The Founding of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police By Dennis Banas and Rod Witt Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice February 1999
The Michigan Association of Police Chiefs, Sheriffs
and Prosecuting Attorneys was the immediate organizational predecessor of the contemporary Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. Founded in 1893, the Association had as its constitutional objective bringing “together all the persons qualified for membership…for a more mutual acquaintance, for interchange of thought, the apprehension of criminals, and such other purposes as the majority may from time to time designate.” Membership was open to all “Sheriffs, Under-
Sheriffs, Chief Deputies, Deputy-Sheriffs, Police officers, ex-police officers, Prosecuting Attorneys, Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, ex-prosecuting attorneys and ex-sheriffs…”
The Association, of course, reserved the right to discipline its members by suspension or expulsion “ for failure to comply with all the rules and regulations…or for conduct unbecoming a gentlemen (sic).” Although the Association assumed that men would provide its membership, women were not unknown participants in its annual meetings. The 26th Convention of 1920 heard Mrs. Amos Sonndecker deliver an address entitled “Women as Police Officers”.; Mrs. Sarah McVeigh, of Muskegon, commented on the presentation. The minutes indicate that their observations were well received by the body and that they, like all guests of the annual convention, were afforded honorary membership in the Association.
Much of the time at each of the conventions, which convened between 1893 and 1921, was spent listening to and discussing the perspectives of speakers like Mrs. Sonnedecker. The burning issues before individual conventions varied according to the political and international climate. For a good number of years, speakers generally focused on the efficiency of law enforcement and on incarceration. With prohibition, bootlegging became an item of discussion. World War I brought some discussion of national preparedness. The Russian Revolution of 1917 instigated heated denunciation of subversives in industrial areas and a reaffirmation of the criminal justice system’s stabilizing function.
The weightiness of the many issues facing the Association did not deter convention participants from simply enjoying themselves year-by-year. Typical social functions at annual conventions included barbeques, automobile tours, and a closing banquet. In deference to Prohibition, the minutes of the 1920 convention record the success of the banquet and note that “all went away sober.”
The conviviality of the Association’s annual conventions were never intended to undermine their serious intent. Conventions heard the reports of successive “legislative committees” which, in effect, wrote the Association’s political agenda. For nearly 25 years, the agenda included better pay for all law enforcement officers, a central bureau acting as a clearing-house for criminal identification, revision of the laws governing probation and parole and various and sundry commentaries on the body of criminal law.
The efforts of the Association to influence legislation and public policy were, for the most part, ineffective. It had great difficulty organizing anything beyond its annual conventions. Part of the paralysis was simply monetary. Yearly dues did not permit the Association to hire a staff and to interact with legislators. The Treasurers report at the 1913 convention is characteristic: “No money on hand when we started, and none when we stopped,” according to E.J. Swort.
Given that the association was formed within the context of a rural society, it was dominated by Sheriffs and Prosecuting Attorneys. Each year until 1921, the executive offices of President, Vice-President, and Secretary were held by county officials rather than Chiefs of Police. The dominance of Sheriffs and Prosecutors, both elected officials, subjected the Association to frequent cycles of collapse and recreation. The minutes of the 1916 convention, for example, recorded that “because of many political campaigns in which many of the Prosecuting Attorneys and Sheriffs were interested, few officers were in attendance at any time.
As the State of Michigan urbanized in the early twentieth century, Chiefs of Police became increasingly significant entities. They rapidly became frustrated with the Association and exasperated by its ineffectiveness. The Chiefs exploited the absence of Sheriffs and Prosecutors, who were busy campaigning, from the 1920 convention. The Chiefs elected a slate of executive officers for the 1921 convection which included Al Straight, ex-Chief of Mount Clemens, William Rutledge, Deputy-Commissioner of the Detroit Police Department, and Al Seymour, Chief of Lansing.
Rutledge was a particularly energetic and ambitious individual. He announced to the 1921 convention that since the Legislature had not yet allocated resources for a central bureau of criminal identification, the Detroit Police Department would serve its functions. With the Association’s membership floundering between 1921 and 1924, he corresponded on a statewide basis in May 1924 in order to organize a new association limited strictly to and addressing the needs of Chiefs.
The Chiefs met in Lansing on June 12, 1924 and drafted a new constitution. The Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police had been born. Unlike its predecessor, it hoped to eliminate the debilitating impact of party politics and to become effective leaders in law enforcement:
The purposes for which this Association is organized are to secure a closer official and personal relationship among police officials throughout the State; to secure unity of action in police matters; to elevate the standard of police institutions by urging the elimination of politics from the conduct; a tenure of office for those employed in the service; the maintenance of honorable men and means in the transaction of police business; the general adoption of pension and relief laws; the adoption of humane efforts in the enforcement of laws; the provision of temporary relief for its worthy members and their families in certain emergencies; the advancement along all lines pertaining to the prevention and detection of crime and the identification and treatment of prisoners.
Rutledge had the assistance of Al Seymour in organizing the MACP. They used the International Association of Chiefs of Police as the organizational model. In its subsequent 66 years, the MACP has remained a stable and permanent entity.
Postscript: As can be seen from this brief history of the Association, we have made a great deal of progress since those early law enforcement officers first banded together. However, it is equally obvious that we are also still dealing with many of the same issues which were important at the turn of the twentieth century. Although many of us experience frustration at not being able to effect changes for the public good as rapidly as would often desire, this examination of our past professional heritage points out not only how far we have progressed also provides us with a perspective on how long it may take to implement truly worthwhile advances.