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The German Police Association Pushes Fraternalism

The Police Ethnic Societies of Chicago, Part Four in a Series -- “Ein Prosit!”
German American Police Association Promotes Fraternalism,
Good Will, and Cultural Traditions


By Richard Lindberg

Those who study Chicago Police history know that a German-American named Kasper Lauer was the first to die in the line of duty while defending his city. Lauer’s death occurred on September 18, 1854, the year before the day constabulary and the night watch were merged into the modern law enforcement agency we know today as the Chicago Police Department.

Kasper Lauer, what little there is to know of the man, was a forgotten figure from history up until a few years ago when careful research into the early history of the department by Dennis Bingham of the C.P.D. News Affairs Division, revealed the tragic circumstances of his death. Lauer was stabbed to death while escorting a felon to the Bridewell. The killer cleverly concealed a knife, and used it against the trusting Lauer, who had holstered his gun after the offender had promised to accompany the officer to the station without causing an incident.

Lauer’s star is not included in the Superintendent’s Board of Honor at police headquarters, possibly because in those days, city constables wore leather badges signifying their status in the community. Or, they simply didn’t wear them at all.

Never-the-less, the German American Police Association (G.A.P.A.), a 22-year-old fraternal society comprised of 400 second, third, and fourth generation Germans, honors Lauer with an annual scholarship award bearing his name, and continues to press the city to place his name in the Board of Honor.

“Both Kasper Lauer and Stephen Harkenbrook [killed in the line of duty by two burglars on April 20, 1857] are officially recognized,” Bingham explains. “They’re names are included among the fallen at the Washington D.C. Police Officer’s Memorial.”

G.A.P.A. members share an appreciation of their common ethnic heritage, and the contributions made to local law enforcement by German-American Police officers. For many years the Germans were second in size to the Irish in numerical size. It became a political traditional in years gone by, for the Superintendent to be of Irish extraction and the 1st Deputy a German, in order to appease the city’s two largest ethnic groups.

Occasionally, a German would accede to the highest office in the department. Frederick Ebersold served as police superintendent during the time of the Haymarket Riot in 1886. Herman Schuettler, one of the most fearless and capable detectives to work the streets during the “gaslight era” of Chicago history, was appointed to the top post in 1917.

The ethnic and racial composition of the city has markedly changed in a hundred years since the Germans and the Irish vied for power, but as G.A.P.A. attempts to preserve the traditions of the past, it also builds upon a solid foundation for the future. “Among the ethnic police societies in Chicago, we’re among the largest,” notes Roger Haas, a Chicago Police officer from the 17th District who is beginning his tenth year as president of the fraternal organization. “Our members come from all over the country. Three of them reside in Germany.”

“We may lose about 10-15% a year in membership - there’s always a drop out factor, but we make it up pretty quickly,” adds Michael Haas, editor of G.A.P.A.’s highly informative, and entertaining bi-monthly newsletter Brennpunkt since 1988, and an 11- year veteran in Chicago; presently assigned to the 16th District. Mike Haas is not related to Roger - they just happen to share a very common German surname. “We are purely a social and fraternal organization. This is not a clout network, and we make no political endorsements.”

The notable difference between G.A.P.A.’s annual banquet - a rousing Oktoberfest celebration held at the Lone Tree Inn in Niles - and the other police testimonial dinners held throughout the year - is the absence of the politicians and the buddies of the politicians from the speaker’s dais. There are no long-winded speeches or awards presentation to sit through. “People go home only after the free beer runs out,” quips Vice-President Joe Kirchens, recently retired from Chicago after logging 33-years in a number of districts including Area 4, and the 20th and 19th Districts.

Nor does the executive board actively solicit new members from among the recruits going through the Training Academy. They have found that word of mouth goes a long way, and many younger police officers are re-connecting with their German roots these days. “Our membership is mostly German-Americans whose families have been living in this country a while, as opposed to the other ethnic German social clubs around the city,” Mike Haas explains. “In the 1960s there wasn’t much interest in reviving European traditions, but there has been a gradual reawakening in the last two decades.”

Mike Haas’ relatives emigrated from Bavaria, a province in southwestern Germany. Mike learned about his valued cultural heritage from his mother Pauline Dunstl Haas, who participated in a German folk dancing troop in years past.

Roger Haas grew up on a farm in west central Wisconsin. He is a fourth generation German-American whose relatives came over on a boat from Hamburg. “In Wisconsin, over 50 per cent of the people are German,” he adds.

Joe Kirchens, who assisted in the arrest of Gene Lewis, the notorious West Side “Iceman” murderer who killed a pair of Thillens security guards back in the late 1960s, traces his lineage back to Luxembourg where his father was born.

Haas, Kirchens, and Haas were not around at the very beginning, when 12 Chicago Police officers from the 20th District scheduled a meeting at the Carmen Lounge on 5100 N. Western Avenue, for the purpose of forming a German American Police Association and ironing out the details of a mission statement.

The date was January 20, 1975, and according to a published history of the organization: ”This first meeting did not come about at the spur of the moment. It had followed many discussions in the front seat of a squad car, at social events, and at times we were sitting in an armory waiting to be sent out on a detail with our riot helmets.”

Hans Heitmann was the first G.A.P.A. appointed president. Sergeant Norbert Holzinger, of the 19th District was the first elected G.A.P.A. president. Holzinger, whose strong leadership put the society on firm footing during the formative years, continues to serve on the board of directors.

G.A.P.A. was the last of the ethnic European police organizations to be formed. (A Ukrainian-American group is currently in the developmental stages). But the goals outlined by Holzinger, and the many charitable deeds the association sponsors during the year do not go unnoticed. This not-for-profit fraternal group awards two scholarships - one in the memory of Kasper Lauer, and the other to Larry Vincent, the only G.A.P.A. member to be killed in the line of duty.

During the year, members contribute their time and money to the support of the German Altenheim home for the aged in Forest Park. G.A.P.A. sponsors an annual picnic for the residents in August, in addition to their own mid-summer gathering at the Bunker Hill Forest Preserve. For the past 10-15 years, members also donate money to Altenheim at Christmas time .

The board has generously assisted several German choral societies who have come to Chicago to perform, and it has sent its members to Philadelphia to participate in parades sponsored by the local German-American Police Association in that city.

Uniformed members march in the city’s annual downtown Von Steuben Day Parade held every September. It is the smallest and least attended ethnic festival sponsored by the City of Chicago, but the real celebrations carry on long into the night in the living, breathing heart of the old German quarter along Lincoln Avenue. G.A.P.A.’s membership meetings are held the first Tuesday of every month at the Dank Haus, 4740 N. Western Avenue - home of the German-American Congress where Gemutlichkeit (good will, and good times), and the joy of being German prevails in a casual setting.

“We think it adds a little German flavor to our lives,” Roger Haas believes. “In fact, I’m probably more German now than when I was growing up in Wisconsin.”

Membership in the German American Police Association is open to all sworn police officers of German descent. The dues are $20.00 a year, and inquiries should be directed to G.A.P.A., at 4740 N. Western Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625.

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IPSN  1997-2006 All Rights reserved. Not for republication on the internet without permission. 
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