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A POLICE REPORTER'S BRIEF FOR PROHIBITION
THE millennium has not arrived as yet, but it is on its way. One can still be drowned, stabbed, shot, hit by a train or otherwise killed, but records will -yove that it isn't being done nearly as often as formerly. And the reason ia Prohibition. Upon the accuracy of this statement opinion ?fll not be unanimous. Yet there has never jieen less crime or fewer seriou? accidents and other calamities than now. and this has been true ever since Governor Miller played his little April fool joke on the people of New York State by signing the Mullan-Gage law. which is to the state presumably what the Vol jj^c* act is^ to the country at large. Actually, thcugh, the Mullan-Gage law has done more to stop trafficking in liquor in New York State than the Volstead act could ever have accom? plished. While it has not put an end to drink? ing in New York City, it has put an end tc the accidents and crimes that formerly re suited, to a large extent, from overindulgence jn alcoholic beverages. If you don't believe it ask any police detec? tive. Ask him if this isn't the best summer he's ever had, as viewed from the amount of work he has had to do. And then ask the newspaper reporter assigned to crime news whether this isn't the worst summer he has ever experienced, as judged the same way. When the police officials are happy the police reporters are miserable and vice versa. The writer claims to know, for he ha? been covering police news in one of the largest boroughs of New York City for fifteen years, and he is dolefully positive that this is the worst summer that has ever happened. Whether it is the worst that will happen is the question that is keeping him awake nights. This, in the Old Days, Was Crime's Busy Season Summer in the good old days of booze was the busiest and most profitable season of the year to the police reporter. But now all is changed sincr the enforcement of prohibition ?vas put into the hands of the state and city authorities. The Federal enforcement agents in New York City at least were a joke. No? body ever gave them a thought. The liquor Business not only went on as usual, but it actually improved considerably, because the man who had never drunk before thought it mildly devilish to do so after he was told he mustn't. So January and February of this year, for instance, were good months from the police reporter's point of view. In one city borough alone there were eight bully good murders in eight weeks. Then the police com? menced enforcing the prohibition law. Oh, no, it isn't just a temporary slump in crime, such as has been experienced before. No such luck. This slump is here to stay. Never before have three months passed with? out the commission in a borough of nearly 500,000 population of a serious crime. The police reporters are mortgaging their houses, pawning their watches and looking forward to a cold, hard winter?those of them, that is, who aren't seeking new jobs. We might think business would pick up again later if it weren't that things ought to be humming right now. The merry clang of the ambulance bell should be ringing in our tars almost continuously, we should be leaping nimbly out of the way of the speeding police patrol at every corner. The niorgae should be chock full of the remains of victims. And -the medical examiner and the District Attor . ney should be working themselves to death. Why? Because the population is increasing rapidly in every section of the city, and the ??rough considered as an example here is no exception. There are more automobiles driven in New York City to-day than ever before, and this borough is literally overrun with them en Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Labor conditions are said to be poor and getting worse, with hundreds out of work. The young In a Narrative Strictly of Personal Experience, He Says Thflt the Crime Business Hasn't Been as Dull in Fifteen Years as It Is This Summer, and Dolefully Inquires, If Prohibition Didn't Do It, What Did? Monday Morning, Once the Bright Spot in His Week, Is Profitless By ARTHUR H. LABAREE Illustrations by HARRY WICKEY The "dollar beer racket" was a proiidc source of news on Saturday and Sunday nights. The chief object was to drink all the beer possible before the lights went out or the ambulance came er men, however?the very ones who used to bring the most joy and simoleona to the police reporters?still have enough left from their fat war-time wages to indulge themselves dur? ing their spare time. Every condition but one is exactly right for a busy season. And that one condition is prohibition. Dollar Beer Always Good For the Riot Call How easily one can recall the "good old days," for, after all, they were rather recent. There was, for example, the "dollar beer racket," a prolific soui'ce of news on Saturday and Sunday nights. Queens Borough was the native habitat of the dollar beer racket. The devotees of this unpeaceful method of passing an evening came chiefly from the two adjoin? ing boroughs of the city, and most of them were known technically to the police as "scoov ers." The origin of this term has never been explained, but that other, the "dollar beer racket," was always obvious, even to the un? initiated. It was a function held in a picnic park or grove?and they abounded in Queens ?the chief object of which was to drink all the beer possible before the lights went out or the ambulance came. The admission to these elite affairs was $1, and it entitled each "guest" to all the beer he or she could con? sume without additional cost. Beer was cheap then in the quality pro ?^ vided at these affairs, and the *SV., ?^ picnic park proprietor was ~j~p=L^ reasonably sure that most of &l|fr JS>? his patrons couldn't drink a 5?P*ap^? dollar's worth. But there ?lllu^?P - were always plenty who tried ar?irt^^t to' an^' wne*l*er they suc ^^ffi|p><^N coeded or not, the re $T ] / ] suits were the same. uhiml^. That beer possessed a f e*tt police reporters are pawning their watches and looking forward to a ?-. .*.;' ?- . M**ilA hrird mints** void, hard winter and Sunday night, usually both, the reporters were kept busy obtaining the details of stab? bing and shooting affrays at picnic parks fea? turing dollar beer rackets. Some "scoover" would insult some other "scoover's" "lady friend," or, worse yet, would alienate her fickle affection. Thereupon out would come the "gat," the razor or the stiletto, depend? ing upon the preference and nationality of its possessor, and then, if the "gent" who had lost his "lady friend" wasn't too drunk to shoot, cut or stab effectively, it was time for the news hounds to get on the job. The write*' never attended a "dollar beer racket" except in his professional capacity, and yet he believes he was the most regular attend? ant over a period of several years of any resi? dent of New York City. If he happened to be in a police station when the riot call came he would ride to the scene in the patrol wagon with the reserves. If he was at one of the local hospitals he would hop up beside the ambulance chauffeur. He usually managed to be one of the earliest arrivals after the cas? ualties started. On one occasion he arrived well ahead of the police. A special officer em? ployed in a picnic park, better known as a "bouncer," had foolishly and overzealously in? terfered while two "gents" were shooting out their troubles. They had promptly forgotten their own dispute and made common cause against the natural enemy, as a consequence of which the "bouncer" was shot dead. Before the precinct sleuths reached the park the re? porter had procured statements from all the witnesses and one of the principals, who had himself been shot, but not seriously injured, by a brother officer of the slain "special." But instead of being grateful to the news gatherer for offering to share his information with them the detectives were angry because he had beaten them to it. A Type of "Good Time" Which Is Now Extinct On another interesting and gory occasion this reporter reached a picnic park on an ambulance, in response to ah urgent tele? phonic invitation to send at least two sur? geons with all the sewing material they could gather up in a hurry. This time the boys were throwing beer glasses at each other. The beer glass of the dollar racket days was a heavy affair, but when it struck something heavier and harder, like a "scoover's" head, it certainly did break prettily. And it could in? flict some of the bloodiest scalp wounds that the ambulance surgeons were ever called upon to suture. There were six patients awaiting their ministrations on this call. They opened a dressing station in a small room adjoining the barroom, and we all went to it. With his sleeves rolled up the writer went ahead of the surgeons with a razor and a pair of scis? sors, removing the hair from around the scalp wounds. By the time this job was done he could have qualified as a barber in the best ?hop in the city, with plenty of experience as a recommendation. Fresh victims were brought in every few minutes. The police reserves were there, but every time they rushed up to one end of the hall to stop a fight the lads at the other,end would renew hostilities. Altogether about twenty-four lacerated scalps were sewed up before we drove back to the hospital, and a good time was had by all. That was one of the compensating features of the milder picnic park riots. Hard feelings vanished when the ambulance sur? geon took charge, and many a time two youths, stretched out side by side as the out? come of injuries they had inflicted upon each other, would argue with the doctor as to which one he should first attend, as the more serious? ly hurt. Sometimes Guns and Knives Followed Beer Glasses Some of the more deadly fights, however, when guns and knives were employed, were not so quickly forgotten. Gang wars fre? quently resulted, particularly if the "lady friend," who almost always wa3 involved, in one way or another, was insulted by or went with a member of a rival outfit. This would mean reprisal shootings or stabbings, and oc? casionally there would be a series of these affrays on successive Saturday or Sunday nights. Until a few reformers inaugurated a crusade against picnic parks, which, however, did not prove successful until beer lost its kick by law, every one took these battles as a matter of course. Some picnic park proprietors consid? ered it good advertising to have the names of their establishments mentioned in the news? paper accounts of the casualties. It added a sort of tone to the place. Others, attempting to cater to less volatile spirits, used to request the reporters not to identify their places of business. But none of the latter really ex? pected that we wouldn't, and so none was of? fended when we did, and I have never known of a case where a reporter, if present on legiti? mate business, was interfered with or ordered out of a park. On the other hand, if he en? joyed cheap beer and unfragrant cigars he could have his fill of both before he left. Murders and felonious assaults outside of the picnic parks, but usually the result of a visit to one of them, used also to be common. "Drunks" often fell in front of or from street? cars and trains. Such crimes as wife beating, hold-ups and small thefts were too usual for much consideration, and the wife beaters were so invariably drunk that the possible exception would prove the rule. The real news features of the Monday papers, however, were the automobile wrecks, in which from one to half a dozen were killed. The really "good" ones, from a reporter's point of view?which, of course, were really very bad ones from a humanitarian standpoint? occurred, as a rule, between 2 and 4 ai m. on Sunday or Monday mornings. Overindul gence in liquor was unquestionably responsible for a large proportion of them. It is not to be thought, however, that the chauffeurs were drunk. In the majority of cases no judge or jury or even ambulance surgeon would have pronounced as intoxicated the driver of a wrecked car. As a matter of usual fact, the motorists drank just enough to feel reckless. Then they would "step on the gas." The later it was, the harder they would step. And the police, in trying to determine why two cars, running in opposite directions on a clear road, should suddenly plunge at each other with dis? astrous results to the occupants laid the direct blame upon excessive speed. But without the internal stimulation of the chauffeur there would have been no reckless acceleration of the car. How do I know it? Because that sort of accident doesn't happen now. The driver who had consumed a few cock? tails or highballs was certainly not drunk when he started for home from wherever he had been. But the rush of the night air would provide additional exhilaration and the squeals of delight from his passengers would make him want to show them how fast the old boat could travel. A few miles of that and he was ready for anything. The sight of a lowered gate at a railroad crossing was merely a chal? lenge to crash through it and beat the train across, if he could. And the grade crossing auto smash in the good old, wet old days bought the hard-working reporter many a suit of clothes. Look back, if you can. and try to recall how long it is since you have been horrified to read in your Monday morning newspaper a headline fea- to*. there are still collisions between motor cars?lots of them. And some result in deaths and serious injuries. In addition, many pedestrians are struck by machines. But that is due to the enormous increase in the number of cars in uso. The grade crossing wreck was due, almost invariably, to the presence of too much alcohol in the tank that was driving the automobile, for no man in his normal senses would deliberately try to beat a railroad train ever a crossing. The drunken brawl is another feature of al? coholic activity abolished by the prohibition ad? vocates. These affrays, save when accompanied by gun or knife play, were not proiific sources of news, so even the police reporters do not grieve at their passing. As for drownings, they, too, have decreased in frequency. Bathers are more cautious in their aquatic sports now that they no longer become alcoholically superheated, and, although bigger crowds than ever are thronging the beaches this hot summer, the swimmers are better able to take care of themselves in the water. Consequently there are fewer calls for the pul motor. Youths made reckless by a few drinks used to help both the reporters and the undertakers when they rocked the boat. But the boat-rocker has vanished with the fisher? men who tried to change seats in midstream after sampling the "bait" they carried on their hips. On Monday mornings, in that ancient period of a few months ago, the news writers in Queens were accustomed, provided they hadn't been up all night, to arise much earlier than usual, for they invariably needed the extra time to collect the tragedies of the hours just preceding. But now it doesn't make any difference whether they get up on Mondays or not, for there's never anything doing on Sunday nights. In these days they stroll into Police Head? quarters on Monday mornings, trying to sum? mon a flash of the old keenness for newsfand eagerly, or as eagerly as they can, produce copy paper and pencil. Reporters Seek in Vain The Old, Old Stories "Aw. put 'em away," yawns the bored police lieutenant. "We ain't turned a wheel all night." Promptly at 9 we step into our local magistrate's court. The room is crowded. We feel encouraged. Maybe the day isn't spoiled, after all. Then we glance at the prisoners' detention pen. The do^'* stands wide open. There is no one in it. Our soar? ing spirits do a nose dive into our shoes. "Why the crowd?" we ask the clerk. "Oh, they didn't keep to the right, or they bent somebody's mudguards," is the doleful response. "Nothing good?" we quaver. "Don't make me laugh. We haven't had a felony case in a month." This particular police court is one of the busiest in the city in the number of cases handled. But most of them involve minor infractions of the corporation ordinances or highway laws. The reporters have sat down, not once, but many times lately, and listened to between forty and eighty arraignments in a session without hearing described a single incident that would be worth relating in a newspaper. It must not be imagined, from all this, that drinking is" a thing of the past. "Drunks" are still arraigned in our city police courts, but A they are charged with intoxication?nothing m worse. And the explanation of that, as given ? to me by a veteran police official of the city, is as follows: "The stuff they get now knocks 'em cold. They can't get beer, so they have to drink hard stuff. And after one or two snifters of that they lie right down where they are and go to sleep. They can't fight any more when they're drunk. They can't do anything. They're dead to the world*" "Aw, put 'em away," yawns the bored police lieutenant. "We ain't turned a wheel ah night"