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    USACOPS | Missouri | Police | St Louis City

St Louis Police Department

About Us

 
St Louis City Police Dept
Missouri History
David McElreath

What took place in the Saint Louis Police Department, from its meager beginning in 1808 to its present status today, is a story of service, leadership and integrity. It is also a story of the courage and dedication of thousands of men and women who have worn the blue uniform throughout the years. What follows is a brief chronology of how the Saint Louis Police Department evolved from a four man militia in 1808 to its present status as a nationally recognized law enforcement agency.

In 1808, just five years after Saint Louis became a part of the United States, the city's first police force was organized. Although only comprised of four men, it served the early settlers well. There was no salary paid to the officers. Even more unusual was the fact that every male over the age of eighteen was required to serve four months as a police officer each year. Anyone who refused to obey his call to duty was subject to what was then considered a stiff fine - "the sum of one dollar."

For 10 years this rotating four-man militia served the needs of the settlers, but in 1818 it was necessary to enlarge the force to six men due to population growth. Two of the officers were then assigned to the night watch, with one of them being a one-armed man named Gabes Warner, who was considered by many to be better qualified for the job than most two-armed men. At the same time, Mackey Wherry was named captain and was paid $400.00 annually. Wherry held two distinctions, as he became the first command rank officer of the force and the first officer to receive a salary.

As the city began to grow, it again became necessary to increase the size of the force. In 1826 the city appointed a captain and 26 new officers who were given the rank of lieutenant. To their list of duties was the ringing of the church bells at lO:00 PM during the summer months and 9:00 PM during the rest of the year. From all accounts, this ritual was considered quite important and failure of an officer to do so would result in a fine or even dismissal.

In 1839 the city again saw the need to increase the police force, as its population was rapidly increasing and it was becoming more difficult to preserve the peace during the evening hours. City guards were established to assist the police in night duty. Sixteen guards were added to the night watch, which illustrates the problem the Department experienced in keeping peace after dark. The proclamation of the hours of the night was one of their most important duties. "Twelve o'clock and all's well" was a familiar call at that time.

It wasn't until the 1840's that citizens realized the importance of their police Department. As thousands of immigrants began to settle in Saint Louis, crime increased faster than the size of its police force. With its growing population and increased steamboat traffic, the city was no longer the small trading post it had once been. The levee area, by all accounts, was busy both day and night. Saloons, gambling and prostitution flourished along the riverfront and the police Department had their hands full. The "Wild West" had come to Saint Louis.

In 1846 a major reorganization took place and the police force became known as the "Department of Police." Again, emphasis was placed on making the city safer during the evening, with the night watch comprised of a captain, six lieutenants and 48 officers. During the same period, the day watch consisted of one lieutenant and seven officers. This difference in manpower illustrates that nightlife was alive and well in Saint Louis.

In 1850 the Department saw the need to provide a means of transporting prisoners, and so the "Black Maria" came into existence. It consisted of a wagon enclosed by iron bars and received much use during this time, as the west boundary of the city extended to what is now Broadway. As the city limits grew in geography, it was no longer possible for officers to walk their prisoners to jail.

In 1861, control of the police Department was assumed by a police board appointed by the governor. During this period, other large cities had switched to the same system with success, as it removed a level of politics and favoritism from the police Department. There has probably been no single decision in the history of the Department which has caused as much controversy among citizens, politicians and the police. To this day the argument is still heard that the Department should be under home rule. Due to this reorganization and change in state statute, 1861 is considered to be the inception of the Saint Louis Police Department as we know it today.

In 1861, James McDonough was sworn in as the Department's first police chief. Interestingly, he neither sought nor expected the position, but was considered by most to be the best qualified for the job, as he ran a successful private detective agency. During his tenure, Chief McDonough would resign twice and serve three separate times as the Chief of Police.

With a population of 161,000 people, Saint Louis was the nation's eighth largest city in 1861. The period was a troublesome time, as the Civil War broke out and people began lining up on either the confederate or union side. What made it worse was the fact that Missouri was a border state, with various factions divided in their alliance to the north or south. Members of the police board were anxious to align themselves as they thought right. Consequently, every member of the first police board had resigned or been removed by the governor within six months of taking office.

The Civil War brought about many changes to Saint Louis, including its police Department. By 1866, the city had a population of 204,000. That year the Department increased in size to 225 officers, whose duty it was to patrol the 16 square miles of territory. One of the major problems facing the Department was the task of capturing steamboat criminals. The city had become a major center in river traffic and various gangs of men joined forces and committed crimes of piracy along the levee. This problem became so widespread that the Department had to initiate a steamboat detective squad. Each steamboat captain would pay to the Department the sum of $1.00 per day. In return, an officer would be assigned to the ship while it was docked. From all accounts, this plan worked well in reducing the number of crimes on the steamboats.

In 1867 then Chief of Police William F. Finn saw the need to begin the first mounted patrol of the Department. During this period the city boundary extended only to Jefferson Avenue, but outside this boundary were many groups of highwaymen and bandits who would rob farmers and other merchants on their way to the city to sell goods. After robbing them, the thieves would hide the loot in the many caves that lined the area. Since the thieves restricted their activity to nighttime, Chief Finn came up with the idea of having mounted officers patrol the outskirts of the city in an effort to combat these crimes. From all that is written, it appears that the mounted patrol was successful in stopping these night robberies.

The year 1881 brought about one of the most important advancements in the history of the police Department. In October of that year, the first police telephone system was installed. Although it was a crude form of dots and dashes, the system enabled the districts to be connected by wire to one another, as well as to headquarters. As this new form of communication improved, it revolutionized law enforcement.

By 1904, Saint Louis ranked fourth in size in the nation, with a population of over 575,000. It was a city bustling with excitement and one which had survived a devastating cyclone only eight years before. It was a city whose motto became "Meet Me in Saint Louie, Meet Me at the Fair." The 1904 World's Fair showcased Saint Louis to the world. For seven months of that year, Saint Louis became the most popular city to visit, with almost 20 million people attending the Fair during that time. While the Fair placed the city in the spotlight, it brought with it unique problems for the police Department - problems it had never experienced before. The force at that time consisted of 1260 officers, not counting the emergency patrolmen who were sworn in to meet the demands for police service at the Fair. While millions of people traveled to the Fair, so too did gamblers, swindlers, pickpockets, thieves and robbers. From all accounts, the Department did a commendable job of policing the Fair, but not without its losses. In 1904 the Department lost three officers in a daring shoot-out with train robbers. To this day, no single incident has caused the death of more Saint Louis police officers. Having survived the Fair, Saint Louis and its police Department continued to flourish. However, expansion also brought with it an increase in criminal activity. The period between 1910 and 1920 was but a prelude to one of the most infamous periods of the city - "The Roaring Twenties."

And roaring they were, as crime grew rampant with the formation of various gangs in the city. With this crime wave came the deaths of many officers. In a span of just 10 years from 1920 to 1930, 46 police officers died in the line of duty, more than in any other decade in the history of the Department.

But the 1920's brought positive changes as well. The Police Band was organized in 1920 and a new Traffic Division, consisting of 122 automobiles and 44 motorcycles, was created in 1923. Forensic ballistics were adopted in 1928 and a new headquarters and academy complex opened in 1929. Recruits at the new academy were trained in these areas: patrolling, target practice, first aid, calisthenics, geography, spelling, penmanship, boxing and swimming, with the training lasting for four weeks.

In 1930, the Department began its own radio station and 50 patrol cars were equipped with receivers. New district station houses were built throughout the decade. Police report writing was begun in 1930 and the police lab was established in 1935. By 1936, 22 policewomen were on the force, and the Traffic Division boasted 228 automobiles and 91 motorcycles.

The Police Library was organized in 1947 and it has developed into the largest Department-owned library in the nation. In 1951, policewomen were given the power of arrest offenders and received full status as police officers. The Mobile Reserve Unit was introduced in 1957. In 1958, the Canine Program was initiated and it is now recognized as one of the best in the country.

The 1960's and 70's were periods of major transition for law enforcement in general and the St. Louis Police Department in particular. The 40-hour week was adopted in 1963 and air conditioned cars were first purchased in 1968. Education and training of personnel was the rule rather than the exception. In 1970, 640 hours of training became the requirement for successful completion of the academy.

Colleges became inundated with police officers, and again our Department was one of the first in making scholarships available to police officers. The Department also pays for part of each officer's tuition, and offers college incentive pay for degrees earned. By 1978, the first officer had earned a Ph.D. In 1979, the Hostage Response Unit was formed.

The 1980's brought their own unique problems to the Department. A declining budget, less manpower and additional requests for police services were but a few of the problems faced. The Department met these demands with technological innovations such as the Police Incident Reporting System (P.I.R.S.), Computer Aided Dispatch (C.A.D.) and an automated fingerprint system (A.F.I.S.), as well as a new, state-of-the-art communications center.

Special programs were instituted to fight specific problems, such as the WAR program (We Are Responsible), designed to educate schoolchildren about the dangers of drugs, and SCAT (Street Corner Apprehension Team), to stop drug dealers on the streets. The CAT program (Combat Auto Theft) discourages auto thieves by placing special decals in automobile windows.

New performance appraisal and promotion procedures were implemented, including assessment centers designed to provide unbiased, comprehensive means of rating promotional candidates. A new Fitness Center was dedicated in 1987 to provide a place for officers to keep in shape with handball and racquetball courts, a banked running track, Nautilus and Universal fitness machines, weights, a basketball court and a sauna.

Entering the 1990's, the new Area Command Stations provided us a more efficient means of policing our city. Mobile Data Terminals in patrol cars speed up the transfer of information. 9mm semi- automatic pistols replaced the old revolvers as the Department strived to give its officers every possible advantage in their war against crime.

Today, the Department is now comprised of over 1400 officers and recently opened up three new area stations and a high-tech communications center. With a diverse and comprehensive policing strategy firmly in place, all of our activities are aimed at just one goal: making the St. Louis Metropolitan area a better and safer place for the millions of people who live, work, or visit here. Our policing strategy is about working with community to prevent crime; not just to catch the criminals once a crime has occurred.

In addition, officers, many of whom have advanced degrees, patrol in customized police vehicles and have at their disposal the latest equipment in police technology, including computers and miniature radios. Hundreds of officers are involved in community programs designed to help distressed youth, provide safety education, and various other community interactions to support and assist the community beyond law enforcement.

As we approach the 21st century, the Saint Louis Police Department looks to the past with pride and to the future with anticipation and promise. Regardless of the progress made in technology and science, there still remains a link - a common bond - which reconciles the Department's past with the present.

That link is the thousands of police officers who have remained undaunted since 1808 in dedicating their lives to serve the citizens of Saint Louis. The cornerstone of the Department is not found in its buildings or technology, but instead is imbedded in the spirit and soul of its officers. As our city continues in its urban renaissance, the spirit of Saint Louis prevails in its police Department.

 

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