This year marks a milestone many in the city would prefer to
forget: Fifty years ago, Burbank began a new era in the wake of
police and other city officials’ alleged ties to gambling, illegal
payoffs, and gangster Mickey Cohen.
Memories of the time bookmaking was a multimillion-dollar business
here remain vivid in Harry Strickland’s mind. Strickland, 87, was a
Burbank police officer from 1940 to 1970.
It was the late 1940s when Police Chief Elmer Adams sent
Strickland and partner Sandy McDonald into Dincara Stock Farm, an
obscure horse stable on Mariposa Street and Riverside Drive rumored
to be a Cohen gambling establishment.
The officers walked into a crowded casino, complete with craps
tables and roulette wheels.
“I’ve given it a lot of thought, and in a way I’ve never forgiven
Elmer Adams for doing what he did to McDonald and me,” Strickland
said, adding they had no radios, no backup and no vice squad. “I’m
sure he knew who Mickey Cohen was. But he sent two policemen down
there. Nobody in their right mind today would do that.”
Cohen showed up at the station and confronted Strickland and
McDonald about the three arrests they made. He wanted to know exactly
what Adams’ orders were, Strickland said.
"[Adams] knew what was going on down there, but for some reason he
sent us anyway,” Strickland said. “That was the demise of Elmer
Suspicion mounted that Cohen was paying off Adams and others.
After 20 years as chief of the department, Adams resigned on the eve
of a grand-jury investigation in 1952 that connected him to payoffs
from racketeers. Adams appeared before a state commission but took
the 5th Amendment, protecting him from self-incrimination.
The investigation continued into 1953. Federal authorities wanted
to ask Cohen about Adams in 1954, when Cohen was in prison for tax
evasion. Adams died in 1965 as a golf pro in Newport Beach. For the
Burbank Police Department, the ouster of Adams ushered in an era of
what Strickland called a more professional agency, starting in 1953.
New Police Chief Rex Andrews made administrative changes throughout
the ranks, and a police commission was created to oversee the
Burbank Police Sgt. John Dilibert said an internal-affairs unit
also helps maintain the agency’s integrity.
“In the old days, they wouldn’t even think to have that,” Dilibert
said of the unit.