November 30, 1920: Duluth’s new police chief fires 18 patrolman

On this day in Duluth in 1920 Duluth’s new chief of police, Warren E. Pugh, fired 18 of his patrolman as part of a restructuring of the entire department. Public Safety Commissioner William Murnian had appointed Pugh Chief of Police earlier in the month. Pugh had joined the force as a patrolman in 1917 and left when Prohibition became law to serve as a U.S. Marshall investigating illegal liquor trade. Earlier that summer Duluth’s police chief John Murphy and 11 others had been arrested and charged with smuggling whiskey from Canada to Duluth. In October, during Murphy’s trial, Pugh had joined the Duluth Police Department as a detective. Evidence was stolen in the Murphy case, and the disgraced chief was acquitted. Murphy presented a petition calling for his reinstatement signed by the majority of Duluth police officers, but Murnian paid it no mind and also passed over veteran police captain (and acting chief) Anthony Fiskett in favor of Pugh. One of Pugh’s first action as chief was to clean house, getting rid 18 officers considered unqualified because they had not passed a civil service exam. They were allowed to test to regain their jobs in the new year, but they also had to compete with 20 other applicants. Pugh also named police matron Mary Walsh Connelly, a 12-year veteran of the force, Duluth’s first Patrol Woman. A believer in innovations, in 1922 Pugh brought the Duluth Police Department its first polygraph machine, not that he had complete faith in the contraption. “It cannot prove guilt or innocence,” he said. “Its function, from the police standpoint, is to aid detectives into determining whether or not they are working the right ‘leads,’ and in clearing innocent suspects.” Despite his forward thinking, Pugh was gone by 1924, when Edward Barber took over as Duluth’s top cop. Read a history of the 1890 Duluth Police Headquarters and Jail, which includes more about Duluth’s police chiefs from 1890 to 1940, here.

The Duluth Police Headquarters and jail, photographed some time between 1890 and 1909. (Image: Duluth Public Library)