RPD: Our First One Hundred Years
"My thanks goes out to retired Police Lieutenant Nick Bloomster who has kindly submitted a copy of the article "Our First One Hundred Years," as written by Lt. Robert Cavakis and Officer Peggy Patchen. The date of the original article is not listed, but since it refers to Elmer Briscoe, Chief of Police from 1960 to 1971, we can assume that the article refers to the time period between 1864 and 1964. For an interesting perspective on the history of our City and our Department, please read this article, reprinted below." Deputy Chief Jim Johns
February 28, 2007
February 28, 2007
Our First One Hundred Years
Lt. Robert Cavakis
Policewoman Peggy Patchen
In the year 1864, crime was just beginning to bud, and at this time Reno was called Lake's Crossing. If a crime would occur it was handled by the few people who were the only residents at the time. In 1868 the Central Pacific Railroad purchased 80 acres of land from Mr. Myron C. Lake and then officially named this area Reno. They then auctioned lots, and within two weeks 100 houses had been built. The city limits as this time were bounded by West Street on the West, Truckee River on the South, East Street on the East, and 4th Street on the North. With the influx of people to this area because of mining, farming and the railroad, the crime problem really starts moving. There was a sheriff around from time to time, but he had a large area to cover, so there again most problems were attended to by the people themselves.
In July 1874 a Vigilantes group was formed to take care of the growing crime problem. They called themselves the "601" and history has it that they were businessmen from the Reno area. They all wore white masks and nobody knew who they actually were. They were effective and they did clear the town of undesirable characters that were coming into Reno. For example, one story has been told about a man that was attempting to force his attentions on a lady, the Vigilantes committee heard of it, and searched the man out. They took him to the Truckee River where the Virginia Street Bridge is now, and there awaited the preparation of a pot of hot tar. They stripped his clothing off, poured the tar over his body and then feathered him. They then bought him a train ticket to Sacramento, California, and placed him on the train to be sure he did leave the city. He was never seen in Reno again! We guess you would call this a bit crude, but it sure was effective.
Then in 1877, because of great losses from pilfering at fires, it became necessary to form a Fire Police Unit. This way they not only fought the fires but they made arrests also.
Life went on in Reno, the city still kept growing, and the crime problem increased. We talk of our race riots today. They also had a problem with race riots Chinese style. Chinese by the hundreds were brought into the area for the railroads, and Reno had a large number of Chinese living in the Lake Street area of town. So the Vigilantes committee continued to work.
Along about 1878, Reno's first laws began to originate and they amounted to some of the following: They couldn't throw anymore trash on Virginia Street, they couldn't sleep on Virginia Street, dirty water could not be dumped into the street any more. One reporter went so far as to quip that between the dirty water and the vegetables being dumped onto Virginia Street it made a good soup.
In September of 1891, the town deputy was having a problem with an undesirable character and the deputy forced the man to leave town. This person didn't like this one bit, and came back to Reno, only this time with a gun. He hunted until he found the deputy and shot him twice in the stomach. He was immediately apprehended and placed in the local bastille in the court house. Two doctors examined the deputy and said he would die in a matter of hours. The Vigilantes committee heard of this and sprang into action. They swarmed the jail and took the man to the favorite hanging place. This "favorite hanging place" was a picturesque arched, narrow iron bridge that was wide enough for a wagon to cross, located at the Truckee on Virginia Street. They hanged him and left him for awhile as mute evidence that the city would not tolerate his type of crime. Well, as history has it, the deputy not only lived to a ripe old age but the bullet wound helped to correct an ailment he had most of his life. A Grand Jury investigation was ordered and the verdict was handed down that the undesirable subject met his death by "persons unknown", which we guess was true, as they all wore masks, and probably some of the Grand Jury were members of the Vigilantes. But this was Reno's way in those days of correcting the rising crime problem.
They didn't kill all the prisoners or suspects then, a few would be held from time to time and the jail was located anywhere a building could be rented. One of these buildings was on the property where the Majestic Theater now stands (currently the parking lot of the Mapes.). The front part was a laundry and at the rear of the property about where the stage is located now, was a temporary jail facility.
As the years passed the citizens of Reno were eager to become incorporated as they had failed two times before to hold this incorporation. Finally on May 11, 1903, the city incorporated and the Council had its first meeting. They drew up many new laws for the city and now needed their own Police Force. We imagine that after careful and long consideration the Council appointed Reno's first Chief of Police. This man was Charles Leeper. This city was holding more and more prisoners as the Vigilantes group had broken up; so the need for a new city hall and jail was badly needed. After much argument the funds were provided and a city hall with jail facility was erected on the northwest corner of First and Center Streets in August of 1906.
Reno still continued to increase in size and of course the crime increased along with it. New problems were cropping up such as traffic problems and accidents, also autos racing the streets, drunks laying around, pilfering, robberies, etc. Although the methods of policing were crude they were effective, as most undesirable people were brought to the edge of town and told to keep moving. One big reason was the city couldn't afford to feed the, there were so many.
As the years go by, more new problems came up, and there is a need for some form of an Identification Unit to aid in clearing up the burglaries that were taking place. So in 1910 the Police Department formed its first I.D. Unit, and about all it amounted to was the taking of fingerprints and comparing them against prints found at crime scenes. Charles R. Hillhouse was the supervisor of I.D. at this time and he slowly added new equipment and a new records system and by 1928 it was said that the Reno Police I.D. Unit ranked with any bureau in the western states.
In the late 20's a weird looking machine came into being, and two brave men were the first to ride them. The traffic problem was really beginning to come into notice, so the motorcycle was put into use, and the first two officers to ride them were Bill Deal and Earl Berry. After seeing pictures of these, we wonder what kind of pay or life insurance these men were given for this feat.
Now the years go by quickly to the 30"s, we are driving squad cars, but with no means of contacting these cars. So the bright idea was thought of, since the car had a regular radio, why not utilize the radio station, which was KOH. So when we needed the police car, a call was made to KOH. They in turn would call it over the air and if the officer was in the car he heard the call. The Police Department waited and wondered if the call was received by the officer in the car. This put a burden on the radio station naturally.
In 1934 the Police Department obtained its own radio station. The radios were installed into the cars by Al Kees in April of that year. Our radio station at that time was KGHM.
In 1938 the first two-way radio was put into units, these were installed by Arthur Sowle, who is presently our Captain of Communications on the Police Department.
Crime was still ever increasing in Reno, more people are moving in and tourists are beginning to venture further away from home on trips as the highways and autos improve. The Department is increasing steadily in forms of manpower and equipment, and as the years roll by there is a need for a new city jail. After much deliberation and expenditures, the new city jail was built at Second and High Streets in January of 1950. The Police Department moved in and thought that there was enough room to take care of the increasing problem for years. Little did they know that "little ole Reno" would continue to boom, and just 14 years later all the extra room has been taken up and there is an urgent need for increasing the site of the Police Department building, manpower and equipment.
In summing up the Reno Police Department, we find as we do in hundreds of other police departments all over, that in the beginning anyone brace enough to want the job as Chief was appointed. He had to handle most of the problems and when crime became too great, the people assisted, then someone else was hired to assist the Chief.
Since the first Police Chief was hired, Charles Leeper in 1903, these are the men who served in this position, and aided greatly in the department's increase and efficiency: A.A. Burke, J.D. Hillhouse, J.M. Kirkely, Lou Gammel, A.M. Welliver, Harry Fletcher, Clayton Phillips, L.R. Greeson, T.R. Berrum, William Gregory and Elmer Briscoe, who was the present chief.
Thus ends our story on our first 100 years – may we continue on for hundreds more, progressing with the times, and who knows maybe someday when we can look back and say, "We did help make it what it is today, maybe only a small percent, but we tried by giving our best to our job at all times."
This article comes to you through the good fortune of Lieutenant Nick Bloomster having the foresight of saving important information like this over the years. Although the authors have since left the Reno Police Department, they continue to serve and benefit the community.
View RPD Main Building History Brochure.
View RPD Main Building History Brochure.