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By Andrew Wolfson
Courier-Journal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Jon Higgins, who worked his way up through the ranks to become chief of Louisville's police department in 1977, only to see his administration racked with scandal, died last Sunday at his home in Prospect. He was 75.
Higgins died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Sam Weakley said.
Appointed chief by Mayor William Stansbury in December 1977, Higgins was known for his loyalty - to the mayor, to city safety director Philip "Ticky" Schultz and most of all, to his officers on the street, Tony Miller, one of Stansbury's deputy mayors, recalled last night.
"Instead of looking around for people to kick in the pants, we intend to look for people to pat on the back," Higgins said when he was appointed.
But Higgins' loyalty to friends, including known gamblers, embroiled him in four years of controversy that included his own indictment by a federal grand jury.
Two weeks into his administration, The Courier-Journal reported that he had played golf with two men reputed to be gamblers, and that he had failed to arrest a friend who took Higgins' service weapon and fired it while at a miniature golf course, violating a law barring the discharge of a firearm within city limits.
"Why didn't I arrest him?" Higgins said to reporters at the time. "The answer is that I didn't because he's a friend of mine."
During his first year on the job, several officers were charged with burglarizing downtown businesses, and Higgins was forced to fire a 14-year veteran who he described as a "close personal friend" for buying a stolen police examination used to qualify for promotions for $3,000.
Still in his first year, after he marched into three nightclubs on Seventh Street Road and ordered them closed, saying he had seen known prostitutes inside, then admitted he "probably" violated the bar owners' due process rights. But he said he didn't care and would close the bars again if he thought it was warranted.
A Louisville Times editorial said he'd acted "with all the respect for the law of a Nazi brown shirter," and several members of the Board of Aldermen unsuccessfully called for him to resign or be fired.
Higgins blamed his "lumps in the press" on his stance on gambling, which he made no bones about saying he considered a low-priority offense.
"I believe it's a shame when they send men to prison for betting that your horse won't win," he once said.
In February 1981, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of obstruction of justice for allegedly interfering with a federal investigation of Luther James, a convicted gambler, by revealing to James the identifies of undercover FBI agents who had James under surveillance.
Higgins was relieved of his command, but reinstated when a federal judge ruled the next month that the federal law that Higgins was accused of violating didn't apply in the case.
Later that year, he was seen drinking and cavorting at a bar on Jefferson Street and heard telling a group of drinkers, "The only thing I miss about being chief ... is hanging out around these ----places with people like you."
In a profile, Higgins was described as "intelligent, articulate, outgoing and smooth, a forceful leader who presents a good image and is well-educated," with a bachelor's degree in police administration.
But the story said that people who knew him said he'd been changed by the job and was no longer "acting like the polished, well-liked ambitious man he once was."
Former Louisville police chief Richard Dotson, who succeeded Higgins and was credited with restoring credibility to the department, said last night that Higgins had trouble relating to the community.
"He seemed to have problems with public opinion," Dotson said.
After one alderman questioned whether police used excessive force when they arrested 12 people at an annual church picnic, Higgins called her "anti-police."
A jury also ordered Higgins to pay $1,000 in damages for defaming Shelby Lanier Jr., the president of the Black Police Officers Organization, whom Higgins said in a television interview was "perhaps the biggest racist in the Louisville Division of Police."
As a result of the turmoil during Higgins' administration, the Board of Alderman in 1982, seeking to end the turnover of police chiefs with the election of each new mayor, passed an ordinance saying chiefs could only be fired for misconduct or unsatisfactory job performance.
Born in Salem, Ore., Higgins once said his parents were married in a boxing ring in Prescott, Ariz., where his father, a ranked middleweight, fought a 10-round bout.
Higgins, who moved to Louisville with his family, joined the department in 1956, and was known for his skill at drawing cartoons, which he had begun as a sergeant in the Air Force, including for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes when he served two years in Tokyo.
He worked as a patrolman for 2½ years in west Louisville before becoming a detective. In 1971, he was appointed by the U.S. State Department to serve as an adviser to the South Vietnamese police force, and in 1972, returning to Louisville, he was promoted to captain.
In 1973, he was elevated to lieutenant colonel in command of the uniformed patrol division, but his advancement was stopped suddenly the next year when Mayor Harvey I. Sloane's committee recommended him as the next police chief, but Sloane instead selected John Nevin.
Friends say being passed over bruised his ego, and he asked to be demoted back to captain, saying he wanted to work more closely with officers and get out on the street. But four years later, he landed the chief's job with the election of Stansbury.
Shortly before his retirement, Higgins bought a bar with a former deputy police chief and two other men on Chestnut Street. They renamed it Yesterday's Memories.
One of Higgins' daughters, Kelly Scott, said the family had no comment when reached last night.

Wire Service
 
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