The Greatest Menace: Organized Crime in Cold War America

By Lee Bernstein | Go to book overview

5
“THE PROPER ACT OF CITIZENSHIP:”
Local Crime Committees and the
Response to Organized Crime

Virgil Peterson, operating director of the Chicago Crime Commission, was one of the many who blamed public apathy for the kinds of “sordid conditions” Senator Kefauver uncovered in his hearings. An apathetic citizenry, Peterson warned, would protect corrupt officials, ignore criminal enterprises, and prevent respectable public officials from doing their jobs. 1 In 1951 the Chicago Crime Commission sponsored a conference that led to the formation of the National Association of Citizens' Crime Commissions (NACCC). The following year, Peterson was elected its first president. 2 Members of crime commissions already at work in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, St. Louis, Washington, Burbank, New York, and Chicago were in attendance. A representative from the Detroit Economic Club pledged to form an anti-crime committee in that city, and the Cleveland and Dallas crime committees soon joined. In his acceptance speech before the gathered members of the press, Peterson condemned “the failure of many people to understand the insidious influence of gangsters on government at all levels. People get excited over the dangers of communism, but the danger [of crime] is more insidious on some local levels. ” 3

To be “insistent in the performance of the proper act of citizenship”: this was the goal of the Kansas City Crime Commission, founded in 1950, according to its constitution. This concept of citizenship enlisted all Americans in the war on

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