Louis D. Oaks

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Louis D. Oaks
Police career
Department Los Angeles Police Department
Country United States
US-O10 insignia.svg
Chief of Police - 1922-23

Louis D. Oaks served as the Chief of Police of the Los Angeles Police Department from April 22, 1922, when he succeeded James W. Everington, and August 1, 1923, when he was succeeded by ex-Berkeley, California Police Chief August Vollmer, a prominent criminologist.

During his short reign as chief, Oaks frequently clashed with Los Angeles City Council member Ralph Luther Criswell. In 1922, Criswell claimed that "members of the police department have been levying thousands of dollars in protection money".[1][2] Subsequently, for several weeks, he blocked Oaks' request for 1,500 badges for his police officers and 50 Dodge automobiles for the L.A.P.D.[3]

Upton Sinclair Incident[edit]

In 1923, Oaks also clashed with the writer Upton Sinclair, a prominent socialist, when one of the L.A.P.D.'s Red Squads virtually kidnapped the writer at a rally in San Pedro, which had been annexed to the City of Los Angeles in 1909. A resident of Monrovia, which was located near Los Angeles, Upton had founded the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He had run unsuccessfully for Congress on the Socialist ticket: in 1920 for the House of Representatives and in 1922 for the Senate. Sinclair was active in radical politics in Los Angeles.

The San Pedro rally was held in support of the free speech rights of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). As Sinclair began to read from the Bill of Rights, he was promptly arrested by officers of the L.A.P.D. The arresting officer proclaimed that "we'll have none of that Constitution stuff."[4]

Sinclair was arrested despite the fact that his appearance at the rally already cleared by the office of Los Angeles Mayor George E. Cryer, which had declared it would allow him to exercise his free speech rights as long as he did not make an incitement to violence. Chief Oaks, who claimed that Sinclair was "more dangerous than 4,000 I.W.W.", had one of his police officers swear out a complaint on which Sinclair was arrested. The complaint charged Sinclair with the offense of "discussing, arguing, orating and debating certain thoughts and theories, which...were detrimental and in opposition to the orderly conduct of affairs of business, affecting the rights of private property...."

Hundreds of other rally attendees also were arrested by the L.A.P.D., but Sinclair was given "special" treatment as part of a plan by Oaks to silence him, not just at the rally, but for years to come. Oaks had issued a public statement, declaring, "I will prosecute Sinclair with all the vigor at my command, and upon his conviction I will demand a jail sentence with hard labor."

Police officers drove him from station to station, but failed to lodge charges against him. In all, he was held incommunicado for 22 hours. Chief Davis had planned to have Sinclair arraigned just before the close of court on Friday afternoon, effectively concealing his whereabouts by not pressing charges against him and movie him about in order to deny him his right to a writ of habeas corpus. Oaks' plan was thwarted when the plot was revealed to Sinclair's wife, Mary Craig, by a police official and Sinclair's attorneys were ready with a writ when he was finally brought to court.[5]

Charles P. Williams[edit]

Charles P. Williams was the first African American policeman in the L.A.P.D. to be killed in the line of duty. Williams was working undercover when he was shot and killed by the owner of a house being used for prostitution. The owner was attempting to evict the prostitutes. Chief Oaks personally led the manhunt for his killer. (Ironically, at the time, it was not known that Williams was African American.)[6]


Chief Oaks had a reputation as a hard-drinking womanizer. He was arrested by San Bernardino police, who discovered Oaks in the backseat of an automobile, accompanied by a “half-dressed woman and a half-empty bottle of whiskey.”[7]

Reform-minded Protestant clergymen, including the politically active radio preacher Robert P. "Fighting Bob" Shuler, who was the president of the Ministerial Union, targeted Oaks for his sinful ways. Schuler and other Protestant ministers had been active in the reform and anti-vice movements in predominately Protestant Los Angeles, and they had applied direct political pressure on both the mayor and the Chief of Police. Schuler actually staked out a speakeasy and saw the Chief exiting the vice den in an inebriated state, accompanied by two women, neither of whom were his wife. After publicly revealing that had he seen Oaks womanizing and drinking (the latter being a crime during Prohibition), Oaks was ousted as chief by Mayor Cryer.[8]

  1. ^ "Grand Jury Will Sift Charges on Gambling," Los Angeles Times, August 2, 1922, page II-1
  2. ^ "Oaks Defends Vice Division," Los Angeles Times, August 4, 1922, page II-9
  3. ^ "Criswell Beaten by Chief Oaks," Los Angeles Times, August 18, 1922, page II-9
  4. ^ Robert Gottlieb, Mark Vallianatos, Regina M. Freer, and Peter Dreier (2005). The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City (second ed.). Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-25009-3. 
  5. ^ Kammen, Michael (1986). A machine that would go of itself: the Constitution in American culture. New York: Knopf. pp. xxi. ISBN 978-0-394-52905-9. 
  6. ^ Pool, Bob. "L.A. intersection named for city’s first black officer killed in line of duty". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
  7. ^ Callahan, Tom. "Review: L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City". Book Reporter. 
  8. ^ Domanick, Joe. "Cardinal's Secular Power Has Many Precedents". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 August 2011. 
Police appointments
Preceded by
James W. Everington
Chief of LAPD
Succeeded by
August Vollmer