Have you ever wondered about the term “Bag Men”? As it relates to cops, I will tell you the Shreveport definition. Police officers are exposed to the underbelly of society. Sometimes it rubs off on them. Man’s vices have been his downfall since biblical times. Prostitution, gambling, liquor and drugs have caused many men to stumble since the beginning of time. Often cops become corrupt connected to Vice. When I began as a cop in Shreveport, we did not have River Boat gambling and Sunday liquor sales. Prostitution was always illegal as well as numerous drugs.
Shreveport police corruption flourished in the 1930’s during Prohibition. Police officers were paid off regularly. Check out the movie “The Life and Times of Huddie William Ledbetter”. In the 30’s he played blues music in juke joints and brothels of the Shreveport Bottoms neighborhood. His bronze statue stands outside the downtown library on Texas Avenue today. He could smoke a 12 string guitar.
Corruption of police and other elected officials has always been a monkey on the back of S.P.D. I suspect to this day a little still exists. I know for a fact it was present during my career.
As a rookie cop, I often rode relief on patrol. When a senior officer with a permanent beat was off, I rode in his absence. I rode Allendale on graveyard patrol one cool fall night. I made several calls during the earlier part of my shift. Finally things started to slow. I needed to write a report on an arrest I made. I parked in the newly paved asphalt parking lot behind Freeman & Harris restaurant.
(Go to https:folklife.nsula.edu/aamct/pages/12.html or google Freeman & Harris Cafe Shreveport.)
The streets were dead. Hardly a soul was out and about. It was peaceful in the Bottoms, the most dangerous beat to work as a cop in Shreveport. I aimed my left spot lamp on my fold down sun visor and slid a sheet of white paper in the light beam providing a great report writing lamp for me.
I was parked in the lot facing south. I looked around every few minutes so I could see anyone on foot heading my way. I did not want someone on the streets to suddenly appear at my window. My heater was going and front windows rolled down so I could hear glass breakage, women screaming, kids crying, gunshots and any other sound requiring my attention.
I glanced across my hood to the row of brightly painted, yellow shotgun houses across the way. They were in an alley on a hill next to the parking lot. I noted the alley was bumper to bumper with expensive cars. Models included Cadillacs, Lincolns, Buicks and Oldsmobiles. The sight caught my attention. I kept one eye on them as I continued to write. Eventually I saw something that triggered my attention. A front door opened on a shotgun shack located in the middle of the row. For a moment I could see inside the front room. It was opened only a few seconds. I could see a large group of men standing next to a pool table. I saw a guy shaking dice in a beer can with the lid cut off. He leaned to the table and rolled the dice. The men cheered as the gambler made his roll. I estimated 20 gambling men in the room. It was my lucky night! I was going to bust an illegal gambling house. I had never raided a gambling house. I was at a loss what to do. I thought about it a moment, picked up my police radio mic and called for any available Vice unit. A moment later one answered. I gave him my location. He stated he would see me in a few minutes.
The new, unmarked, black Ford Crown Vic detective unit soon turned into the parking lot and pulled to my door. The driver and his passenger were vice detectives. I had never met them. I introduced myself. The big, vice cop behind the wheel asked why I needed them. I quickly told him of my keen observations thinking I would be commended for a job well done. When I finished, the big, dark haired driver turned from me to look at his younger partner. They made eye contact. I saw the driver’s left cheek expand. He was smiling at his partner. I did not understand. He turned to me and spoke. I detected a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. He was drinking on duty. He said.
“You are new down here, right?”
“Well, that’s not a gambling house and you are mistaken.”
He saw my puzzled expression so he continued.
“Let me give you some good advice officer. Just make your little patrol calls, write your little reports and go home at the end of your shift. Don’t go sticking your rookie nose in places it doesn’t belong.”
Being of Irish descent and not tolerant to smart ass insults, I fired back at the bastard.
Well sir, I want you to know a little about me. I was raised in Cedar Grove and as a kid visited the Cedar Grove pool hall many times. I served all over the world for four years in the marines. I know when I see a F……..ng dice game. If you would rather go back to drinking your whisky, it’s fine with me. Just don’t try to insult me and blow smoke up my ass.
I yanked my car in drive and peeled away from the two dirt bag cops. I made a few blocks and sneaked back to watch the gambling house. Since calls were slow, I hid my unit a block away in an abandoned house lot with plenty of vegetation. I used my binoculars and spied on the house for several hours.
Around 4:00 a.m., I saw something that highly disappointed me. The big, black vice unit with the two smart ass officers appeared in the alley. It eased to a stop at the base of the high steps leading to the very house I was watching. The driver tapped the car horn with a short alert. Seconds later, a black guy opened the front door holding a small paper bag in his hand. He walked down the stairs to the police unit and handed the bag to the passenger. The car drove off. The guy went back inside. I followed the car to the police station. I saw the big guy and his partner park in the side lot of city hall. They walked in the building carrying the bag. This part of the building was closed to the public. The Commissioner of Public Safety and the Chief’s offices were located there. The office lights in the Commissioner’s office come on for a brief moment.
A minute later the two vice cops exited the office building with nothing in their hands.
It took me years to acquire all the knowledge about our bag men operations. I was determined to know everything. I learned Shreveport bag officers picked up paper bags of cash early each morning from gambling houses, grocery stores, drug houses and whore houses. Each bag contained a minimum of $100 in cash. In total the bag men went to 20 grocery stores, 10 gambling houses, 20 drug houses and 20 or so whore houses. I did the math. I was shocked with the totals of cash payoffs to my department.
Each sack contained one hundred dollars. Adding the numbers, I roughly calculated number of houses X $100 = $7,000 a night, $49,000 a week, $210,000 a month or $2,520,000 a year. I learned a new term called skimming. The bag men pulled 20 dollars out of each sack they placed on the office desk of the Commissioner. The money was distributed from the Commissioner to all important people who could influence and protect this corruption. The mayors of many administrations were paid off as were chiefs of police, sometimes fire chiefs, the local D.A. and judges including Federal ones. I learned other cities in our state did the same and money found its way to the Governor’s office.
When legalized gambling began in our state, it knocked a big dent in the bag men operations. They then allowed more whore houses to open along with more grocery stores selling liquor on Sundays and after hours. There were more dope houses and street corner drug sales also allowed.
Some of Shreveport’s most respected officials and cops were dirty rotten crooks. To this day, city streets, buildings and other public landmarks bear their honorable name. When I speak with friends about previous city administrations and famous city leaders who are now deceased, I must bite my tongue. Do you ever wonder how elected officials enter office in debt and later retire wealthy? Here is one way.