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"The Cop will get you": The police and discretionary juvenile justice, 1890-1940.

Since the latter half of the nineteenth century, the police have been the foremost public authorities who regulate juvenile crime and delinquency. More often than not, police tactics have been portrayed as crudely punitive, rather than sympathetic to children and youth. Child welfare reformers, writing about the conditions in which adolescents grew up in turn-of-the-century cities, regularly characterized the police as all-too-eager to discipline teenagers for any offense, major or minor. They viewed policemen as brutish, blue-coated enforcers who would arrest a young shop-lifter or a truant unable to account for himself "just to keep him out of mischief." (1) Parents and educators often portrayed the police as bogeymen, warning children that if they did nor behave, "the cop will get you." (2) Films about delinquency--ranging from Dead End (1937) to West Side Story (1961)--regularly presented police officers as comic foils who tried desperately, but failed in the end, to discipline disorderly youth. (3) These characterizations rang true because they reflected popular understandings that the police were the principal public agents responsible for managing juvenile misbehavior on a day-to-day basis. At the same time, these cartoonish images failed to capture the complexity of police interactions with youth.

Surprisingly, the role of the police has often been forgotten in historical studies of juvenile justice. In fact, the whole process of regulating delinquency on the streets and of informally disciplining juvenile offenders has received little historical treatment. The purpose of this essay is to introduce themes and to suggest methods for analyzing how juvenile crime and delinquency were regulated in the past, with special attention to regulation "from the bottom up." Focusing on everyday interactions between police officers and disorderly youth in three American cities between 1890 and 1940, I demonstrate how the exercise of discretionary authority by the police shaped the operations of late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century juvenile justice.

Historical and Theoretical Considerations

Most historical studies of juvenile justice--the system of separate laws and judicial, social welfare, and correctional institutions for children and youth--focus on how these laws and institutions developed and how they reflected changing conceptions of childhood. Although a wide variety of public and private reform schools and child welfare agencies were created in the nineteenth century to treat delinquent youth, young people who were arrested were still processed in the same courts as adults. In Illinois, for example, the 1827 criminal code set the age of criminal responsibility at ten years. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, courts and penal institutions faced mounting criticism for treating children as if they were fully-responsible adults. As an alternative, social reformers advocated the creation of separate courts for juveniles. These would not only control adolescent misbehavior but would also seek to determine the underlying sources of delinquency and provide social services aimed at e liminating these problems. Most famously, a coalition of Chicago reformers--including the Chicago Women's Club, the Chicago Bar Association, and Jane Addams' Hull House social settlement--successfully lobbied for the passage of the Illinois Juvenile Court Act, establishing the nation's first juvenile court in Cook County (Chicago) in 1899. Rapidly duplicated in other cities, juvenile courts became the centerpieces of larger systems of juvenile justice designed with the explicit intention of helping, rather than punishing, young offenders. (4)

Early interpretations of juvenile court tend to portray it as an embodiment of Progressive-era ideals that developed between the mid-1890s and the mid- 1910s. Scholars such as Herbert Lou and, more recently, Joseph M. Hawes presented juvenile court as the result of an emerging Progressive social philosophy that the state was responsible to intervene in children's social and familial relations in order to rescue them from delinquency. These scholars celebrated juvenile courts as the culmination of nineteenth-century reform ideals. (5) Revisionist historians working in the 1960s and 1970s, however, emphasized the paradoxical results of the Progressive agenda. They saw in juvenile court's goal of intervening in troubled families a more repressive agenda of exercising "social control." Anthony Platt, for example, argued that the creation of juvenile court by elite reformers defined as criminal much behavior characteristic of working-class, immigrant youth, and in effect thereby invented the concept of delinquency . Similarly, David Rothman maintained that Progressive-era efforts to rehabilitate delinquents--efforts resulting from the "conscience" of reformers--devolved quickly into mechanisms to control young offenders more effectively and thereby served mainly the "convenience" of law enforcement and correctional officials. (6)

Other historians--utilizing the internal case records of the courts themselves--have concentrated on issues of implementation, on how the ideals of the juvenile court movement were put into practice. They have discovered that juvenile court operations were shaped by a diversity of interests which were not necessarily consistent with Progressive ideals. Steven Schlossman, for example, argued that juvenile courts embraced a rehabilitative mission of applying "affectional discipline" to the children who came before them. However, his close analysis of the decision-making process in Milwaukee County Juvenile Court revealed that, in practice, the court was prevented from implementing its stated goal by conflicts among judges, probation officers, and parents, as well as an overwhelming caseload. (7) Similarly, Mary Odem stressed how the treatment of teenage girls in Los Angeles County Juvenile Court was shaped by conflicts between juvenile court officials--who were primarily concerned with protecting girls from the risks of premarital sexuality--and parents, who often simply wanted juvenile court to reinforce their authority over their daughters. (8) In addition, historians have demonstrated that not only was there conflict within juvenile courts, but that juvenile courts were also buffeted by external political conflicts. Even the ideals of the juvenile court movement were more controversial than earlier scholars suggested. (9)

In spite of the increasing attention paid to conflicts within and surrounding the juvenile justice system, the focus is still overwhelmingly on juvenile courts per se. Perhaps because juvenile courts generate extensive documentation, they remain historians' standard unit of analysis and are treated as the starting point from which all other decisions derive. This perspective, however, often disregards other key elements of the juvenile justice system. How, for example, did children reach juvenile courts in the first place? What happened to children prior to their court appearances? What role did the police, in particular, play in the process of regulating and adjudicating juvenile delinquents?

Alternative models for understanding how juvenile justice worked can be adapted from other scholars who study the criminal justice system. For example, Lawrence Friedman and Robert Percival characterize criminal justice in turn-of-the-century Alameda County, California, in terms of a wedding cake, in which the cases were divided into informal graduated layers. (10) Although they developed this model for the adult criminal justice system, with its elaborate gradations of offenses and levels of appeals, their framework can be applied to juvenile justice as well. At the top layer would be a small portion of cases involving serious personal injury offenses that result in long-term confinement or, in very rare instances, the transfer of juvenile offenders into adult criminal courts. In the middle layer would be routine delinquency cases, mainly involving theft, adjudicated in juvenile court. At the bottom would be a wide range of complaints about juvenile misbehavior handled by the police or referred to other trea tment agencies. Almost all juvenile cases would enter the system at the bottom layer of the "wedding cake," but successively fewer would proceed to each of the higher layers.

The police exercised enormous discretionary authority over juveniles at the bottom layer of the juvenile justice "wedding cake." When the police encountered delinquents on the streets and in the station houses, they were generally free to choose among several possible courses of action in making two critical decisions: whether to make an arrest and how to proceed following an arrest. Sociological studies of how the police exercise their discretion--particularly in interactions with juveniles--help provide a conceptual framework for exploring these questions historically. A number of studies point to situational variables that often influence police decisions: whether encounters were initiated by the police or by complainants; the demands of victims and complainants; the reported offense; and the race, gender, and demeanor of the accused. Although these variables were developed in the context of modern participant-observer studies of police behavior, they are also useful for historical analysis of police inter actions with youth. (11)

This essay develops three themes in a police-centered model of early twentieth-century juvenile justice. First, I show how children reached juvenile court, focusing on the police role in the intake process. Second, I examine how the police regulated delinquency in the streets and decided whether to make an arrest. In encounters between cops and kids, the demands of the public, the priorities of police administrations, and the discretion of individual officers all routinely superseded the goals of child welfare advocates. Third, I analyze how the police decided whether to hold children in detention. Via detention, the police could impose their own rough form of "treatment" on young offenders, regardless of what a juvenile court judge might decide. In short, rather than re-examining the origins of Progressive ideals or the internal operations of juvenile courts, I emphasize the everyday work of the police and their exercise of discretionary authority at the bottom layer of the juvenile justice wedding cake.

The Police and the Juvenile Court

The primary function of the police within the juvenile justice system was to determine which children to refer (or "petition") to juvenile Court. Many juvenile court advocates harshly criticized how the police handled young offenders. For example, according to Denver's Judge Ben B. Lindsey, the foremost juvenile court promoter, the police dealt with boys "based on a doctrine of fear, degradation, and punishment."(12) Juvenile courts were expected to supersede the authority of the police over children and adolescents. In reality, however, early twentieth-century juvenile courts lacked the institutional resources to do so, and had to rely heavily on police departments to put their goals into practice. Juvenile courts were parts of larger legal and administrative systems, and their operations were shaped substantially by other agencies, particularly the police.

This was certainly the case in Cook County Juvenile Court. Probation officers were to have been the key actors in the system, both investigating initial court referrals and monitoring the progress of children under court supervision. However, the Illinois Juvenile Court Act of 1899 did not allow Cook County to pay probation officers from public funds. Probation officers therefore had to be subsidized by outside sources. Philanthropic groups-especially the Juvenile Court Committee of the Chicago Women's Club-raised subscriptions to pay some probation officers. More importantly, the Chicago Police Department detailed cops to juvenile probation work, assigning roughly one police probation officer (PPO) to each district. (13)

In the juvenile court's earliest years, police constituted the vast majority of probation officers. In 1904, for example, the police assigned 21 men to probation duty, in comparison to four officers supported by philanthropies. In 1905, the state legislature amended the original Juvenile Court Act to permit Cook County to hire its own probation officers. The number of court-appointed probation officers soon exceeded those appointed by the police. Nonetheless, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the police department continued to assign approximately 30 cops to probation duty, where they performed many of the basic investigations that preceded court hearings. (14)

PPOs themselves were recruited from the ranks of patrolmen. Like the department as a whole, they came from predominantly ethnic, and particularly Irish, backgrounds. (15) PPOs did, however, attempt to differentiate themselves from other cops and to appear less intimidating to children by wearing civilian clothes rather than uniforms. (16) But no additional training distinguished them. They learned their jobs by experience and observation. Consequently, their approaches to their duties varied widely. Some were genuinely interested in delinquent boys and specifically requested probation work. Others-often older officers no longer capable of performing regular duties-regarded it as just an easy assignment. (17)

Advocates of the court were skeptical about using police officers for probation duties. One observed, "Their social function makes them agents of repression." In addition, the police often received their jobs through political connections.

Using them as probation officers therefore raised the distressing possibility that the court might become politicized. (18) Nonetheless, court supporters eventually accepted the PPOs as part of the system, albeit grudgingly. One 1909 investigator reported that "the general character of these officers is good. Care seems to have been exercised in their selection in order to get men who were especially intelligent and at the same time courteous and kind in their manner of dealing with children." (19)

PPOs' primary duty was to investigate complaints against children and adolescents and to determine whether complaints should be petitioned to juvenile court or adjusted informally. As a result, PPOs' referrals accounted for the great majority of delinquency petitions to juvenile court. Data from the first two decades of the court are unfortunately too sketchy to provide reliable information. Between 1918 and 1926, however, PPOs introduced 82 percent of the juvenile court's delinquency cases. (20) The overwhelming majority of delinquency cases were generated by the police, according to chief probation officer Joel Hunter, because "the natural place for a citizen to complain when an offense has been committed is the nearest police station." (21)

What behaviors constituted delinquency? Serious offenses, including robbery, burglary, auto theft, and weapons violations, accounted for just 11 percent of complaints investigated by the Chicago PPOs between 1919 and 1930. Misdemeanors such as larceny constituted another 21 percent. Together, criminal offenses accounted for only 32 percent of delinquency complaints. The remaining two-thirds of investigations primarily involved lesser forms of non-criminal misconduct, family strife, and neighborhood disputes. The police statistics vaguely labeled 45 percent of juvenile offenses as "immorality," "incorrigibility," and running away. They characterized another 23 percent of juvenile offenses as "miscellaneous." (22)

After investigating these various types of delinquency complaints, PPOs chose to adjust far more cases on their own than to petition juveniles to court for a formal hearing. Between 1918 and 1930, PPOs petitioned only 11 percent of complaints to juvenile court; they decided 89 percent on their own. Moreover, the percentage of complaints adjusted by the police changed hardly at all over time--year by year, the standard deviation was just 2 percent. (23) In absolute numbers, the police unofficially resolved an average of 15,503 complaints per year. In contrast, they filed court petitions on only 1,962. (24) PPOs sought to resolve virtually all minor offenses--particularly those involving first-time offenders--using their own discretion. One PPO explained that he did nor petition boys to court for crimes such as petty thieving, window breaking, or running away "unless they had a previous record." He even released boys caught "auto thieving" if the car had not been damaged and the owner was nor anxious to prosecu te. (25)

Deciding cases on their own exposed the police to criticism from child welfare reformers. As one investigator wrote, "... a large number of children brought in are sent home after being questioned by the police probation officer ... it usually happened that the Captain or the Judge had never even seen or heard of these cases." (26) In fact, however, the PPOs' decisions were consistent with juvenile court policy, which stated that they were to "take the place of a court of first jurisdiction in a large majority of cases of delinquency." If only due to the extraordinary number of investigations, the court had to depend "upon the judgment of the police probation officers whether or not a case shall appear in court." (27)

The Chicago PPOs adjusted an unusually large share of delinquency complaints on their own, but their practice was hardly unique. One 1925 study of juvenile courts in ten American cities found that equivalent police "juvenile bureaus" routinely investigated and adjusted substantial shares of complaints without court hearings, sometimes even supervising youth under informal "police probation." (28) The Detroit Police Department's Juvenile Division, for example, disposed of 45 percent of boys arrested between 1920 and 1930, discharging them to their parents' custody or referring them to private charitable agencies, and petitioned 55 percent to juvenile court. (29) Likewise, the Los Angeles Police Department's Juvenile Bureau used its discretionary authority to dispose of 61 percent of boys and 58 percent of girls arrested between 1930 and 1940. (30)

In short, a substantial portion--often the majority--of juvenile delinquency cases in early twentieth-century American cities were resolved without juvenile court involvement. Historical interpretations of juvenile justice that focus only on juvenile courts overlook the first and most important decisions in the process of regulating delinquency. It was the police, not the courts, that contacted youth initially, performed preliminary investigations, and determined how to proceed with cases. Discretionary decision-making by the police at the bottom layer of the juvenile justice wedding cake shaped everything above it.

Police Regulation of Delinquents on the Streets

If police officers did not regularly petition delinquent children to juvenile court, then what mechanisms did they use to regulate juvenile misconduct? Most obviously, the police could and did arrest juveniles. But they could also intimidate youth through their mere presence, hassle them on the streets, detain them, and--less openly--employ physical force. Police officers' decisions on how to handle juvenile delinquency were shaped largely by situational variables such as the suspects' alleged offenses and the demands of complainants. Police decisions, however, also varied by location and time period. Early twentiethcentury urban police departments did not embrace social welfare goals as vigorously as did juvenile courts, but many did undergo their own process of reform in which they sought to become more "professional" and "efficient." Characteristically, they sought to centralize their organizational structures in order to minimize the influence of neighborhood politics, adopt higher standards for job appli cants to upgrade police personnel, and eliminate extraneous tasks so that they could devote more energy to investigating and punishing crime. The result was that, between 1890 and 1940, the primary function of the police shifted from establishing public order to fighting serious crime. (31) Police approaches to regulating juvenile delinquency differed accordingly. These differences can be illustrated empirically, using two unique bodies of data. First, I will demonstrate how police regulated delinquency prior to their professionalization and the creation of juvenile courts--in this instance, in Detroit in the 1890s. Second, I will contrast police practices after the professional ethos and juvenile courts were well-established--in this instance, in Los Angeles on the eve of World War 11. (32)

Before the Progressive Era: Detroit

An analysis of arrest patterns in the 1890s most clearly demonstrates how the Detroit Police Department regulated juvenile delinquency prior to the creation of juvenile court. The turn-of-the-century Detroit police arrested far fewer juveniles than adults. They made 62 arrests for every 1,000 males, whereas they made only 30 arrests for every 1,000 boys between 8 and 16. (33) This finding comes as no surprise. Not only would we intuitively expect teenagers to be arrested less often then adults, but also, until the turn of the century, the function of the police was primarily to maintain public order. This meant focusing arrests on victimless offenses that disrupted social decorum, such as drunkenness, disorderly conduct, vagrancy, and the like. (34) The Detroit police were no exception; in the 1890s, they arrested 73 percent of all male suspects for public order violations. (35) In contrast, among pre-teen and teenage boys--less likely than adults to drink, gamble, or visit prostitutes--public order offenses accounted for only 16 percent of arrests. (36)

The Detroit police, however, arrested youths for crimes against property or persons at a higher rate--20 arrests for every 1,000 boys between 8 and 16--than they did the general population for the same offenses--16 arrests for every 1,000 males in Detroit. Criminal offenses accounted for 67 percent of boys' arrests, in contrast to 26 percent of arrests for the male population as a whole. (37) Children and adolescents disrupted public order by committing petty thefts and larceny, not by becoming drunk and disorderly. Unattended by parents or employers after school or work, boys regularly pilfered cigarettes, candy, toys, and fruit from shops, stole bicycles, and removed bottles and building supplies from yards and vacant lots. (38) As a rule, victims' complaints--not police initiative-- provided the impetus for police interactions with juveniles and ultimately led to most arrests. For example, small shopkeepers like William Boyne frequently reported petty thefts by boys. In 1896, Boyne informed the police that five boys had stolen four pineapples from the front of his store and identified all five suspects. (39) Citizens such as Mrs. Annie Landofski likewise demanded police action when boys burglarized their homes. Her 1898 report that two boys had entered her home and stolen $10.00 resulted in at least one arrest. (40)

The Detroit police often applied their own standards--rather than legalistic ones--in deciding whether to arrest boys. For example, although formal complaints occasionally required the police to arrest boys as young as age six for assault, they generally did not make arrests when they came across fights on their own and no one filed charges. They documented violence in "Incidental Events" reports and transported the wounded to doctors, but they mainly let boys resolve their own disputes. No one was arrested, for example, when seven-year-old Rube McMillen struck six-year-old Fred Stock on the head with a stove poker, or when ten-year-old Peter Kajneirezak inflicted a minor knife wound on a fourteen-year-old. (41) In contrast, the police regularly arrested boys for truancy or for being "juvenile disorderly persons," misbehaviors that are today labeled "status offenses" because they are contingent on children's age, or status of being juveniles. Under Michigan's 1883 compulsory education law, the Detroit police were authorized to arrest any child between seven and fifteen who habitually skipped school, disobeyed teachers, or frequented public places during school hours. (42) In the 1890s, over 5 of every 1,000 boys were arrested for status offenses. These accounted for 17 percent of boys' total arrests. (43) Status offense charges served not only as a legal justification to apprehend runaways and to discipline boys who refused to go to school, but also to give the police a means to impose an informal curfew. The police made 37 percent of "truancy" arrests between 8:00 PM and 2:00 AM, well outside of school hours. (44)

Even prior to the creation of juvenile court, the 1890s Detroit police did not arrest boys simply to haul them before the criminal courts. Instead, the Detroit police frequently employed a rudimentary form of "diversion"--a modern tactic of deciding juvenile cases without court involvement--to filter young offenders out of the criminal courts. (45) The police disposed of a substantial share of boys arrests--24 percent--at the station house without ever transferring the boys to the courts (this contrasted with 9 percent of all arrests). (46) As a rule, the police discharged boys who had been arrested for crimes when complainants refused to prosecute, even after initiating police action in the first place. Some complainants settled for the return of stolen property and a verbal reprimand by the police. Although Mrs. Jennice McMillan, for example, reported that several young boys had broken into her store and taken a box of cigars and tobacco, she chose not to pursue the case once the police arrested three of th e boys and she reclaimed her goods. (47) The police also dispensed justice on their own to the majority (58 percent) of boys arrested for status offenses. Only if the children were "habitual truants" or had been arrested many times previously would the police refer them to court for status offenses. (48) Most unsupervised and runaway boys were discharged to their families or enrolled in an ungraded public school, or Truant School." Police administrators believed that the Truant School gave them a mechanism to supervise and discipline disorderly boys. According to Sergeant Henry Shomaker, " ... as the [truant] school increases in numbers, juvenile crime decreases. This fact establishes the usefulness of the school, as it prevents boys from becoming criminals, and at the same time educates them." (49)

Prior to the turn of the century, the Detroit police arrested children as part of their traditional mission of maintaining public order. The charges against teenagers differed from those against adults because young people did not disturb the peace in the same ways as adults. They caused trouble by committing thefts, playing hooky, and gathering boisterously on the streets, not by becoming drunk and disorderly. Arresting juvenile offenders was less a means of introducing them into the criminal justice system for punishment or rehabilitation, than of satisfying aggrieved citizens and of officially reprimanding disorderly youth.

The "Crime-Fighting" Era: Los Angeles

In contrast, in the 1920s and 1930s, the priorities of many law enforcement agencies-even those designed to deal with children--shifted toward an agenda of aggressively enforcing the law and of punishing alleged offenders. On the one hand, law enforcement officials and even juvenile court advocates became increasingly skeptical about the ability of correctional agencies to achieve any real improvement in children's lives. (50) On the other hand, police departments professionalized themselves by downplaying their traditional function of maintaining public order and instead devoting their primary efforts to efficiently fighting crime. (51)

These dual changes reshaped police methods of regulating juvenile delinquency. In Los Angeles, for example, the police increasingly targeted serious crimes against property and persons. Offenses labeled "felonies" became a much larger share of the LAPD's arrests of boys between 10 and 17. Whereas in 1930-31, felonies accounted for 35 percent and misdemeanors for 46 percent of all boys' arrests, in 1940, felonies accounted for 51 percent and misdemeanors for only 21 percent of boys' arrests. (52) At the same time as the LAPD targeted serious offenses, they also arrested a disproportionate share of minority youth. In 1940, Hispanics constituted 32 percent of all boys arrested by the LAPD, as opposed to an estimated 8 percent of the city's population. African Americans similarly were 12 percent of boys arrested, in comparison to 4 percent of the population. (53) In short, by 1940, the LAPD did not use arrest as a catch-all method for handling any sort of juvenile delinquency, minor or major. Instead, it used arr est predominately as a mechanism to regulate boys who were darker-skinned and-allegedly--more often criminal.

Arrest statistics, however, reveal only part of the story. The internal dynamics of arrests--the ways that the police actually regulated delinquency on the streets--can be analyzed using juvenile court case records. I have compiled a database from a sample of Los Angeles County Juvenile Court case files in 1940. Although the database includes only cases that the police formally petitioned to juvenile court--48 percent of boys' arrests in 1940--it permits a more detailed analysis of police and juvenile behaviors than does any other source. (54)

The LAPD was particularly alert to wrong-doing by groups of Hispanic boys. In the context of 1930s Los Angeles, Mexican-American youth were widely believed to be more likely to commit crimes--especially violent crimes--than were other ethnic groups. (55) While this belief was based in racial bias, it was also reflected in cases that the LAPD petitioned to juvenile court. Hispanic youth were significantly more likely to be in juvenile court for robberies and other offenses against persons (17 percent) than were whites or African-Americans (6 percent together). (56) Put differently, over half--54 percent--of all boys accused of offenses against persons were Hispanics. (57) Hispanic youth also tended to commit offenses--and the LAPD tended to arrest them--in larger groups than whites and African Americans. Hispanic boys averaged 1.9 companions in committing their alleged offenses, compared to 1.1 companions for non-Hispanics. (58) According to the LAPD, moreover, 18 percent of Hispanic offenders were involved in gangs, versus 5 percent of whites and African Americans. (59)

For teenage boys, group associations and gang involvement were often a recipe for interpersonal violence. Thirty-nine percent of the boys accused of offenses against persons had two or more accomplices and, according to the police, at least 25 percent were involved in gangs. (60) For example, Albert Del Grande, 13, Rick Cordova, 16, and a rotating assortment of eight other Hispanic youths in the "Dog Town Gang" fought other groups of boys, apparently to maintain their authority over a particular territory. In July 1940, they assaulted three Italian boys who were sitting in front of a grocery on Lemar Street in their Lincoln Heights neighborhood. Only after a series of similar encounters, though, were the Dog Town boys arrested by the LAPD. (61)

Seeing Hispanic teenagers gathered in street-corner groups sent a message to the police that the boys were ready to cause trouble. Clusters of Hispanic boys thus became easy targets for police harassment. Sixty-four percent of Hispanic boys had at least one official encounter with the police prior to their first court appearance, versus 47 percent of other racial groups. (62) Rather than make the (sometimes impossible) effort to sort out which Hispanic youths were responsible for which alleged offenses, the LAPD erred on the side of arresting them early and often and letting the juvenile court decide how best to deal with particular individuals.

The LAPD was also especially alert to vehicle thefts. Among cases that reached the juvenile court, they initiated 52 percent of arrests for auto theft on their own without a prior complaint. (63) The LAPD, as well as other law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County, targeted groups of boys out for a joy ride. The police routinely pulled over cars filled with adolescent boys cruising around the city; often, the car turned out to be stolen. (64) For example, Jack Vasquez, 15, Ricardo Veras, 14, Adam DiFilice, 13, and Gilbert Velarde, 14--all under the legal driving age of 16--together stole a 1935 Willys coupe to go to a picnic in Pico Park. At the park, a highway patrol officer noted the concentration of very young boys driving a fairly recent car. Upon being questioned about the car's ownership, DiFilice claimed that it belonged to his uncle. The policeman allowed them to drive to the home of the supposed uncle, following on his motorcycle. At an intersection, the boys leapt from the automobile and ran aw ay, abandoning the car in the street. Three days later, all four boys stole another vehicle, a 1934 Oldsmobile Sedan. Again, a police officer noticed them driving through Compton and pulled them over. Without giving them the opportunity to talk their way out of the jam or to escape, LAPD Motor Officer Ray Wiley arrested the boys and arranged for them to be detained. (65)

Boys approached auto theft with a surprisingly casual attitude--they often just took vehicles that they found unattended, drove them around for an evening and abandoned them when they were done--but the LAPD treated auto theft very seriously. Police officers consistently pulled over suspicious groups of boys, arrested them, and petitioned them to juvenile court on their own initiative. Auto theft represented a especially serious problem in Southern California, where automobile ownership was much more common than in the rest of the country. In 1940, one automobile was registered in Los Angeles for every 1.4 residents, as compared to one car for every 4.8 people in the nation as a whole. In addition, the geographic sprawl of Los Angeles and surrounding communities made automobiles a virtual necessity for many residents to get from one place to another. Because owning a car was not confined to the Los Angeles elite, the public as a whole pressured the LAPD to make auto theft a high crime-fighting priority. (66)

Vehicle theft also differed from other forms of stealing in two important ways. First, the property involved was more expensive. The median value of property in a vehicle theft was $400.00, as compared to a $20.00 median value for all other thefts by boys. Second, vehicle thefts were both potentially dangerous--especially if boys did not know how to drive very well--and highly visible. Juveniles who stole cars risked accidents and being spotted by the police. The monetary value and safety threat posed by vehicle theft encouraged police to intervene, while its visibility enabled them to do so on their own initiative.

In short, by 1940, the LAPD retained little of the all-purpose, public order function evident in the work of police in earlier decades. Nor did it demonstrate much of a social welfare ethos by focusing intervention on at-risk youth. Instead, it mainly arrested serious delinquents, disproportionately of minority backgrounds, and petitioned them to juvenile court to fight crimes like auto theft that were of particular concern to the public. In so doing, it placed police priorities and citizens' demands above the goal of saving children.

Police and the Use of Detention

Police also exercised an often-hidden form of authority over young offenders following arrest, but prior to disposition or petition to juvenile court: they determined whether to place youths in detention. Jailing children for a matter of days or weeks represents a crucial element in the juvenile justice process, yet the use of detention has been generally overlooked by historians. (67) Detention decisions were made largely by the police rather than by juvenile courts. Typically, the police could hold alleged delinquents either in juvenile detention facilities or even in local jails at their own discretion, with, at most, nominal judicial supervision. The police could thus use the new, separate detention facilities that were championed by the juvenile court movement to penalize problem youth as they saw fit. Even if juveniles were ultimately released, placed on probation, or given suspended sentences, the police could still use short-term detention to punish them. The decision about whether to detain an offend er represented the point in the juvenile justice process where police exercised the greatest degree of discretion.

In Chicago, for example, PPOs determined whether children whom they investigated should be held in custody. As a rule, the police were discouraged from detaining juveniles, in part because Cook County had only limited facilities to hold them. Although the 1899 Juvenile Court Law required that adolescents be detained separately from adults, Cook County did not build a designated Juvenile Detention Home (as part of a new Juvenile Court building) until 1907. (68) Even this new accommodation quickly proved inadequate. By the late 1910s, overcrowding at the Detention Home had become severe; some boys had to sleep on extra mattresses on the floor. More disturbingly, the Juvenile Detention Home began to refuse admission because of overcrowding. Then the police had no choice but to hold them in station lock-ups condemned as "unfit... for prisoners or policemen," let alone children. (69) Police and court officials temporarily resolved this problem by reducing the Detention Home's intake, instructing PPOs that "ordinar y boys' pranks should be reported to parents" but should not be considered cause for arrest. Finally, an expanded juvenile detention home was opened in 1923 as part of a newer and larger juvenile court complex. (70)

Nonetheless, the police officers who controlled admission to the Juvenile Detention Home still used it as if it were a jail, holding youth there as a swift and secure form of punishment. Of boys whom PPOs confined at the Cook County Detention Home, the great majority were discharged following an investigation and never appeared in juvenile court. In 1926, for example, the Detention Home admitted 7,115 alleged delinquents, but the juvenile court only heard 2,265 delinquency cases. Moreover, 43 percent of all children detained were released within two days. (71) This rapid-fire turnaround seemed to function more to reprimand children than to facilitate inquiry into the underlying causes of their delinquency, as the juvenile court was nominally designed to do. As Harrison A. Dobbs, Superintendent of the Detention Home, explained, "The Police Department assignment to the Juvenile Court has cooperated excellently in the removal of children [from the Detention Home, but] the great difficulty appears to be in the re gulation of intake.... Certainly it is a dangerous technique...which places the child in one or two days of detention and then offers a release without thorough study and investigation." (72)

The LAPD likewise exercised extraordinary discretionary authority in determining whether children should be held in detention. Formally, the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court and its Probation Department, not the LAPD, decided whether to confine a juvenile prior to his or her court hearing. No child could be detained for a lengthy period of time without an order from juvenile court. When juveniles were taken into custody, probation officers were required to visit them within twelve hours, begin an investigation, and present a written recommendation to the court for approval as soon as possible; only then could a child legally be detained. (73) In practice, however, the LAPD made the detention decision. When the police arrested a youth and petitioned him to juvenile court, the LAPD's juvenile officers also recommended whether or not to detain him. In 1940, juvenile court officials followed the police recommendation in 96 percent of boys' cases. (74) In effect, the court rubber-stamped the cops' judgment; juven ile court formally decided which boys to detain, but the police largely controlled the decision.

Three basic detention options were available. First, the police and juvenile court could decide to release a child to his or her family until his court hearing. Second, they could place a child in the Los Angeles County Detention Home (a.k.a., "Juvenile Hall"). Operating in a secure, modernized facility opened in 1928, Juvenile Hall accepted both boys and girls up to age 18, segregating them by sex and, to the extent possible, by age. Third, the police and courts could also place boys between 16 and 18 in Los Angeles County Jail, in a small wing separate from the regular adult population. (75)

Although the LAPD claimed to consider the question of detention very closely--its spokesmen asserted in 1937 that "detention under any circumstances may be definitely harmful"--they nonetheless recommended detention for 61 percent of boys whom they petitioned to juvenile court in 1940. (76) Juvenile court implemented those recommendations, detaining 37 percent of the total in Juvenile Hall and 24 percent in the County Jail. (77) Juvenile Court kept boys in detention for periods of time that were relatively short, but still substantial enough to impact young lives, particularly if the boys were in school or held jobs. Boys were held in County Jail for an average of 16 days from their arrest to their court hearings; only 9 percent stayed for less than a week. Boys were detained in Juvenile Hall even longer, averaging over 22 days from the time of their arrest to their court hearings; only 5 percent stayed in Juvenile Hall for less than a week. (78)

The use of detention varied significantly with a boy's offense. The police and juvenile court detained only 35 percent of boys who committed misdemeanor petty theft, and instead released the remainder to their parents or guardians to await their hearings. (79) Boys accused of burglary were treated with greater severity; 64 percent were detained in spite of the fact that over half were under age 15. (80) Perhaps due to their young ages, however, only 10 percent of burglars were sent to County Jail. Instead, 54 percent were detained in Juvenile Hall. (81) Finally, the police relied more on County Jail to detain boys who posed a physical threat to others. Fifty percent of boys arrested for offenses against persons were held in County Jail (as compared to 22 percent of boys accused of any other offense). (82) For example, seventeen-year-old Lee Reynoso, arrested for assaulting anxother youth with a brick outside a party, was detained in County Jail for 14 days prior to his court hearing. Although the juvenile cou rt ultimately granted Reynoso probation, holding him in detention for two weeks kept him off the streets, gave him a chance to cool down, and, with any luck, gave him enough of a taste of incarceration to deter him from further violence. (83)

Boys' prior behaviors and neighborhood reputations also influenced police decisions on detention. The more prior contacts a youth had had with police or juvenile court, the more likely he was to be detained upon commission of a new offense. Boys who were released immediately after arrest, for example, averaged only 0.8 priors, whereas boys whom the police detained in Juvenile Hall and County Jail averaged 1.3 and 1.4 priors, respectively. Although many factors influenced how many prior police contacts a boy had, priors represented a measure of the regularity of a youth's misbehavior and a concrete basis for determining whether detention was appropriate.

More arbitrary factors like boys' attitudes also shaped detention decisions. As a rule, boys whom the LAPD arrested were extremely cooperative. Investigating officers described 80 percent of the bays they interviewed as being more-or-less cooperative. (84) If boys cooperated, the police were often more sympathetic to them. For example, when 13-year-old Joshua Goldman was arrested for stealing a car, investigating officer L.M. Lake was so impressed with his honesty that he wrote, "this boy is very courteous and truthful and seems to be intelligent." Likewise, "both parents were very cooperative." As a result, Lake allowed Goldman to stay with his parents while he awaited his hearing in spite of the severity of his offense. Ultimately, the juvenile court placed him on probation. (85)

In contrast, boys who did not cooperate faced harsher treatment. The police requested detention in 74 percent of cases involving boys wham they labeled uncooperative, in contrast to 58 percent of boys they considered cooperative. (86) In addition, boys considered uncooperative were slightly more likely to be held in County Jail (31 percent of uncooperative boys vs. 23 percent of cooperative boys). (87) Sixteen-year-old Mitchell Posada, for example, fit almost all the criteria leading to detention in County Jail. Accompanied by a look-out, Posada had broken into the Norfolk Street School by shattering two panes of glass and climbing in through a window to steal a $25.00 radio. Arrested following a lengthy investigation, the police detained Posada in County Jail. Not only had he committed felony burglary, he also had a history of two prior arrests. Furthermore, he "steadfastly denied the charge," "he was not cooperative in any way," and he "is the leader of a gang of tough Mexican boys who live in the neighborh ood."

Not surprisingly, the police detained him in County Jail for 10 days before the juvenile court heard his case and placed him in a medium-security Forestry Camp outside the city. (88)

Detention was the most important mechanism by which the police exercised authority over young offenders. To a certain extent, the use of detention followed regular patterns determined by age and severity of offense. Police were more likely to lock up 16 year olds who committed robbery than 12 year olds who committed petty theft. However, the police also utilized wide-ranging discretion in determining whether to detain boys, weighing subtle factors such as boys' prior histories, attitudes, and demeanors. Via detention, the police imposed harsh punishment on persistently delinquent boys before the juvenile court had a chance to hear their cases.


Analyzing the role of the police in the juvenile justice system represents a starting point for understanding how youthful misbehavior--and, indirectly, public behavior as a whole--was regulated in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American cities. Historians have hardly begun to explore what happened to children and adolescents at the lowest layer of the juvenile justice "wedding cake." In fact, urban police exercised extensive and wide-ranging authority over young offenders in three key ways.

First, the police performed a filtering function, determining which problems could be decided informally and which needed to be pushed up to the next higher layer of the "wedding cake." The extent of this practice varied from city to city, but the result was that police largely decided which boys would appear in juvenile court and on what charges. In Chicago, only a small percentage of cases ever reached that city's pioneering juvenile court because the police resolved the vast majority of investigations themselves.

Second, the police regulated juvenile behavior on their own, primarily by means of discretionary targeting of young potential offenders. Before the creation of juvenile court, the turn-of-the-century Detroit police rounded up boys and arrested them for petty offenses, using the process to reprimand them, but then frequently diverted them away from formal punishment in criminal courts. In the years following the creation of juvenile courts and of police professionalization, police often came to prioritize fighting crime over maintaining order or reforming offenders. Thus, between 1930 and 1940, the police in Los Angeles increasingly concentrated on arresting boys for felony offenses more so than for petty crimes, focusing on minority youth and on auto theft in particular. Arrest practices were influenced less by the preventive and rehabilitative goals of juvenile court than by the changing priorities of the police themselves.

Third, the police exercised unseen power within the juvenile justice system itself by determining whether or not children should be detained. As in Los Angeles, they imposed short-term, punitive incarceration on juveniles that supplemented whatever disposition courts might later determine was appropriate. Rather than simply consigning delinquents to the courts, the police often preferred to take matters into their own hands, using their discretionary authority to determine when and how youth were to be disciplined.

In short, considering juvenile justice in terms of a wedding cake model reveals that the juvenile court was only part of much larger legal and administrative systems. Many of the routine--but critical--decisions within these systems were made by the police. On their own and in tandem with juvenile courts, it is only a slight exaggeration to say that the police made the juvenile justice system run. Further research into the history of juvenile justice should focus less on juvenile courts in isolation, and more on the police and other institutional actors in the complex process of regulating adolescent crime and delinquency.

David Wolcott, "'The Cop Will Get You': The Police and Discretionary Juvenile Justice, 1890-1940"

While urban police are the public officials who most directly regulate juvenile crime and delinquency, their work has rarely been considered in histories of juvenile justice. Most studies concentrate on Progressive-era reform and juvenile court, not how kids got in trouble and entered the judicial system in the first place. This essay addresses that gap. Focusing on everyday interactions between police and disorderly youth in Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles, it demonstrates how the exercise of discretionary authority by the police shaped juvenile justice, both before and after the creation of juvenile court. First, police performed a filtering function, deciding which complaints against children and teenagers to handle at their own discretion and which to refer to court. Second, the police regulated adolescent behavior on their own by targeting potential offenders for arrest based on the perceived problems of the day (larceny and truancy in turn-of-century Detroit, auto theft in Depression-era Los Angeles). Third, the police, not the courts, decided whether or not to detain arrested youth prior to court hearings. Thus, the police largely determined the intake of the juvenile court and could discipline young offenders in their own fashion regardless of the outcome of a case.


(1.) John Peter Altgeld, Live Questions; including Our Penal Machinery and Its Victims, 3rd. ed. (Chicago, 1890), 182-183. Similar ideas are also expressed in Timothy D. Hurley, Origin of the Illinois Juvenile Court Law, 3rd ed. (1907; reprint New York, 1977), 56-57; J. J. Kelso, "Reforming Delinquent Children," in Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, 1903, ed. Isabel C. Barrows (Fred J. Herr, 1903), 234-235; Mornay Williams, "The Street Boy--Who He Is, and What to Do with Him," in Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections, 1903, ed. Isabel C. Barrows (Fred. J. Herr, 1903), 241; National Probation Association, "Pinched for Stealing," solicitation pamphlet, ca. 1925, located in clipping file "Juvenile Court," Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

(2.) Bessie Kelly, "The Cop Will Get You," The Survey 49 (January 15, 1923): 505-506. See also Daisy Lee Worthington Worcester, "Half-Brother," The Survey 64 (April 15, 1930): 82-85.

(3.) Dead End (Samuel Goldwyn, 1937); West Side Story (Mirisch /Seven Arts, 1961).

(4.) This description is based on the voluminous secondary literature on nineteenth-century juvenile justice and the origins of the juvenile court. See Thomas J. Bernard, The Cycle of Juvenile Justice (New York, 1992); Elizabeth J. Clapp, Mothers of All Children: Women Reformers and the Rise of Juvenile Courts in Progressive America (University Park, PA, 1998); Sanford J. Fox, "Juvenile Justice Reform: An Historical Perspective," Stanford Law Review 22 (June 1970): 1187-1239; Joseph M. Hawes, Children in Urban Society: Juvenile Delinquency in Nineteenth-Century America (New York, 1971); Herbert H. Lou, Juvenile Courts in the United States (Chapel Hill, 1927); Robert M. Mennel, Thorns and Thistles: Juvenile Delinquents in the United States, 1825-1940 (Hanover, NH, 1973); Anthony M. Platt, The Child Savers: The Invention of Delinquency (Chicago, 1969); David J. Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic (Boston, 1971); David J. Rothman, Conscience and Convenience: The As ylum and its Alternatives in Progressive America (Boston, 1980); Ellen Ryerson, The Best-Laid Plans: America's Juvenile Court Experiment (New York, 1978); Steven L. Schlossman, Love and the American Delinquent: The Theory and Practice of "Progressive" Juvenile Justice (Chicago, 1977); Steven Schlossman, "Delinquent Children: The Juvenile Reform School," in The Oxford History of the Prison: The Practice of Punishment in Western Society, ed. Norval Morris and David J. Rothman (New York, 1995); Eric C. Schneider, In the Web of Class: Delinquents and Reformers in Boston, 1810s- 1930s (New York, 1992); David Spinoza Tanenhaus, "Policing the Child: Juvenile Justice in Chicago, 1870-1925" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1997); Susan Tiffin, In Whose Best Interest?: Child Welfare Reform in the Progressive Era (Westport, CT, 1982).

(5.) Lou, Juvenile Courts; Hawes, Children in Urban Society, esp. 158-190, 225-262. On Progressivism more generally, see Arthur S. Link and Richard L. McCormick, Progressivism (Arlington Heights, III., 1983).

(6.) Platt, The Child Savers; Rothman, Conscience and Convenience. See also Randall Sheldon and Lynn Osbourne, "'For Their Own Good': Class Interests and the Child-Saving Movement in Memphis, Tennessee, 1900-1917," Criminology 27(1989): 747-767.

(7.) Schlossman, Love and the American Delinquent, 55-78, 157-188.

(8.) Mary E. Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 (Chapel Hill, 1995). Odem's work is also the best-known of a number of recent histories of juvenile justice that have made gender a key issue. Analysis of gender disparities in juvenile justice was pioneered in Steven Schlossman and Stephanie Wallach, "The Crime of Precocious Sexuality: Female Juvenile Delinquency in the Progressive Era," Harvard Educational Review 48 (February 1978): 65-93. Among more recent works, see also Ruth M. Alexander, The "Girl Problem": Female Sexual Delinquency in New York, 1900-1930 (Ithaca, NY, 1995); Janis Appier, Policing Women: The Sexual Politics of Law Enforcement and the LAPD (Philadelphia, 1998).

(9.) Tanenhaus, "Policing the Child"; L. Mara Dodge, "Our Juvenile Court Has Become More Like a Criminal Than a Parental Court: A Century of Reform at the Cook County (Chicago) Juvenile Court," paper presented at the American Historical Association annual meeting, Chicago, Ill., January 7, 2000.

(10.) Lawrence M. Friedman and Robert V. Percival, The Roots of Justice: Crime and Punishment in Alameda County, California, 1870-1910 (Chapel Hill, 1981). See also Samuel Walker, Sense and Nonsense about Crime and Drugs: A Policy Guide, 3rd. ed. (Belmont, Cal., 1994), 29-36.

(11.) Donald J . Black and Albert J. Reiss, Jr., "Police Control of Juveniles," American Sociological Review 35 (1970): 63-77; Donald J. Black, The Manners and Customs of the Police (New York, 1980); Richard M. Brede, "Complainants and Kids: The Role of Citizen Complainants in the Social Production of Juvenile Cases," in Law and Order in American Society, ed. Joseph M. Hawes (Port Washington, NY, 1979), 77-100; Larry K. Gaines, Victor E. Kappeler, and Joseph B. Vaughn, Policing in America, 3rd ed. (Cincinnati, OH, 1999), 251-256; Robert J. Lundman, Richard E. Sykes, and John P. Clark, "Police Control of Juveniles: A Replication," Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 18 (January 1979): 74-91; Douglas A. Smith and Christy A. Visher, "Street-Level Justice: Situational Determinants of Police Arrest Decisions," Social Problems 29 (December 1981): 167-177.

(12.) Ben B. Lindsey, "The Boy and the Court," Charities 13 (January 7, 1905): 350.

(13.) Charles R. Henderson, "Juvenile Courts: Problems of Administration," Charities 13 (January 7, 1905): 342; Julia C. Lathrop, "The Development of the Probation System in a Large City," Charities 13 (January 7, 1905): 345. Elizabeth Clapp devotes detailed attention to the volunteer probation officers, but she does not discuss police probation officers at all. See Clapp, Mothers of All Children, 64-70, 166-168.

(14.) Cook County (IL) Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Report for 1909 (Chicago, 1910), 15; Cook County (IL) Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for the Fiscal Year 1923 (Chicago, 1924), 21.

(15.) In 1909, for example, 39 percent (n = 12/31) of police probation officers had Irish surnames. Even in 1928, when Chicago's population had become far more diversified, the Irish still constituted 31 percent (n = 9/29) of police probation officers.

Police probation officers in 1909 listed in Gertrude Howe Britten to Harry E. Smoot (July 14, 1909), Juvenile Protective Association Papers, folder 16, 2, Special Collections Department, University of Illinois at Chicago; police probation officers in 1928 listed in Chicago Police Department, Annual Report (1928), 57. Ethnic extraction of names derived from Patrick Harris and Flavia Hodge, A Dictionary of Surnames (Oxford, 1988).

(16.) Cook County (IL) Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for 1915, 10; Cook County (IL) Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for the Fiscal Year 1917 (Chicago, 1918), 7; Helen R. Jeter, The Chicago Juvenile Court, US Children's Bureau Publication No. 104 (Washington, DC, 1922), 33.

(17.) Jeter, Chicago Juvenile Court, 32-33; Clifford R. Shaw and Earl D. Myers, "The Juvenile Delinquent" in The Illinois Crime Survey, ed. Illinois Association for Criminal Justice (1929; reprint Montclair, NJ, 1968), 678; Citizens' Police Committee, Chicago Police Problems (Chicago, 1931), 169-170.

(18.) Henderson, "Juvenile Courts," 342.

(19.) Britten to Smoot (July 14, 1909), 2.

(20.) Police probation officers filed 18,640 of 22,609 delinquency petitions between 1918 and 1926. The Cook County Juvenile Court also dealt with cases of dependency (neglect and abuse) and provided pensions to widowed and single mothers. As a result, the juvenile court received a total of 48,605 petitions between 1918 and 1926, of which delinquency petitions filed by the Chicago Police Department constituted 38 percent. Calculated from data in Chicago Police Department, Annual Reports (1918-1926); Cook County Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for 1923, 22; and Cook County (IL) Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for the Fiscal Year 1926 (Chicago, 1927), 16. The best discussion of an early juvenile court's treatment of dependency cases may be found in Jennifer Ann Trost, "Gateway to Justice: A Social History of Juvenile Court and Child Welfare in Memphis, Tennessee, 1910-1929" (Ph.D. diss., Carnegie Mellon University, 1996). On mother's pensions, see Tanenhaus, "Policing the Child," 276-328, and Joanne L. Goodwin, Gender and the Politics of Welfare Reform: Mothers' Pensions in Chicago, 1911-1929 (Chicago, 1997).

(21.) Cook County (IL). Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for 1915 (Chicago, 1916), 9,10.

(22.) Calculated from data published in Chicago Police Department, Annual Reports, 1919-1930. The Annual Report for 1918 does not specify juvenile offenses.

(23.) Calculated from data in Chicago Police Department, Annual Reports, 1918-1930.

(24.) Calculated from data in Chicago Police Department, Annual Reports, 1918-1930. Similar points are made in Jeter, Chicago Juvenile Court, 40-41; Shaw and Myers, "Juvenile Delinquent," 678; and Citizens' Police Committee, Chicago Police Problems, 172-173.

(25.) Jeter, Chicago Juvenile Court, 41; "A short interview with Officer O'Connor,' ca. 1926, Ernest W. Burgess Papers, box 37, folder 2, Special Collections, Joseph Regenstein Library, University of Chicago.

(26.) Britten to Smoot (July 14,1909), 4-5.

(27.) Cook County (IL) Juvenile Court, Report of the Juvenile Court of the fiscal year ending November 13, 1913 (Chicago, 1914), 99.

(28.) Katherine F. Lenroot and Emma O. Lundberg, Juvenile Courts at Work: A Study of the Organization and Methods of Ten Courts, US Children's Bureau Publication No. 104 (1925; reprint, New York, 1975), 40-51.

(29.) For boys' arrests decided by the Juvenile Division, n = 15,659 / 34,423. In any given year, the Detroit police themselves determined the outcomes of cases for between 35 and 52 percent of boys arrested. Calculated from data in Detroit Police Department, Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police of Detroit, Michigan to the Common Council of the City of Detroit (1920-1927, 1929-30). The Annual Report for 1928 was unavailable, as were complete data on dispositions of girls' arrests.

(30.) For boys, n = 24,452 / 39,810; for girls, n = 6,283 / 10,872. For any given year, the LAPD determined the outcomes of cases for between 51 and 71 percent of juveniles arrested. Calculated from data in Los Angeles Police Department, Annual Reports of the Police Department (1930-31 to 1940).

(31.) On police professionalization, see Robert M. Fogelson, Big-City Police (Cambridge, Mass., 1977), 40-91; David R. Johnson, American Law Enforcement: A History (St. Louis, 1981), 64-71,115-117; Samuel Walker, A Critical History of Police Reform: The Emergence of Professionalism (Lexington, Mass., 1977), 53-78. On the changing functions of the police, see Eric H. Monkkonen, Police in Urban America, 1860-1920 (Cambridge, 1981); Eugene J. Watts, "Police Priorities in Twentieth Century St. Louis," Journal of Social History 14 (Summer 1981): 649-673; Eugene J. Watts, "Police Response to Crime and Disorder in Twentieth-Century Sr. Louis," Journal of American History 70 (June 1983): 340-358.

(32.) Analyzing different data from different cities at different times obviously does not demonstrate change over time, nor do I intend it to. Instead, I intend to offer two illustrative models that demonstrate different police approaches to the problem of regulating youthful misconduct.

(33.) All quantitative descriptions of juvenile arrests in 1890s Detroit are based on a sample of juvenile arrests in the Detroit Police Department's "Record of Arrests" for the years 1890, 1893, and 1896 (volumes 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 23, and 24), all located in Police Department Collection, Detroit City Archives, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library (hereafter cited as "PD/CA"). The sample includes 20 percent of boys arrested who fell between the ages of 8 and 16. A separate analysis was also conducted of all girls between the ages of 10 and 17 who were arrested in these years. Sampling these three years yielded 367 male arrests and 183 female arrests and revealed no obvious variations from year to year. Age groupings were chosen because the Detroit police almost never arrested boys younger than 8 or girls younger than 10 and because these age groups parallel those which later fell under the jurisdiction of the Wayne County Juvenile Court following its 1907 creation.

Descriptions of arrest patterns for the total Detroit population are derived from different sources--tabulated aggregate data published in the Detroit Police Department's annual reports. See Detroit Police Department, Twenty-Sixth Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police to the Common Council of the City of Detroit, 1890 (Detroit, 1891), 69-72; Detroit Police Department, Twenty-Ninth Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police to the Common Council of the City of Detroit, 1893 (Detroit, 1894), 57-59; Detroit Police Department, Thirty-First Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police to the Common Council of the City of Detroit, 1895 (Detroit, 1896), 54. The 32nd Annual Report (1896) is unavailable, so data from the previous year's report was substituted.

Arrest rates were calculated by dividing the total number of arrests from the three sampled years (for boys, multiplied by 5 to compensate for the 20 percent sample) by the Detroit population for the appropriate age groups, interpolated from US census data. See US Department of the Interior, Census Office, Report of the Population of the United States at the Eleventh Census: 1890, Part II (Washington, 1897), 119; US Bureau of the Census, Census Reports Volume II. Twelfth Census of the United Stares, Taken in the Year 1900. Population (Washington, 1902), 128. For a more detailed methodological discussion, see David Bryan Wolcott, "Cops and Kids: The Police and Juvenile Delinquency in Three American Cities, 1890-1940" (Ph.D. diss., Carnegie Mellon University, 2000).

(34.) The historian Eric Monkkonen has shown that public order charges comprised over half of all urban arrests (in a nation-wide sample of cities) between 1860 and 1920. See Monkkonen, Police in Urban America, 64-85; Eric H. Monkkonen, "A Disorderly People?: Order in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries," Journal of American History 68 (December 1981): 539-559. Similarly, Friedman and Percival have demonstrated that 64 percent of the arrests in Oakland, California between 1875 and 1910 were for public order offenses. See Friedman and Percival, Roots of Justice, 67-113.

(35.) N = 15,168/20,918. Calculated from Detroit Police Dept., Annual Reports, 1890, 1893, and 1895. See also Rebecca Reed, "Regulating the Regulators: Ideology and Practice in the Policing of Detroit, 1880-1918" (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1991); John C. Schneider, "Public Order and the Geography of the City: Crime, Violence, and the Police in Detroit, 1845-1875," Journal of Urban History 4 (February 1978): 183-208; John C. Schneider, Detroit and the Problem of Order, 1830-1880: A Geography of Crime, Riot, and Policing (Lincoln, 1980), 126-127.

(36.) N = 57 / 367. Calculated from Detroit juvenile attest database.

(37.) For boys, n 246 / 367; calculated from Detroit juvenile arrest database. For the total male population, n = 5,411 /20,918; calculated from Detroit Police Dept., Annual Reports, 1890, 1893, 1895.

(38.) See, as examples, "Complaints, Vol. 1," May 25, 1896, 21; May 25, 1896, 26 and July 6, 1896, 85; "Complaints, Vol. 2," Dec. 22, 1897, 73; May 14, 1898, 331; and June 24, 1898, 419; "Complaints, Vol. 11," June 21, 1903, 119; and "Complaints, Vol. 18," Jan. 24, 1908, 148, all PD/CA.

(39.) "Complaints, Vol. 1," June 1, 1896, 30, PD/CA.

(40.) "Complaints, Vol. 3," May 7,1898,316, PD/CA.

(41.) "Incidental Events," October 28, 1899; "Incidental Events," August 21, 1905, PD/CA.

(42.) Michigan's compulsory education laws are quoted in Richard A. Bolt, Juvenile Offenders in the City of Detroit, With Suggestions for the Establishment of a Juvenile Court and Probation System (Ann Arbor, 1903), 8-9, 27-28, and in Michigan State Reform School, Report of the Superintendent of the State Reform School at Lansing Michigan, to the State Board of Inspectors for the Biennial Period ending June 30, 1892 (Lansing, 1892), xvi-xvii. On the concept of "status offenses," see Steven Schlossman and Susan Turner, "Status Offenders, Criminal Offenders, and Children 'At Risk' in Early Twentieth-Century Juvenile Court" in Children at Risk in America: History, Concepts, and Public Policy, ed. Roberta Wollons (Albany, 1993), 32-57.

(43.) N = 64/367. Calculated from Detroit juvenile arrest database.

(44.) N = 23/62. Calculated from Detroit juvenile attest database.

(45.) On diversion, see John P. Kenney and Dan 0. Pursuit, Police Work with Juveniles and the Administration of Juvenile Justice, 5th ed. (1954; Springfield, 111., 1975), 198-211; Edwin M. Lemert, "Diversion in Juvenile Justice: What Hath Been Wrought," Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 18 (January 1981): 34-45.

(46.) For boys, n = 88/367; calculated from Detroit juvenile arrest database. For all attests, n = 2,339/25,381; calculated from Detroit Police Dept., Annual Reports, 1890, 1893, and 1895. The Detroit Police Department's tabulated data did not distinguish dispositions by sex, so this last finding includes both male and female arrests.

(47.) "Complaints, Vol. 3," May 8, 1898, 319, PD/CA. Modem studies of police also show that citizen complainants often influence the outcome of encounters between police and adolescents. See Black and Reiss, "Police Control of Juveniles," 63-77; Brede, "Complainants and Kids," 77-100; Lundman et al, "Police Control of Juveniles: A Replication," 74-91.

(48.) N = 37/64. Cases of boy status offenders who were referred to the courts are described in Bolt, Juvenile Offenders, 49-57.

(49.) Quotation from Detroit Police Department, Twenty-Seventh Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police to the Common Council of the City of Detroit, 1891 (Detroit, 1892), 42. See also Bolt, Juvenile Offenders, 33-34.

(50.) Tanenhaus, "Policing the Child," 380-403.

(51.) Fogelson, Big-City Police, 168-241; Johnson, American Law Enforcement, 105-121; Monkkonen, Police in Urban America; Walker, Police Reform, 139-166; Gerald Woods, The Police in Los Angeles: Reform and Professionalization (New York, 1993).

(52.) Calculated from data in Los Angeles Police Department, Annual Reports (1930-31 to 1940). The LAPD's tabulated arrest data listed the number of arrests for individual charges, but also placed each charge in one of five degree categories: felonies (such as auto theft, burglary, assault, etc.), misdemeanors (such as petty theft, battery), non-criminal offenses (such as dependency, sexual delinquency), violations of municipal ordinances, and federal offenses. The final three categories account for the differences between the total distribution of arrests and the sum of felony and misdemeanor arrests.

(53.) Calculated from LAPD, Annual Report (1940), 72-75. Data on the African-American share of the Los Angeles population taken from US Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census, Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940, Population; Volume 11 Characteristics of the Population (Washington, 1943), 629.

The US Census did not report the Hispanic population of Los Angeles in 1940, so that data are taken from the historian Edward Escobar's population estimate (based on local sources) of 133,000 Hispanics. See Edward J. Escobar, Race, Police, and the Making of a Political Identity: Mexican Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department, 1900-1945 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1999), 166, Escobar argues that arrests cannot be used as a measure of criminal behavior, and that LAPD arrest data thus do not indicate excessive criminality by Mexican-American youth. Arrests, however, can be used to measure police behavior, and that is the sense in which these data are presented. See Escobar, Race, Police, and the Making of a Political Identity, 186-202.

(54.) A systematic sampling technique was employed to select 10 percent of delinquency cases petitioned to the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court by the LAPD in 1940 (cases petitioned by other agencies, such as the county sheriff's office or probation department, were excluded, as were dependency cases--LAPD-initiated cases involving neglect and abuse). The resulting sample included 300 male offenders and 68 females between the ages of 10 and 17. The principal documents used for this analysis were reports filed with the juvenile court by the LAPD's Crime Prevention Division. The original case files are part of a much larger data set of all new petitions filed in 1903, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950, and approximately two thirds of the petitions filed in 1960, altogether totaling over 25,000 cases. These records are in the possession of Steven L. Schlossman and used with his permission.

(55.) Escobar, Race, Police, and the Making of a Political Identity, 105-120.

(56.) This difference achieves statistical significance; chi-square (1) = 8.75; p < 0.01. Whites and African Americans are treated as a single group in order to isolate Hispanics as the independent variable.

(57.) For Hispanics among boys charged with offenses against persons, n = 15 / 28.

(58.) Using a single-factor ANOVA test, difference is statistically significant; p < 0.01.

(59.) This difference achieves statistical significance; chi-square (1) = 14.24; p < 0.01. Put differently, Hispanics accounted for 62 percent (n = 16 / 26) of the boys whom police reported as belonging to gangs. On the concentration of mid-twentieth century Los Angeles gangs in Mexican-American barrio communities, see Joan W. Moore with Robert Garcia, Carlos Garcia, Luis Cerda, and Frank Valencia, Homeboys: Gangs, Drugs, and Prison in the Barrios of Los Angeles (Philadelphia, 1978).

(60.) For at least two accomplices, n = 11/ 28; for gangs, n = 7 / 28. On gang violence, see Eric C. Schneider, Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings: Youth Gangs in Postwar New York (Princeton, NJ, 1999).

(61.) Los Angeles County Juvenile Court Case Nos. 92548 and 92525. All names from these confidential records have been changed to protect the subjects' anonymity, but I have attempted to retain their ethnic distinctions.

(62.) This difference achieves statistical significance; chi-square (1) = 7.14; p < 0.01.

(63.) N = 47 / 91. By contrast, the LAPD initiated only 26 percent of boys' arrests for other offenses (n = 52 / 197). The difference achieves statistical significance; chi-square (1) = 17.60; p < 0.01.

(64.) Because the sources deal only with cases that led to petitions to court, they do not indicate how often the LAPD pulled over cars filled with adolescent boys who had done nothing wrong. Edward Escobar has argued that the LAPD routinely targeted Hispanic boys in automobiles for harassment and arrest. See Edward J. Escobar, "Zoot-Suiters and Cops: Chicano Youth and the Los Angeles Police Department during World War II," in The War in American Culture: Society and Consciousness During World War II, ed. Lewis A. Erenberg and Susan E. Hirsch (Chicago, 1996), 284-312.

(65.) Los Angeles Case No. 92168. The state of California had raised the age at which boys could obtain learning permits and drivers' licenses from 14 to 16 in 1931. See LAPD, Annual Report (1933-34), 27; New York Times, January 14, 1940.

(66.) Scott L. Bottles, Los Angeles and the Automobile: The Making of the Modern City (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1987), 92-94; James J. Flink, The Automobile Age. (Cambridge, 1988), 140-145, 159-160.

(67.) One important exception is Schlossman, Love and the American Delinquent, 155-156. Schlossman suggests that, in the early years of Milwaukee Juvenile Court, short-term detention represented a "a comparatively safe children's jail," a new, if hidden, option in the sentencing of young offenders more appropriate than simple release but not so severe as "long-term committal to a reformatory" or "short-term sentencing to a county jail."

(68.) Cook County (IL) Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for the Fiscal Year 1919 (Chicago, 1920), 19. Prior to 1907, juvenile offenders had been detained in a converted house and barn managed by Juvenile Court Committee, a branch of the Chicago Women's Club and the predecessor to the Juvenile Protective Association. On the Detention Home, see Anne Meis Knupfer, "The Chicago Detention Home," in A Noble Social Experiment? The First 100 Years of Cook County Juvenile Court, 1899-1999, ed. Gwen Hoerr McNamee (Chicago, 1999), 52-59.

(69.) Cook County Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for 1918, 10-11; Jeter, Chicago Juvenile Court, 51-52

(70.) Chicago Police Department, Rules and Regulations (1924), 57; Cook County Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for 1918, 9. On the new building, see Cook County Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for 1923, 16.

(71.) Cook County Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for 1926, 64-77; Shaw and Myers, "Juvenile Delinquent," 680-81. Some boys of juvenile court age were also still held at the Cook County Jail in these years and even later. See Fred Gross, Detention and Prosecution of Children: Jail Detention and Criminal Prosecution of Children of Juvenile Court Age in Cook County, 1938-1942 (Chicago, 1946), 31.

(72.) Cook County Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Home, Annual Reports for 1926, 77.

(73.) Samuel R. Blake, Report on Conditions and Progress of the Juvenile Court of Los Angeles County, 1930-1933 (Los Angeles, 1934), 51.

(74.) N = 276 / 287. Calculated from Los Angeles Juvenile Court 1940 database.

(75.) Blake, Report on the Juvenile Court (1930-33), 51-52; Los Angeles Police Department, Annual Report of the Police Department, Fiscal Year 1936-37 (Los Angeles, 1937), 32; Florence Perrigo Van Sickle, "The Function of the Mental Hygiene Clinic at Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles, California," (M.S.W. thesis, University of Southern California, 1944), 20-37.

(76.) N = 174 / 287. Quotation from LAPD, Annual Report (1936-37), 32.

(77.) Calculated from Los Angeles Juvenile Court 1940 database.

(78.) Calculated from Los Angeles Juvenile Court 1940 database.

(79.) For boys accused of petty theft who were detained, n = 19 / 55. In contrast, 67 percent (n = 164 / 245) of boys petitioned to court for all other offenses were detained. The difference achieves statistical significance; chi-square (1) = 19.81, p < 0.01. Calculated from Los Angeles Juvenile Court 1940 database.

(80.) For boys accused of burglary who were detained, n = 43 / 67. Thirty-four of the 67 boys accused of burglary were between age 10 and 14.

(81.) For burglars sent to County Jail, n = 7 / 67. For burglars sent to Juvenile Hall, n = 36 / 67.

(82.) This difference achieves statistical significance. Chi-square (1) = 11.05, p < 0.01.

(83.) Los Angeles Case No. 92000.

(84.) N = 222 / 279. In this sample, boys were considered cooperative if investigating officers from the LAPD or the County Probation Department described them so. In addition, 81 percent admitted their offenses in full (n = 233 / 288) and another 9 percent admitted them in part (n = 26 / 288).

(85.) Los Angeles Case No. 92788.

(86.) The police recommended detention for 42 of 57 boys labeled uncooperative. In contrast, they recommended detention for 129 of 222 boys labeled cooperative. This difference achieves statistical significance, chi-square, (1) = 4.64; p < 0.05. Calculated from Los Angeles Juvenile Court 1940 database.

(87.) This difference does not achieve statistical significance; chi-square (1) = 1.55; p = 0.21.

(88.) Los Angeles Case No. 93760.
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Author:Wolcott, David
Publication:Journal of Social History
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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