Policing and the Press

This week we decided to take a new turn and work with our two new themes, police work and the press. We figured that these two would go best with each other because the press does talk a lot about what goes on in the case, which leads us to assume that the police does give them some information on what is going on with the case. To start with, we looked at a couple different aspects in the press: how women were portrayed compared to men, how the papers were dramatized, and how they talked about police work. We also looked more in-depth at policing in the 1880s, comparing information of police systems in other cities such as Boston. We found who the police chief was in Connecticut in 1884, and how his involvement in the police force affected the case and the corruption that was happening within the police force.  


Caleb L. Packard was the police chief at the time of Ada Brown’s murder in 1884 and was also the one who interrogated and arrested George W. Gregory after the murder. Chief packard was a member of the police force for 36 years and was police chief for a total of 14 years (Weaver). He was one of the original 16 police patrol men that were a part of the Hartford police when it was officially created (Weaver). He was appointed police chief for the first time on November 10, 1871 and remained in office until 1875 when he was forced to resign (Weaver). The interesting part of this police force is that there was some form of corruption and Packard was forced out by Mayor Sprague who made him resign because they wanted to reinstate Walter P. Chamberlain as police chief even though he had been forced to resign previously for other issues (Weaver). Packard was very upset by this and called it a “gross injustice” because they had no reason given to force him out other than that it was what the mayor’s commission wanted (Weaver). There was again trouble with Chamberlain and he was forced to resign again for issues not mentioned in this book, and Packard was reinstated on April 4, 1882. This relates to the overall case because I think something may be going on in the police station of Hartford, the relationship between the Mayor and Packard was not good, and they insisted on getting a chief back that had already been forced to resign and then had to again after he was reinstated by Sprague. In future weeks we would like to look into possible police corruption and how this may have affected how Ada’s case was handled. We think this could have a large impact on the case.

Though we were not yet able to obtain all of the specific research relating to Harford police work in the 1880s, it is possible to draw analogies and conclusions from research on the history of policing in Boston, Massachusetts. The population of the city of Boston in 1880 was around 362,839 people. The number of police in the city numbered about 697. By 1885, the general Boston population had risen to 390,393, with 789 police in the city. The steady increase of police along with the city population was a testament to the charter reform for policing that was going on in Boston at the time. Police were no longer glorified night watchmen- they were trained, educated, and armed with proper weapons (Lane).

However, it must be taken into account that Boston was noted for being one of the most advanced US cities in the 1880s in respect to this large, mainly well-upkept police force (Lane). Though there is a possibility that Hartford could have been on the same trajectory, further specifics will need to be researched before that can be determined for sure.

Another interesting speculation made was if the Hartford police system in 1884 may have contributed to Ada dying from her wound, rather than surviving. The police were still notified of many crimes by a sort of hue-and-cry system, which could have lead to a delay in getting to the scene of Ada’s murder. When the police arrived, they had quickly taken stock of Ada’s wound, before assessing the rest of the crime scene. Because of the very basic system of alerting the police to crimes in the area, it is possible to wonder if this may have contributed to Ada being past help by the time aid arrived.

Yet, at the time, even the most advanced police forces were only just beginning to teach their men a rudimentary version of first aid. In Boston, it was not until 1884 that police were taught first-aid techniques by the Massachusetts Hygiene Association (Lane).

Also, according to Article 1 in the class dossier, the policemen arrived at the scene of the murder relatively quickly. The doctors however were called for later than the police, and by the time they had arrived, Ada had been deemed a hopeless case. This also seems to show that, when the police were called to aid in stopping a crime such as murder, the main prerogative was to arrest and/or apprehend whoever was responsible for the deed, not to see if there were any survivors to be saved. Unlike more modern emergency response, where an ambulance and medical personnel would be dispatched as well as police, the police in Ada Brown’s case (and assumingly elsewhere) seemed to send for doctors themselves.


In order to understand the press, we had to look at certain things in newspapers during 1880. One thing that seemed obvious was that women are completely controlled by men at this point (Washington 2016). As stated in another article, the goal for women was to get married, have kids, and take care of household (Washington 2016). In class we have talked about how the new woman was starting to come out in this time, so women were getting jobs and trying to contribute to the finances that their husbands were controlling. The press tends to make women seem like they are objects and not people. For example during the case of the murder of Ada Brown, the Hartford Courant referred to her as “The Murdered Woman” (Article 2, Hartford Courant). The press also dramatizes situations more than they should. In one article, when they are talking about Ada Brown’s murder,  they say “Ada Brown, aged 28, a fallen woman, was killed” (Article 1, Hartford Courant). By bringing to the front the view that Ada Brown was morally depraved and “fallen,” the press was able to sensationalize her death, while simultaneously degrading her status as a woman. Morality was still an important topic in the 1880s and this shows through by the press emphasizing Ada’s frowned-upon lifestyle.

They do talk about the police work a little in the articles as well. At this time, I think it was easier to skew what info the police could be giving the press, if they were giving any info at all. Throughout the articles on the murder of Ada Brown, the press seems to be well informed in how Ada was murdered and who murdered her. We tried to research whether or not the police gave all the information to the press, or if the press saw what happened to Ada and later questioned the Arlington woman, Gregory, and Harrison. So far nothing has been found, but we are going to continue to research this.


Works Cited

“Article 2.” The Sheldon Street Murder. Hartford Courant, 1840-1887. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

Lane, Roger. Policing the City: Boston, 1822-1885. New York: Atheneum, 1967. Print.

“Lives of Women in the Early 1800s – UW Staff Web Server.” N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

Weaver, Thomas S. Historical Sketch of the Police Service of Hartford, from 1636 to 1801, from Authoritative Sources. Illustrating and Describing the Economy, Equipment and Effectiveness of the Police Force of To-day. With Reminiscences of the Past, including Some Notes of Important Cases. Hartford: Hartford Police Mutual Aid Association, 1901. Print.




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