1930: "Czar of Pittsburgh Police"

Pittsburgh police bureau has been dealing with a lot of negative publicity this year. The morale at the bureau is low and its relations with the community leave a lot to be desired. Former Police Chief Nate Harper was indicted by a grand jury in March on charges of conspiracy and tax evasion, a few police officers were disciplined for misconduct and one of them, most recently, was charged with DUI after arriving to work intoxicated. 

But things used to be worse. Much worse. 

In the 1930s, the city’s police bureau under Peter P. Walsh was continually under fire for its “shameless toleration of vice and racketeering.” Peter P. Walsh served as a superintendent of Pittsburgh police and was associated with the police force for 30 years. He became police superintendent under Mayor Charles H. Kline, one of the most corrupt mayors in Pittsburgh’s history.

A native Pittsburgher with some experience working for steel mills, Walsh rapidly advanced in rank once he joined the police force in 1898. In 1903, he was promoted to lieutenant and then to captain, he became an inspector in 1907 and commissioner in 1914. In 1920, he left the police department to serve as superintendent of police for the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation. But six years later, he was back in the police headquarters, this time as superintendent.

According to The Pittsburgh Press, Walsh was “an important cog in the wrecked political machine of Mayor Charles H. Klein.” They called him “Czar of Pittsburgh Police.” He held the superintendent’s office for eight years.

Walsh began policing in the days when ‘the policeman on the beat’ often upheld the dignity of the law and maintained order by physical force, but Walsh was noted for the fact that he never beat nor cursed a man while arresting him, according to the Post-Gazette. That was his claim to fame… before he became superintendent. As the head of the Pittsburgh police department, he was known to be less humane, he issued a “shoot to kill” order after the deadly North Side gas tank explosion in 1927 to keep the devastated site free from onlookers and looters. He modified his instructions at city officials’ urging. “Give them a good body beating and then call the patrol wagon and send them to a hospital,” was his new order. 

When Walsh was in charge of the police force, Pittsburgh racketeers, bootleggers and other representatives of organized crime prospered. Police prospered, too, by turning a blind eye on illegal activity or being an accomplice. Those were the years of Prohibition, the Volstead Act enacted in 1919 was in force. In 1928, the party seemed to be almost over for Walsh and a number of his lieutenants. They were indicted by a grand jury and charged with conspiracy to violate the Volstead Act. But the shake-up, predicted in the newspapers at that time, never  happened. Walsh and his lieutenants were never convicted. They got off scot-free.

Walsh was dismissed in 1934 after his boss, the last Republican elected to be the mayor of Pittsburgh, Charles Kline was convicted for malfeasance. 

Walsh and his wife, Mary Walsh, had seven sons and two daughters. Walsh died at age 69 in his home in Squirrel Hill.  

 — Mila Sanina  

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