Inside the American Police

Hall of Fame and Museum: Morbid kitsch and money. Lots of money.

"We're an organization of full-time policemen, and we don't like the image we got from some of what Jerry did," Schira later told the Los Angeles Times. "We got rid of all that when we got rid of Jerry and most of the people who worked with him."

Adding to his discomfort, Schira told the Times, was Arenberg's creation of two other institutions, the U.S. Federation of Police and the International Association of Auxiliary Police. Undaunted by his dismissal, Arenberg merged those groups into one new organization, the American Federation of Police. In 1967, continuing his quest for a shrine, he incorporated the National Police Museum, Inc.

Two years later, on page one of the Los Angeles Times, the paper's then-Atlanta correspondent Jack Nelson penned a scathing report about Arenberg. Portraying the ex-cop as a transplanted flatlander with delusions of grandeur, Nelson wrote that Arenberg operated out of plush Miami offices, drove around in a new Lincoln, and squired guests about town in an AFP limo equipped with a phone. He also revealed that Arenberg was engaged in a transparent money-making scheme: He was running a diploma mill.

At the time, Nelson recalls, several national commissions had published reports calling for higher police educational and training standards. And with cops everywhere anxious for ways to achieve academic respectability, Arenberg was making a tempting offer. "The AFP was a really sleazy outfit," says Nelson, now the Times's Washington bureau chief. "They had this thing, the National Law Enforcement Academy. They were giving out phony degrees all over the country. You'd pay some money, do some token course work, and be presented with this thing that was represented as some sort of great academic achievement. It was just bogus."

Arenberg, despite his own lack of a college degree, was signing diplomas as "Dean Gerald Arenberg," Nelson reported. His co-signers were "Lt. Derrick B. Van Brode IV," the academy's "chancellor," and "Dr. Louis Wawrzyniak, chairman of the Academic Evaluation Committee."

Nelson discovered that like Arenberg, Van Brode had no college degree; not only that, he didn't hold the rank of lieutenant in any known police department. The reporter also found that Wawrzyniak, a rookie cop and AFP member in Whiting, Indiana, wasn't a doctor at all; he had, in fact, never even graduated from high school.

Paul Scott Abbott, Arenberg's PR consultant, declines to address the subject directly. "Arenberg has some difficulty recalling details of events of more than 25 years ago, but he does recall that Wawrzyniak presented credentials impressive enough to have fooled the U.S. Army, the State of Indiana, and others," is his only comment. Wawrzyniak, however, told Nelson that he never spoke with Arenberg about credentials, and that he had no idea "Dean" Arenberg wasn't a college graduate, either.

It was Jack Nelson's view that Arenberg was capitalizing on fear of crime and civic unrest, "exploiting the law-and-order issue," as the reporter wrote in his 1969 article. Even as the story was being picked up by the wire services and receiving national attention, Arenberg's influence was growing. He had begun publishing a twice-monthly newspaper, the Police Times, and he made sure reporters and government officials got copies of it. He also made sure people noticed when he presented awards to police officers and legislators, and he came to be viewed as a respected spokesman for law enforcement; over the years, he has been quoted as an authoritative source in hundreds of articles in a vast range of publications. Only three years after its founding, national figures from both political parties were heaping praise on AFP. Then-senator John Tower, a Republican from Texas, referred to it as a "distinguished association."

During the Seventies and Eighties, Arenberg and three associates -- Derrick Van Brode IV, Donna Shepherd, and Debbie Chitwood -- incorporated a slew of groups. Among them: the International Academy of Criminology, the American Police Academy, the Florida Crime Prevention Commission, the American Police Reserves, the Florida Union of Security Employees, the Armed Forces Military and Veterans Association, the National Association of Park Rangers, and the Venerable Order of Michael the Archangel. All were eventually granted tax-exempt status; several are still in existence.

In 1976, Arenberg and Van Brode created a for-profit corporation called American Fraternal Programmers, Inc., whose stated purpose was to "provide comprehensive management of day-to-day activities of fraternal, educational, scientific, and charitable organizations."

The only organizations managed by American Fraternal Programmers, Inc., however, are the ones run by Arenberg and his associates. In 1989 Arenberg and Van Brode relinquished ownership of the corporation to NACOP and AFP. While it's not unheard-of for nonprofit groups to have for-profit subsidiaries, according to the Better Business Bureau's Philanthropic Advisory Service, it is both unusual and troubling -- albeit legal -- that the directors of a for-profit group also direct the nonprofits.

"There's nothing wrong with hiring a management company, but the question is, how do you decide who to hire, and is the decision made objectively? And in this case, these people have a financial connection if they're involved with the for-profit entity," says Bennett Weiner, vice president of the Philanthropic Advisory Service.

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