Police Commissioner James M. Hepbron
1955 until 1961
Painting by Stanislav Rembski
James M. Hepbron
One of The American City’s first reports on police dogs appeared in an October 1957 article by James Hepbron, Baltimore’s police commissioner. According to the article, the idea for adding the dogs to the police force came from residents, who read a 1956 newspaper series about Scotland Yard’s police dogs in London. A veteran of the U.S. Marine’s K-9 Corps volunteered to start the city’s training program, and one man offered the use of his German shepherd. Soon, a patrolman donated a second dog and asked to be assigned to the corps. The department expanded the K-9 unit with six more donated dogs in January 1957. In their first year, Baltimore’s police dogs participated in 175 arrests, and “almost daily police officers report that fugitives immediately give up any idea of fleeing at the sight of a dog.”
Two years later, Baltimore’s K-9 Corps included 21 trained dogs, according to a November 1959 American City report. The officers that worked with the dogs had to volunteer for the job and were charged with caring for the dogs at all times. The department required that its dogs were male German shepherds with an even temperament. They were trained first in obedience, then in attack work, and then to locate lost persons, criminals and evidence.
Word of Baltimore’s successful experiences with police dogs soon spread, and the department trained other departments to establish their own K-9 units. The May 1962 edition carried a report on Lancaster, Pa.’s decision to start a K-9 Corps after officers visited Baltimore in 1959. Lancaster modeled its unit after Baltimore, asking residents to donate dogs to the corps, and selecting six handlers from among police volunteers. The Baltimore Police Department trained one of Lancaster’s officers, who then trained the five additional handlers. They built obstacles and trained the dogs to climb ramps, crawl through pipes and jump barriers. Lancaster officers soon discovered that not every donated dog would be suited for police work. One of its early lessons: “A dog, to be effective in police work, must be a ‘people-biter.’”
Commissioner James M. Hepbron was subject to a hearing on February 19, 1959, led by Jerome Robinson, Democratic State Delegate for the fourth district. Delegate Robinson had a long history of challenging wiretapping and search warrants, as he believed the practice unconstitutional, against Federal law and a violation of the natural rights of the citizen. In the 90-day public hearing and investigation, Robinson stated that the commissioner "demonstrate[d] lack of a sense of propriety and in several respects a lack of comprehension on the part of the commissioner of the nature of his duties, the functions of the department, and the obligations to the citizenry" During the public hearing Hepbron incessantly left the hearing and/or refused to answer specifications against him.
During the hearing, Robinson urged the commissioner to resign in the public interest. Robinson wrote, "it is obvious that he has outlived his position. His administration has produced continuing deterioration and the demoralization of the department".
The charges against Hepbron included:
- Flouting of the civil and constitutional rights of the citizens of Baltimore City. Illegal taps of private and public telephone lines.
- Errors in judgment and administration.
- Concepts of policing which, because of brutality and insentivity, are shocking to decent thinking people.
Despite considerable evidence, Hebron denied to address he was acting illegally. Delegate Robinson cited 36 cases where the cases were dropped or defendants released because of planted evidence and other means of framing suspects. He called these offenses, "a creature of commissioner Hepbron". Robinson also cited the Green Spring Avenue assault by a police officer of a 15-year-old boy, countless shootings of unarmed auto-thieves, and illegal raids on properly licensed establishments. At one point Robinson stated the head of the city police was "an SS officer in a Chesterfield coat who is impatient with the Bill of Rights and intolerant of the constitutional liberties and prerogatives of the people"
Alvin J. T. Zumbrun, former managing director of the Criminal Justice Commission, issued a statement against Robinson in the commissioner's defense. He described the charges brought against Hepbron "the utterances of an angry madman possessed with the mania to have the police commissioner removed at all costs" Zumbrun cited details of multiple instances where he believed Robinson had lied, citing instances as small as a phone call, office visit or passing informal greeting by Robinson to Zumbrun. While Zumbrun's evidence never addressed actual police violations of state law, Zumbrun continued to press for the expulsion of Robinson of the General Assembly of Maryland to Governor J. Millard Tawes
James Hepbron's Book on the Penal System HERE
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