by VIRGIL W. PETERSON
A FEW years ago the Attorney General of the United States in a magazine article informed the people: “As your attorney general, I have been asked to bring you the facts and the figures, the tragic evidence of juvenile crime. . . . Here are some . . . of the figures chargeable to some of our youth ... 51 per cent of all burglaries, over half of them, 36 per cent of all other robberies. . . .” Naturally these figures given by the highest law enforcement official of the land were widely quoted in the press, over the radio, from speakers’ platforms, and by crime prevention groups. Actually, the figures were based only on the available fingerprint cards of persons arrested and charged with burglary or robbery — a small sampling from a huge army of burglars and robbers.
In fact, during this same period national statistics reflected that of all burglaries reported to the police only 31.3 per cent — less than one third — were cleared by arrest. Robbery clearances amounted to 36.2 per cent. Thus out of every ten burglaries committed, apparently no one knew who committed seven of them, and the same applied to over six out of every ten robberies. It is true, of course, that because of restrictions placed on the fingerprinting of youthful offenders in some jurisdictions the number of juveniles arrested would be considerably greater than is reflected by fingerprint cards. But it is not surprising that of those arrested a disproportionate number are juveniles. Their youthful recklessness and inexperience in crime make it relatively easy to apprehend them. The mature professional criminal is more difficult to detect and apprehend. And it is reasonable to assume that he is responsible for a large percentage of our unsolved crime. At any rate the Attorney General’s flat statement that over half of the burglaries were attributable to youth was little more than an opinion — an opinion that may be far from the truth.
It is highly probable that a very sizable proportion of our most dangerous criminals are never apprehended or convicted. The most vicious murderers, for example, are those who kill for pay. Few of them are ever caught, much less convicted. In almost every large municipality there are numerous unsolved gang killings. In Chicago alone, there have been approximately 700 gang murders during the past twenty-five years, and the number of persons convicted in connection with these slayings could be counted on one’s fingers. In fact, the individuals believed responsible for a great share of these murders have amassed fortunes from illegal activities over a period of several decades. And virtually not one of them has ever been convicted for any major offense in local courts.
During the five-year period from 1947 through 1951 over a million burglaries were reported to the police in about 2200 cities of America. No one knows who committed over 800,000 of them. During the same period in the identical cities, out of 184,388 known robberies, 108,413 were not solved through any arrest.
Keeping the record clean
The unsolved crime figures would probably be much more astounding if all offenses appeared in official records. Many offenses are never reported to the police and cannot be entered in the records. Others are omitted because of poor record systems or through a deliberate manipulation of figures designed to uphold the fair name of the city or the reputation of the department. A few years ago the crime figures of the New York City police department were so patently inaccurate that the Federal Bureau of Investigation refused to include them in the Uniform Crime Reports for the years 1949 through 1951. During the first six months of 1948, official reports listed only 1498 burglaries and 848 robberies in New York City. After the record system had been corrected. New York City reported 21,786 burglaries and 4469 robberies during the first six months of 1952. It is an outright absurdity to assume — as the official records show — that there were fifteen times more burglaries and over five times more robberies committed in New York City during the first six months of 1952 than in a comparable period four years earlier.
Many years ago the Chicago Crime Commission uncovered a similar situation in Chicago. Of 23,984 burglary offenses reported to the various police districts during 1926 and 1927 it was found that 21,106 were never recorded at the office of the secretary of police, the only source of official crime figures. Following the Crime Commission report, more accurate crime statistics were published: they showed an increase in burglaries from 879 to 18,689 a year, and annual robbery figures soared from 1263 to 14,544.
In some types of crimes, it is well known that only a very small proportion of the total offenses are ever reported to the authorities at all. This is true of shoplifting. Of the large number of shoplifting offenses committed each year only a small percentage are detected, and of those detected many are never reported to the police.
A few years ago a study of shoplifting was made in one of the large cities. Inventory losses from shoplifting in some of the principal stores were tremendous. It was impossible to arrive at any accurate estimate of the large number of offenses committed or the number of shoplifters plying their trade in these establishments. But during a period of just six months the employees of only four stores apprehended 1576 shoplifters and recovered from them the articles they had stolen. Only 137 of those caught in the act of shoplifting—less than 9 per cent of the total — were turned over to the police. Of the remaining 1439, no report of any kind was made to the police as to either the known offenses or the persons caught. And these unreported, known shoplifting offenses committed in just four stores in one city during a six-month period amounted to approximately one sixth of the total of such offenses reported by 355 cities with a combined population exceeding 40 million people. At best, crime figures give but a very incomplete picture of the crime problem.
Pressure on the politicians
Every few months, particularly during political campaigns, prosecutors give out imposing statistics reflecting records of 80 or 90 per cent convictions in cases they handle. The public is sometimes deeply impressed, but actually such figures have little if any significance in so far as the over-all crime picture is concerned. In 1951, a total of 13,048 burglaries was reported to the Chicago Police Department, and only 317 of these cases resulted in an indictment for burglary by the Cook County Grand Jury. In 1951, there were 5526 robberies committed in Chicago, and only 487 resulted in indictments for robbery. It is thus apparent that approximately 97 per cent of the burglaries and 91 per cent of the robberies committed in Chicago in 1951 did not even result in an indictment for the offense committed.
Comparable situations prevail in many of our large cities. And the high percentage of convictions which is constantly paraded before the public frequently relates to only an infinitesimal percentage of the total offenses committed.
With our entire law enforcement machinery and the administration of justice constantly drawn into the swirl of partisan politics, it is doubtful whether statistical data on crime will ever be anything but misleading to the general public. A city administration that attempts to improve the accuracy of its crime statistics frequently finds itself vigorously attacked by political opponents who call attention with alarm to the increased crime rate — an increase which may be based solely on more honest reporting. Mayors and chiefs of police are under constant pressure to keep the crime figures as low as possible. And it is not uncommon for officials to give the public information on crime which is deliberately misleading. A few years ago a high county official spoke before a group of several hundred business and civic leaders of Chicago. He blandly informed these men that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had just completed an independent study of crime in the United States and had definitely established that Chicago’s crime rate was lower than in other cities of comparable size. Yet, in the very report to which this official was referring, the FBI warned that it was merely publishing the data furnished by the chiefs of police in different cities; and, said the report, “the FBI does not vouch for their accuracy.”
Statistics prepared and released for the benefit of a political party are almost always misleading more significant for what they omit than for their revelations. The same is probably true with reference to many of the scientific and scholarly studies of crime and the criminal. It would be highly speculative and probably unrealistic to assume that a substantial proportion of the individuals responsible for many of our unsolved crimes are eventually apprehended and convicted for a later crime, and subjected to scientific observation and treatment. It would also be highly speculative and probably unrealistic to assume that the behavior traits of our known criminals are truly representative of those of the unknown.
In many of our large municipalities vicious criminals have become welded into underworld organizations which have engaged uninterruptedly in unlawful enterprises over a period of decades. They have reaped illicit profits amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. They have engaged in widespread violence and extortion and have been responsible for countless murders. At times the leaders of these powerful underworld groups have become influential in guiding the political destinies of cities, counties, and states. Not infrequently they have had a strong voice in naming key law enforcement personnel, in dictating law enforcement policies and controlling law enforcement agencies. These men are the real prime ministers of crime. And it is seldom indeed that either they or their henchmen appear in crime statistics or studies.
The murders they commit or order committed are almost always unsolved. The people from whom they extort virtually never report the offenses to the authorities. The glowing reports of high percentage rates of convictions seldom have any reference whatever to these professional criminals. And although they amass fortunes throughout long careers of crime accompanied by violence, terrorism, and murder, they nevertheless remain untouched by judicial pronouncements, the attention of psychiatrists, or the supervision of parole or probation officers.
Albert Anastasia of New York is generally regarded as one of the most vicious criminals in America. Entering this country illegally over thirty years ago, he has acted as the czar of the waterfront for over two decades. As is typical of most gang overlords, his official record is devoid of any important convictions. Only a jail penalty imposed twenty-nine years ago for carrying a gun mars an otherwise perfect record. Officials have charged publicly that he has been linked to twenty murders. Some of them were brutal slayings with an ice pick or by strangulation. On five occasions he has been arrested for murder. Once he was convicted and lingered in the death house for several months. Before the case could be retried, four of the State’s principal witnesses against him were murdered and Anastasia was discharged a free man! This overlord of crime has maintained important political and underworld affiliations, including a long association with the gang leader Joe Adonis.
When William O’Dwyer was District Attorney of Kings County, New York, a perfect murder case was developed against Anastasia but he was never subjected to the inconvenience of an indictment. And when a “wanted” notice was posted for him in the official files, it was mysteriously withdrawn by O’Dwyer’s right-hand man, James Moran, an intimate friend of Joe Adonis and his pal Frank Costello. A grand jury presentment in 1945 severely censured O’Dwyer for his “neglect, incompetence, and failure to proceed against Anastasia ” although “there admittedly was competent legal evidence sufficient to warrant indictment, conviction and punishment” of the gangster for murder. O’Dwyer’s failure to proceed against Anastasia in the perfect murder case did not handicap him politically. He became mayor of the nation’s largest city, and Anastasia continued to occupy a high place on the roster of untouchable gang overlords. And in so far as the perfect murder case was concerned, Anastasia did not even become a crime statistic!
In Chicago, scores of Capone gunmen have been doing a flourishing illegal business for the past three decades. Their individual income tax returns reveal illicit profits in recent years totaling millions of dollars. They have been involved in countless murders and at times have conducted reigns of terror against those who might temporarily resist their demands. Although Chicago and Cook County have served as their principal base of operations for over thirty years, local court records show virtually no convictions of any sort. There may have been a conviction for a minor offense or two out of thousands committed and involving hundreds of Capone hoodlums. Now and then a Capone gangster has been held accountable in the United States District Court for failure to share his loot with the Federal government. A few of the gang’s members were convicted in a New York Federal court for extorting a million dollars from the moving-picture industry. But even this unusual and unexpected development turned out to be but a minor inconvenience.
In July, 1946, the Special Assistant to the Attorney General who handled the case submitted an official document to the head of the Department of Justice in which he stated that “the convicted defendants are notorious as successors to the underworld power of A1 Capone. They arc vicious criminals who would stop at nothing to achieve their ends. The investigation and prosecution were attended by murder, gun play, threatening of witnesses, perjury. . . .” Yet only a year after this official report was rendered, four of the ringleaders of the gang were treated as insignificant first offenders and released on parole after having served the bare minimum term of one third of their tenyear sentences.
Tony Accardo, the present leader of the Capone gang, lives in a palatial twenty-two-room house in one of Chicago’s most exclusive residential suburbs. Built several years ago at a cost of a half-million dollars by a radio manufacturer, the Accardo estate is one of the show places of the community. Although arrested on numerous occasions as a suspect in connection with serious crimes ranging from murder to kidnaping, Accardo boasts that he has never spent one night in jail. The counterparts of the Accardos, the Costellos, and the Anastasias are to be found in almost every large community. Because of the evil influence they exert on government in general and on law enforcement in particular, they present one of America’s major problems.
The number of persons affiliated with organized crime runs into the thousands, and the criminal activities of this group each year account for untold losses in property and money, not to mention numerous murders.
How much do we know about criminals?
The high percentage of unsolved burglaries, robberies, shoplifting, and numerous other crimes makes it rather apparent that there exists a substantial army of professional criminals who ply their trade with regularity and get away with it. Many of these individuals probably have no affiliation with any important crime organization, but it is reasonable to assume that they are among the most professionalized of our lawbreaking population. And they present convincing evidence that there is a vast no man’s land in the field of crime — an area which embraces a major portion of our crime problem and which remains virtually unexplored by social science.
During the past century countless research studies have been conducted regarding those who have been convicted of various types of law violations. From these studies a number of conclusions have been drawn and innumerable theories have been advanced. At times a considerable amount of dogmatism has accompanied so-called findings that are nothing more than theories. In so far as the over-all criminal population is concerned, however, we may well inquire as to how many of the conclusions are based on actual knowledge, how many on woefully incomplete information, and how many are little more than ill-founded opinions.
The tendency of the human mind to oversimplify is evident in its most glaring aspects in all panaceas advanced to solve the crime problem. It is even present in the conclusions arrived at by some of the thoughtful students of crime and the criminal. For example, some eminent authorities have expressed, with optimistic assurance, the belief that probation, the indeterminate sentence, and parole are the three best defenses available to society in its war on crime and the activities of the criminal. Without discounting in any degree their tremendous social significance, none of these defenses can have any application whatever unless there is first conviction. Probation, the indeterminate sentence, and parole, however noteworthy they may be, can never be considered substantial factors in dealing with the over-all crime problem as long as large segments of our most dangerous criminal population rarely come to the attention of the courts, the prison warden, or the probation and parole officials.
Science vs. law
Scientific studies have added considerably to our knowledge of criminals and causes of their behavior. But to some students of crime, the socalled scientific approach has become a shibboleth, a divining rod which will unravel the mysteries of human conduct and eventually eliminate crime. Several months ago a long newspaper story prominently featured a movement which had been launched for the purpose of making crime prevention a science. Implying that the idea was a novel one, it also left the impression that it would be relatively simple to put into practice.
It is well to observe, however, that our legal system with its maze of technicalities is incompatible with any true scientific approach to the criminal. Science seeks the truth. The effect of our legal system, too frequently, is to suppress the truth. Thousands of guilty defendants, some of whom are highly dangerous professional criminals, are turned loose each month by the simple expedient of motions to suppress the evidence. In my article “Case Dismissed,” which appeared in the April, 1945, issue of the Atlantic, I mentioned a typical case that had occurred in Chicago several months before. Policemen patrolling the streets observed an automobile loaded with merchandise. The conduct of the occupants of the automobile aroused the officers’ suspicions and upon stopping the car they found several hundred dollars’ worth of merchandise stolen from a building burglarized but a short time earlier. When the two defendants, Michael Moretti and William J. Russo, were brought into court, a motion to suppress the evidence was sustained on the ground that the arrest, search, and seizure were improper. Legally, the evidence relating to the burglary could not be considered. From a scientific standpoint this evidence would be highly important. Also highly significant was Moretti’s juvenile court record, together with all background information developed by the juvenile authorities. The same is true of Russo’s former criminal record. Yet under our legal system these pertinent facts had to be treated as if they never existed. If a true scientific approach had been permitted it is possible, though by no means certain, that some light might have been thrown on the causes of the behavior of Moretti and Russo and their future conduct guided and supervised.
Instead, Moretti’s record was “clean” legally. He became a member of the Chicago Police Department and was armed with a gun and a badge. He was also an active and effective worker in ward politics. As a Chicago police officer, he was given a choice assignment to the State’s Attorney’s office. During the early hours of the morning of August 24, 1951, policeman Moretti, who was on furlough at the time, became involved in a tavern brawl, He was soundly trounced and his service revolver was taken away from him, after which it was thrown in a vacant lot. Following the brawl, Moretti left the scene of excitement, got another gun, and about three hours later returned. As he approached the vacant lot, Moretti observed three youths, Arthur Gamino, only fifteen years old, Edward Salvi, aged twenty-one, and twenty-twoyear-old Leonard Monaco. These boys had not been present during the original tavern brawl and Gamino was not acquainted with Salvi or Monaco. He had just come to the lot to see what the commotion was all about. Monaco and Salvi located the lost gun and handed it to Moretti about the time that Gamino arrived on the scene. Moretti herded the three boys, who were unarmed, into an automobile on the lot and shot them. Gamino and Sabi were killed, while Monaco miraculously survived.
After the double slaying and the wounding of Monaco, the case was rushed through the grand jury with Moretti appearing as one of the principal witnesses. The usual coroner’s inquest was postponed at the request of the State’s Attorney, and the grand jury by a very close vote returned a nobill. The Chicago Crime Commission demanded that the case be reinvestigated and be presented to another grand jury, pointing out that policeman Moretti was a member of the State’s Attorney’s staff and thus the State’s Attorney’s office was a party in interest in the ease. The State’s Attorney vigorously defended Moretti and attacked the Crime Commission. The case became a cause célèbre. The press, led by the Chicago Sun Times, began a crusade which resulted in the appointment of special prosecutors and the return of several indictments; and on January 25, 1952, Moretti was found guilty of the murder of the fifteen-yearold boy, Gamino, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. A few days later, on February 6, 1952, Moretti’s ex-convict pal, William J. Russo, surrendered to Federal authorities in connection with an alleged multimillion-dollar counterfeiting operation.
It may be contended that the application of science in the Moretti and Russo case when they were originally arrested in possession of burglarized property a few years ago would have altered the course ol their behavior. Two murders would have been prevented and the crime rate reduced. But discussions of this nature are purely academic. Legal technicalities removed them completely from any scientific observation or supervision. And hundreds of thousands of guilty offenders have been turned loose by American courts on legal technicalities since Moretti and Russo had their first brush with the law. Many of them have committed subsequent offenses and have been arrested again. Others are still making crime pay while serving as members of the huge criminal army that remains untouched either by law or science.
And although scientific research will continue to make valuable contributions in the field of criminal behavior, it will never be possible to reconcile our legal system with science. Such a result would not even be desirable. While some of the technicalities which defeat justice may be labeled as foolish and against public interest, there are others that genuinely protect individual rights and are deemed essential to preserve our American concept of justice. The trend in the various judiciaries and legislatures is to increase legal technicalities, not diminish them — a trend which has wide support among the American people. And frequently the strongest advocates of a scientific approach to prevent criminal behavior fight militantly to impose legal technicalities which suppress the very facts that make a true scientific approach possible.
There are numerous factors which have made it difficult to reduce crime substantially. Not the least of those obstacles is the absence of accurate information regarding the problem itself. And instead of coming to grips with facts which have been established, the tendency is to ignore them.
It may be reassuring to repeat that crime does not pay, but there is ample evidence to show that it pays far too well for far too many people. We may like to believe that all professional criminals end in jail or poverty. But many of our most vicious criminals are seldom if ever arrested, almosl never convicted, and virtually roll in wealth and luxury. We may properly credit the policy of individualized treatment of convicted offenders as a milestone in social advancement. But convicted offenders represent only a small percentage of the criminal population. We may have unbounded confidence in solving our crime problem through science. But it will probably be true in the future, as it has been in the past, that science can deal much more effectively with split atoms than with criminals’ split personalities.