baren and at that time it amounted to a overcoat for which I paid him $5.00.  My trousers were blue slacks with my wife sewing on the thin white stripe.  The overcoat was pretty well worn so I took it to a tailor who patched it up by lining the pockets with leather trim.

My hours were from 8 PM to 5 AM and consisted of shaking doors from 11th St. to Kishwaukee St.  I recall that I never went around the same way but varied my walks so that I had no set pattern for reason that I didn't want a burglary to happen while I was on duty.  I knew that there were hundreds of young men looking for my job & I wasn't going to risk losing it. Once in a while we would arrest a drunk & bring him to the sub-station between 8th & 9th St. I recall how much the merchants appreciated my efforts to protect their property.

The biggest arrest I made was when a bootlegger left his girl friend in his car in the alley while he went upstairs in a business building to deliver a few gallons of alcohol.  I found the girl sitting in the car & noticed the whole rear seat of the car was loaded with on gallon cans of alcohol.  I told her to sit still and that another officer was at the end of the alley and then waited for her friend to come down the while I hid in the shadows.  When he came down I marched him over to the sub-station & called headquarters who sent up two plainclothes men, Cummings & Strote.  After they left I picked up a newspaper off a desk & found the bootlegger had apparently been carrying a 25 cal. automatic, hiding it under the paper while I was phoning headquarters.  When Cummings & Strote came we went to the alley & the girl & the car were still there.  I was lucky as I didn't handle the incident very professionally.

There were three of us who started our merchant police service at the same time.  Iver Johnson, John McFadden & I.

We got no training at all.  I remember being called into Capt. Chas Monson's office along with Iver & John and being handed a gun, badge & flashlight.   We were admonished by Monson to be careful about drinking & women.  That we now had a good job and that those who left the service usually regretted leaving.

In June of 1934 I was placed on the regular department and was put on the 3 to 11 shift.  The training then amounted to going on a beat with an old regular officer.  We had a squad room in the basement of the old City Hall and received our instructions from a sergeant.  My first trip out was with Mort Currey & he took me to his beat on the West side from Winnebago St. to Avon.  We took a street car to the Beat and the first order according to his schedule was to have coffee and a roll.   Then we would walk in and out of the stores and we were having an ice cream cone at an ice cream factory.  I thought it was a hell of a way to do police work, but that's the way we were broken in during those days.

Working the different beats were pretty much the same.  Crime was not rampant.  Murder & hold-ups were rare.  Burglaries were nothing compared to today.  Keeping order on the streets was the main function. 

After a couple of years of beat patrolling I was chosen to be part of the first traffic patrol & accident investigation squads.  We were an elite group.   As I can remember we were as follows: Clarence Read, Iver Johnson, Stanton Kruger, Geo Luce, Tom Baustead & myself.  We were outfitted in pretty fancy uniforms.   Flared trousers with leather, lots of brass buttons on the blouse, special badges.   We had to pay for them ourselves in fact all officers had to pay for their uniforms in those days.  In the winter time those of us on traffic patrol purchased ¾ length black leather fur collared coats from a local manufacturer named Shonehouse, cost being $18.00.  Our job was to investigate all traffic accidents, issue tickets and give first aid.  We had special first aid training prior to going on duty.  Most of our time was spent patrolling the streets and arresting violators mostly speeders.   At the beginning an 8 hr tour of duty would bring in dozens of speeders & thru street violations.  We also had our share of drunk & operating offenders.   Quite often we had to make court appearances and often on our own time.

After a couple of years on the traffic patrol I was detached to the Detective Bureau.  My first partner was Roy Sowl.  That was a different assignment consisting of murder, burglary, theft, investigating.  Also plenty of house calls and major & minor calls of all kinds.  That was a most interesting experience.

The next assignment was being placed in charge of reorganizing the department records & establishing record bureau, this was in the late 30's.  This was done thru a W.P.A. project.  Three persons were sent by the W.P.A.  I was sent to the Evanston Ill. Police Dept. to acquaint myself with their methods as their Records Bureau was reputed to be one of the best for a department of their size.   Most of our records were in book form all for the most part in longhand.  Our job was to put all past & present records in typed card form.  Once the project was completed we moved into the old city clerks office, where my duties included taking charge of fingerprinting & photography along with keeping records.

All our photographs were developed & printed by a local photo shop.   After a year or so I decided to do the developing & printing.  I had an old kitchen sink at my home that needed replacement, so I put in a new and and took the old sink that Herman Brandt installed in the old city hall vault.  Fred James from the newspaper taught how to develop & print.  We also started taking full length photos of certain arrested persons. At that time I had two young ladies as assistants.   Officer Bakey was also assigned to the Records Bureau Parking Ticket Div.

I recall being called back to fingerprint & photograph persons arrested in raids on gambling, prostitution, etc.  Sometimes the calls come maybe just before midnight, so it meant getting out of bed into the car & back to work.   Occasionally I would finish up & go home only to be awakened to come back on another arrest.

In 1942 H. Reinert retired & I was appointed Sec. of Police.   That meant doing the department payroll & taking care of all department correspondence.  All requests from other departments for information & investing alone would be turned over to me for answers, and all letters were my own composition.  I was Sec. from 1942 - 1965.

My last 4 years was with records & Identification.

In the early 1940 Chief Bargren asked me to organize a police chorus.   Allen Elmquist and Linden Lundstrom directed the chorus consisting of a about 16 singers.  I was told that at one time the department had a brass band ... previous to my time.

We also had some pretty good baseball teams of which I played for a while.

I recall my wife & I being invited to a wonderful dinner by Chief Bargren at his home on N. First St, that was a year or so after my joining the dept.   It was quite an honor for a rookie cop.

I also remember how some officers felt that any burglary. murder or serious crime was a reflection on their abilities and they would always place extra effort in their work of making necessary arrests & solutions.  Yes, we had quite a few dedicated members much admired by all department personnel.

I also recall while with the accident Inv. unit we carried a broom & swept up the debris as part of the job.

Parade duty & court appearance was often on our off time with no extra time off.

Radio in cars came about during my first year.  The sets were home made by Ward Hubbell & Walling Laird.  A square wooden box secured to the ceiling of the squad car just back of the front seat, we often crashed our heads against going in &  out of the cars.  For the men on the beat there was a red light on a power pole which patrolmen had to check to see if it was on and then he was to hurry to a phone and listen to the desk Sergeant ask you why it took so long to answer the red light.

Another job was to shoot injured dogs.  I once shot a dog run over by a car so badly injured I had to put him away.  The next day the owner approached me and threatened to sue me as his dog was a valuable show dog.  I explained to him what had happened.  He came back later & said that he checked my story & found it to be true and dropped his threat of suit.  What a relief that was for me.

I recall a drunk who frequented the Broadway area and I sent him home a few times.  He decided on one occasion to come back on the street again.  This time he gave me an argument & finally swung his fist at me knocking my hat off.   After a few exchanges & a bit of rough play I managed to tow him to the sub-station, called the wagon & sent him to the cooler.  After that I had no trouble with him as whenever we meet he saluted me.

By, Eric Ekebom
1990