• Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 2)

Denver's scandal began in a relatively small way. The city is divided into five police districts, each one a semi-autonomous barony under the direction of the precinct captain. Investigators have pinpointed the South Denver District as the incubator for Denver's cop-robbers. "It was pretty well known," says Whaley, "that if you got assigned to South Denver, pretty soon you'd be a burglar." But in 1956, when rumors of a ring of uniformed criminals in the South Denver precinct began to spread, city and police authorities simply transferred the suspected cops to other districts, without investigation, lest the stories reach the city's press and damage the police department's public image. "Pretty soon the boys settled down in some other district," says Investigator Eugene Brace. "All they did was spread the infection." Soon they started going after money, not just goods." By the time of their exposure, there were at least five organized teams of expert safecrackers on the force.

Citizens' Connivance. But for all the drawbacks inherent in Denver's police system, and for all the mistakes made by Denver's elected officials, it required the connivance of Denver's citizenry for the cop corruption to spread as it did. Every small and seemingly innocent gratuity offered to the cops contributed to the breakdown. The burglar-cops were in a unique position to know when Denver merchants overestimated their losses for insurance purposes. Once, when Whaley found an open door in a leather-goods shop, he checked and found that the place obviously had not been disturbed. He summoned the owner, who sobbed: "My God, my God, I had leather goods stacked over there to the ceiling and it's all gone, all gone, $20,000 worth of goods." Says Whaley: "It would have taken a truck to move that much, and we could see that nobody had been there. I explained to the owner, and all he said was, 'By the way, officer, why don't you bring your wife down and we'll fix her up with a new leather coat—$80 to $100. And tell the lieutenant and his driver to do the same thing.' "

These, then, are the bitter lessons of Denver: a city's police department is only as strong as the leadership and training that it provides, the discipline it maintains, and the moral stamina and intelligence of the men it recruits. And it is only as honest as the citizenry that it is sworn to protect.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next Page