The Boss

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

Next to his construction of the Medical Center Mayor Hague points with the greatest pride to his record on the handling of juvenile delinquency. The Bureau of Special Service, established in the school system in 1931, has charge of all cases; this bureau and what he calls `the amazing efficiency of its work are favorite themes for speeches. On one occasion the Mayor appeared before a committee of the New York legislature to tell how Jersey City saves the boy. He never mentions girl delinquents; it is to be presumed that Jersey City girls never get into trouble.

The bureau is headed by Doctor Thomas Hopkins, Assistant Superintendent of Schools. In his 1940 report to the superintendent, he listed its personnel. In addition to the director, there is an assistant director, a physician, a dentist, an otologist, an ophthalmologist, three nurses, three psychologists, a psychiatrist, a supervisor of attendance officers, twenty-seven attendance officers, ten visiting teachers, five home-instruction teachers, seventy-eight recreation instructors, and sixteen members of the police department.

The Mayor told the history and purposes of the Bureau of Special Service in a long letter to the members of the police force, dated April 1, 1936, which was made public. The police were told, `You should familiarize yourself with the contents of this letter and carefully preserve it for future reference.'

`During the great number of years that I have been the head of the government of your city,' the Mayor began, `I have been observing ... the tremendous increase in the number of juvenile delinquents to be found in our penal institutions.... Because of my familiarity with the conditions surrounding our youth and my long experience in the administration of police and public school affairs, I sought to find the cause of this situation and a remedy.' The causes, he thought, were an overreadiness on the part of the police to arrest `young boys on our public streets for trifling offenses,' and the sentencing of boys to reformatories by juvenile courts, which `were working overtime.'

`When I became convinced that these methods were all wrong, I decided to have them done away with in Jersey City.... Five years ago the Bureau of Special Service was established at my direction....' The purpose of the bureau was and is to protect the boy `from undesirable companions and associations, checking, re-checking, and encouraging him to discontinue mischievous, destructive, or vicious conduct.

`It is the duty of every police officer who may observe any violation of the law or to whom a complaint is made regarding a violation of the law by any juvenile, to obtain the name and address of the juvenile and of any complainant, with the essential facts in the case, and report them in writing immediately to the Captain of his precinct.... In carrying out the above procedure the officer should first take the juvenile off the street, into a store or home which may be convenient, so he will not be on public exhibition during the questioning.... I insist that there shall be no arrests, no patrol wagons, and no police court appearance injected into the carrying out of this program.'

He appreciated that this plan was difficult: `It is my special request that you endure any embarrassment or inconvenience that may come to you in following my instructions. We must never forget that we have been boys ourselves and have no doubt been guilty of many thoughtless or lawless acts and indiscretions, but in spite of that have grown up to be decent and law-abiding citizens.... I want the police officer to be more a big brother and a guide to the young folks rather than to report their every trifling misconduct.... Use good judgment and that will satisfy me.'

This well-intentioned scheme was in many respects extra-legal, particularly in its authorizing the police to use curbstone justice in dealing with juvenile delinquents. This aspect of the matter did not bother the Mayor, however, and a statement he made in a speech November 10, 1937, on boys and the law at the Emory Methodist Episcopal Church in Jersey City obtained for him the next day unexpected national notice. Two boys both under sixteen, he said, were apprehended by the authorities for truancy. The Mayor happened to be in one of his police-station hideouts when they were brought in. The boys told him that they preferred jail to school; so he took up their case with Doctor Hopkins, suggesting that jobs be found for them. Doctor Hopkins said that it could not be done because of the New Jersey Working Papers Law. Then the Mayor said to him: `Listen, here is the law! I am the law! These boys go to work!'

He got jobs for the boys, though later they returned to school. The phrase `I am the law' was entirely too apt, and while he admitted in his testimony in the C.I.O. case that he had used it, he felt that it had been unfairly turned against him: `I have never desired to be the law, Counselor. I have always felt that the courts was the law, and still maintain that the courts is the law of our state, city, and county.' (Transcript, p. 1235.)

In his last report Doctor Hopkins asserted that the Bureau of Special Service had cut down commitments to juvenile corrective institutions 92 per cent. In 1930, 535 boys were committed; in 1939 only 7. It appeared that Jersey City boys had such immunity from the police that the force complained to the Mayor, and in January, 1940, in a speech in Jersey City he withdrew some of the big-brother requirement:

I want the policeman to be the boss – to rule with iron hand in his handling of the boy problem. It is the policeman's duty to make it clear to these lads that crime will not be officially encouraged. I want you to know that the police officer won't offend me if he `warms' the young hoodlums. Every time the policeman gets after him he will serve to warn the boy that crime is not being coddled or encouraged. As a matter of fact, far from being offended, I will pin a medal on the policeman who knows how to save a boy from the consequences of a crime. The way to save him is not by sending him to prison but to prove to him that crime doesn't pay. (Jersey Journal, January 3, 1940.)
This edict gives the police further authority, but neither they nor the judges are permitted to send boys to reform schools except as a last resort. The Bureau of Special Service is still high in the Mayor's estimation; indeed, in the same speech he suggested that other cities would do well to follow the example of Jersey City and establish similar bureaus. 'We must never surrender a boy,' said Mayor Hague, because he is hard to handle or causes us worry. We must never say, "We're licked" Oh, it is gratifying to realize how much we are doing for our youth!' Hudson County does not have any Bureau of Special Service, although of course about half of the delinquents can sent to it as Jersey City residents. The best the county show is a huge probation office staffed with well-paid employees:

Adolph A. Kern, chief probation officer $7,500
Thomas R. Flaherty, deputy chief probation officer 5,000
3 probation officers 3,600 (each)
4 probation officers 3,400 (each)
16 probation officers 2,400 (each)
12 probation officers 3,500 (each)
22 other employees Various

It would appear, however, that the problem of leading boys into paths of righteousness in Jersey City is too big for any special service bureau; the treatment it can give must be at best symptomatic, when every boy sees all about him want of respect for law. How can he be convinced that he must work for his living when church and horse-race gambling encourage him to believe that he can get something for nothing? How is he to be taught that crime does not pay when the folklore of Jersey City is full of stories of men who have made it pay? If he is wide awake he will see plenty of evidence to justify him in concluding that crime does not pay unless one has the proper connections.


Main Menu

More About Frank Hague