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Indianapolis Police Department History

The Early Years
In September 1854, thirty-three years after the City of Indianapolis was founded, Mayor James McCready appointed 14 men to the first police force, under the command of Captain Jefferson Springsteen. Prior to 1854, peace was maintained in Indianapolis by a town marshal, the sheriff and a few deputies, a volunteer night watch, and a small number of constables and justices of the peace. 

During the summer of 1855, as police officers attempted to enforce the recently enacted prohibition laws, they were met with resistance and a riot broke out on East Washington Street. When gunfire erupted from the police ranks, several citizens were wounded.   Partly due to this incident and partly because of the expense of maintaining the police force, the ordinance creating the police force was repealed on December 17, 1855.

Early the following year, a second force of 10 men, under Captain Jesse Van Blaricum, was created.  Under hostile political party action, this force was disbanded in May.   The next May (1857)  saw a change of party power, and another police force of seven men, under Captain A.D. Rose, was created.  In this second rebirth, the Indianapolis Police Department was able to survive and grow.

A Growing Department
In 1862, officers began their first "day work."  Up to this time, all police assignments were conducted at night. Police districts were established by ordinance in March 1864, and by 1865 the Department was comprised of a chief, 2 lieutenants, 9 day- and 18 night-patrolmen, 2 detectives, and 16 specials. In 1900, with the City's population nearly 170,000, the size of the force was 166.

The Department began to supplement its sworn strength with civilian employees during the 1950s, shifting sworn officers from administration to direct law enforcement and assigning civilians to the administrative posts.  In the early 1990's, the Department expanded the role of civilians with the creation of non-sworn, uniformed Public Safety Officers who perform the functions of evidence collection, accident investigations, and prisoner transportation.

Prior to the merger in 2007, 1,230 sworn and 250 civilian personnel were employed by the Police Department which provided service 24-hours a day, 7-days a week.

Putting Officers Into Uniform
The Department's first officers were identified only by a silver star.  In 1862, the police were put into uniforms -- a dark blue coat, light blue trousers with a cord along the seam, and a blue cap. 

Uniforms underwent several changes through the years.  Prior to the merger in 2007, regulations required officers to maintain both summer and winter uniforms as well as authorized leather goods.  Patrol officer badges were silver; the badge for sergeants and above was gold. The uniform for all ranks was navy blue.

Housing the Police Department
The exact location of the of the original police station is uncertain.  Records suggest that an early station was situated at the southeast corner of 200 North Alabama.   A high wall surrounded the building, which is said to have been almost hidden from the view of the passerby.  In the 1870's the Department moved to a new headquarters at 51 S. Alabama Street, where it remained until the current City-County Building was built in 1961.

Maintaining its central headquarters in the East Wing of the City-County Building at 50 North Alabama, the Department also made a commitment to decentralized, community-based policing.  Consequently, during the mid-1980's and 1990's neighborhood district headquarters were established at several locations.  At the time of the merger in 2007, district operations were housed at:

  • North District, 4209 North College Avenue, opened July 14, 1989
  • East District, 3120 East 30th Street, opened May 15, 1990
  • South District, 1150 South Shelby Street, opened May 4, 1995
  • West District, 551 North King Avenue, opened April 16, 1991
  • Downtown District, 209 East St. Joseph Street, opened April 1995  (later relocated to 25 West 9th Street)

Mobilizing the Department
The first IPD officers walked their beats, which at the time covered little territory.   Some officers rode in buggies and others rode velocipedes of the two-wheeled type.   The bicycle was introduced as a means of transportation in 1897 and was used for "hot" runs.  Officers assigned to the bicycle units were known as the "Flying Squadron."  Horse patrols also were implemented around the turn of the century, and motorcycle patrols were employed from 1909.

The first police emergency automobile was pioneered in 1904.  The new car was known as a "steamer," and it was essential that a pilot flame, which kept up sufficient steam to move the car, be kept burning constantly.  In 1912, the Department obtained two high-powered Packards that could get to the scene of problems quickly.   By 1929, the Department owned about sixty automobiles. 

When needed, the Department's first officers commandeered private wagons and conveyed drunks to the station in a wheelbarrow.  In 1883, the Department obtained two horse-drawn carts for use as wagons.  In 1906, motorized trucks replaced the horse-drawn wagons.

At the time of the merger in 2007, the fleet was equipped with more than 1400 cars, 45 motorcycles, and 12 prisoner wagons.  In addition, formerly discontinued horse and bicycle patrols were reinstituted in 1983 and 1991 respectively.

Communicating with Officers
Telephone booths were first used in the late 1870's to keep street officers in touch with headquarters.  In 1897, the City spent $60,000 on the installation of a Gamewell call box system, identified by its blue call boxes at various points in the City.  Using the Gamewell system, beat officers reported hourly and could summon help from headquarters.  A new box system was installed in December 1955, with 652 telephone boxes replacing the 533 Gamewell boxes, most of them located at the same corners.

On Christmas Even 1929, the Indianapolis Police Department became the second police agency in the country to install radios in police cars.  On that night, the Indianapolis Police Department Radio Station, call letters WMDZ began operation.  The first run to a radio-equipped car was, "WMDZ, WMDZ, Filling station hold-up at 20th and College, 20th and College, suspects last seen heading east, heading east."   These radios could receive dispatched messages, but field officers could not broadcast replies and had to acknowledge by telephone.  In 1938, the first two-way radios were put into service.  A 911 emergency communications system was installed in 1967, computer aided dispatch in 1978, and enhanced 911 in 1990.  Patrol cars were equipped with mobile data terminals (MDT's) for radio communication in the mid-1990's.

In 1992, the Indianapolis Police Department's emergency communications systems were joined with the systems of other county public safety agencies under a separate agency -- the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Agency (MECA.) 

Women and Minorities
African-American males appear on the Department's rolls in 1876.  By 1890, they comprised 5 of the 71 man force, and in 1934 16 of more than 400.  Until the 1960s African-American policemen worked in what were then the two predominately black areas of the city.

The name of the first African-American police officer in Indianapolis is not known.   The first African-American police detective was Benjamin T. Thornton, a runaway slave and self-educated man.  He was appointed to the Department in 1875 and made detective on August 20, 1885.  James D. Toler was the first African-American to be appointed Chief of the Indianapolis Police Department.  He served in that position from January 1, 1992 through September 1, 1995.

The office of police matron was established as part of the police force in April 1891.   The first matron, Annie Buchanan, worked from a room furnished by the local Women's Christian Temperance Union on the second floor of the police station.  She counseled boys under 15, girls, and women, and decided whether to send them to a diversion program or to hold them for trial.  By 1914, Indianapolis employed three matrons and a female probation officer.

Based on the recommendations in a 1917 report of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research that Indianapolis should employ policewomen to work outside the police station, 13 policewomen (including two African-Americans) and a woman police sergeant were appointed to the Indianapolis Police Department at a special meeting of the Board of Public Safety on June 16, 1918.  The sergeant, Clara Burnside was an experienced social worker and had served as a juvenile court probation officer for 12 years.   Wearing civilian clothes and unarmed, the women worked at dance halls, movie houses, bars, and restaurants. By 1920, 16 women dealt with shoplifters, runaways, and young girls on the streets.  By 1939, the number of policewomen had declined to 14 who performed only as matrons, clerks, or telephone operators.

The shortage of manpower during World War II saw an increase in the number of women employed by IPD.  In November 1943, two armed, uniformed policewomen were assigned to traffic posts on Monument Circle.   By 1947 there were 26 women on the Department, six of whom worked on the street.

IPD was the first police department in the country to assign policewomen to patrol cars when Officers Elizabeth Robinson and Betty Blankenship were assigned control of Car 47 in 1968.   On June 8, 1976, Officer Penny Davis, a 7-1/2 year veteran of the force, became the first woman assigned to the Investigations Division. In January 1992, Ms. Davis became the first woman to hold the rank of Deputy Chief.  Two years later, Patricia Holman became the first African-American female Deputy Chief.  Deborah Saunders was appointed to the rank of Assistant Chief in 1999.

Prior to the merger in 2007, minorities comprised 18% of the IPD's sworn strength, women 13%.

Innovations
Like police departments around the country, IPD looked for measures, equipment, and technologies to increase its ability to fight crime.  In terms of criminal identification, starting in the 1890s, the Department used the Bertillon system -- a file collection of body measurements, photographs, and fingerprints -- to identify criminals.  A Criminal Identification Bureau using fingerprints as the main tool was organized in 1908, based on a demonstration made by Scotland Yard at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. By 1940, a fully equipped crime lab directed by a trained scientist with the rank of criminologist was in place.  In 1989, an automated fingerprint identification system was installed.

The Department started using "drunk-o-meters," or breathalyzer machines in 1937, polygraphs in 1938, and radar detectors in 1951.  Helicopters were first used in 1968, and a computerized system for reporting police incidents was implemented in the early 1970's.  Beginning in August 1988, the Police Department participated in the maintenance of data in JUSTIS, a countywide, computerized criminal justice information system that integrates data from the point of arrest to case disposition.   In the early 1990's, the Department began to computerize its crime mapping operations through GIS.  Later in the 1990's the Department began to install mobile data terminals in patrol cars; at the time of the merger in 2007, patrol cars were equipped with laptop computers.

 

Sources:
Sulgrove, B.R. History of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana.   Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1884.

Bodenhamer, David J., ed.  The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis.   Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Clipping file, Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library. S.v., Indianapolis Police Department.