The new film “Gangster Squad” takes a fictionalized look at the LAPD vice division of the 1940s. The details are given a fair helping of dramatic license, but the broad outline of a vice division set against mobster Mickey Cohen has a basis in reality.
East Coast criminals were known to hang out in Sunset Strip clubs at the time, according to the LAPD itself. Mickey Cohen, who made his home out west, made his money from gambling and prostitution. He also ran nightclubs, flower shops, gas stations and a hat store, according to Life magazine.
“Mickey Cohen’s power was based in payoffs and bribes and ruthlessness,” former L.A. detective Mike Rothmiller told Arizona TV station KTVK. “He was involved in many killings himself.”
Chief of Police Clarence Horrall created a 10-man intelligence detail that became known as the “Gangster Squad,” and they were tasked with spying on corrupt cops and combating organized crime.
“Their job was to keep organized crime out of Los Angeles, especially from the East,” Buz Williams told KTVK. Williams’ grandfather and father were both original members of the Gangster Squad.
Chief William A. Worton took over in 1949, which led to the group being expanded and renamed the “Intelligence Section.” When famed chief William Parker took office, he expanded the group even further, including adding a female field team.
“Our primary business was learning secrets about anybody that wielded power,” Rothmiller said.
Cohen ultimately wound up in Alcatraz in 1962. He was sent there for the same crime that caught famed Chicago boss Al Capone: tax evasion.
You can find out more about the Gangster Squad in the seven-part L.A. Times series the film was inspired by.