A look back in time at a moment in law enforcement history
For a long time, if you entered any police or sheriff’s department in the country, you would be greeted at the front desk by a sergeant presiding over a large bound book. Everyone who came into the station, every call patrolmen answered—it was all documented in that book, called a blotter. The National Law Enforcement Museum has acquired blotters from all across the United States. They are an important part of our collection—teeming with information about day-to-day law enforcement activities and touching on national events as they affected specific agencies. Find below our version of a national blotter: History’s Blotter draws from events in many places and times to present the collective experience of law enforcement in America. Take a look at the entry featured this month (below), and scroll down to explore the History's Blotter archive.
May 3, 1950 | Kefauver Committee Formed
Photo credit: Senator Kefauver leading a committee hearing [U.S. Senate Historical Office]
|“Through the country the crime committee became. . . a national crusade, a great debating forum, an arouser of public opinion on the state of the nation’s morals.”|
|—Senator Estes Kefauver, 1951|
Americans were glued to their televisions like never before. In hair salons, movie theaters, schools, and neighborhood parties, they watched, mesmerized. In 1951, when only about half of American households owned a TV, 30 million people tuned in to the senate hearings of the Special Committee on Organized Crime and Interstate Commerce.
Led by Senator Estes Kefauver, the hearings consisted of five senators who traveled to fourteen cities to investigate the extent of organized crime in America. In other words—they were exposing the mafia.
The senators interviewed about 600 people, from small time gamblers and local police officers to mafia bosses and J. Edgar Hoover, trying to flesh out what was going on. During one especially vivid moment, the committee grilled New York City mafia boss Frank Costello. He refused to show his face, so the footage fixed on his hands as he nervously crumpled a handkerchief.
Senator Rudolph Halley: Mr. Costello, what is your net worth?
Frank Costello: I refuse to answer. It might tend to incriminate me.
Senator Herbert R. O’Conor: The committee directs that you do answer. And are we to understand that---
Costello’s lawyer: ---I understand that a direction is made and a refusal is made by the witness. I suppose so? Is that not so, Mr. Costello?”
Frank Costello: Yes.
Senator Herbert R. O’Conor: Alright, next question.
During the Kefauver Committee hearings, a spotlight had landed on organized crime—allowing Americans to consider the extent to which bribery and manipulation had influenced American businesses, police departments and politics. They were a wake-up call to law enforcement and caused a shift in priorities to battling organized crime and weeding out corruption within local departments. After years of denial, the hearings compelled FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to admit that America had a problem with organized crime. The next question was how to combat it.
History's Blotter Archive
First Lawman in the Colonies? | May 1611
New-Gate Prison | December 11, 1775
Ben Franklin on How to Improve the Nightwatch | August 1788
Night Watchmen | January 1819
Mary Cecilia Rogers, The Beautiful Cigar Girl | July 25, 1841
Eliza Farnham, head matron at Sing Sing | March 18, 1844
Cherokee Light-Horse | November 13, 1844
Irish Police in Boston | January 5, 1852
New York City Police Riot | June 16, 1857
Boston Police Get New Uniforms | November 1, 1858
Abraham Lincoln Authorized U.S. Secret Service | July 5, 1865
National Police Convention | October 21, 1871
Tragedy at Going Snake | April 15, 1872
Apache Tribal Police | September 1874
Ranger Daniel Webster Roberts' Colt Revolver | September 13, 1875
US Marshal Frederick Douglass | March 17, 1877
Revenuers and Moonshiners | April 30, 1880
Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves | February 8, 1884
Haymarket Riot | May 4, 1886
Borden Murders, Fall River, Massachusetts | August 4, 1892
Marie Connolly Owens | March 14, 1898
The Dog Squad | January 19, 1908
Pat Garrett Assassinated | February 29, 1908
Police Autos | June 1909
US Marshals in Alaska Territory | January 14, 1911
Aletha Gilbert, City Mother, LAPD | May 26, 1915
The Black Hand | April 15, 1915
Boston Police Strike | September 9, 1919
Wall Street Bombing | September 16, 1920
Izzy and Moe call on Governor Al Smith | January 18, 1923
Eliot Ness | August 26, 1926
Calling Dick Tracy! | October 4, 1931
Deputy Ted Hinton | May 23, 1934
Agent Robert L. Shivers | December 7, 1941
Saboteur Trial | June 13, 1942
Truman Assassination Thwarted | November 1, 1950
Kefauver Investigates the Mob | May 3, 1950
The Mad Bomber | December 2, 1956
Dragnet and Police Procedurals | July 26, 1957
Apalachin Mafia Summit | November 14, 1957
Morris Childs | October 22-23, 1958
Medgar Evers | June 12, 1963
Texas Tower Shooting | August 1, 1966
First 911 Call | February 16, 1968
Phone Phreaking | October 1971
ABSCAM FBI Sting | February 3, 1980
FBI Agent Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco | July 26, 1981
Broken Windows Theory | March 1982
Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Kidnapped | February 7, 1985
FBI Miami Shootout | April 11, 1986