A short time ago the Detroit Police Museum opened its doors so we all could get a look at the Detroit Police Department’s 150-year-history. It’s intriguing.
With that in mind I took a look at the Detroit Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Detroit to get a little more information.
The first uniformed Detroit police took to the streets on May 15, 1865. That year they made 3,056 arrests and corralled 200 loose animals and 1,700 stray geese. Most carried personal handguns because they were not issued weapons.
As it grew, the Detroit Police Department embraced innovation and change. In 1893, L.T. Toliver became the city’s first African American police officer and police superintendent Morgan Collins hired Marie Owen, the first female officer in the United States. In addition, the Detroit Police Department was one of the very first in the US to use cars for patrol and in 1922 it became the first in the nation to use radio dispatch technology. Detroit was also the first to use traffic lights.
“When I started with the department we didn’t even have patrol wagons. If we found a drunk so helpless he couldn’t navigate, we started looking for a wheelbarrow. Everybody had a little garden in those days and usually a wheelbarrow,” John P. Pramstaller, a Detroit police officer from 1880-87, described working conditions to The Detroit News in 1938.
You can learn more about the Detroit Police Department’s history at the museum. While you’re there have your picture taken with members of the Purple Gang, a mob of bootleggers and hijackers who operated out of Detroit in the 1920s.
Here are just a few other things you can see at the Detroit Police Museum
- Jimmy Hoffa’s fingerprints
- Officer Iron Mike, a robotic-looking black body armor painted black, used for barricaded gunman situation in the 1950s
- A 1910 stop-go traffic sign used by police to manually direct traffic from the street level
- Old police uniforms
- A tape recorder hidden in pack of Marlboro cigarettes
- An old Colt .32 cal. revolver lost in 1927 and fished out of the Detroit River by a fisherman in 1973
- Old bomb squad devices and suits
While you’re there check out the gift shop where you can purchase DPD apparel and accessories … beer mugs, coffee cups, hats, shirts, sweatpants, hoodies, model police cars and even a camo backpack. You can also buy them online. Your purchase will provide training, equipment, community outreach and other DPD needs.
The department needs your help. More than 85% of the DPD budget is dedicated to personnel so there is little left for new programs … and those programs are needed to make sure our crime statistics continue to drop.
Things have changed dramatically in the last 150 years. In 2014, there were 300 criminal homicides, the lowest in 47 years. There were 1,054 non-fatal shootings. Those numbers compare with 332 homicides and 1,161 non-fatal shootings in 2013. In addition, violent offenses and property crime are also down.
The catch is the Detroit Police Department has accomplished this with staffing at a record low. According to a Detroit News story, there are 1,590 police officers patrolling the city, fewer than at any time since the 1920s. It’s a manpower shortage that sometimes leaves precincts with only one squad car, posing what some say is a danger to cops and residents. So you see, your donations can help.
The museum and gift shop is a partnership with the Detroit Police Department and Detroit Public Safety Foundation. The Foundation is the only organization authorized to raise funds on behalf of the DPD.
The Detroit Police Museum is located at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters, 1301 Third Street on the 3rd floor. Hours are Monday – Friday 9:00 – 4:30 PM and admission is free. To learn even more you can also purchase Detroit Police Department (Images of America: Michigan) on Amazon.