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Policemen were unknown in the early days of Grand Rapids. Even though the village was without any form of street lighting and was in complete darkness at night, except when the moon afforded more or less illumination, there were few burglaries. There was no lawless element here and the residents didn't think it necessary always to lock their doors.
About 1856 the principal merchants, at their own expense, hired Henry Baker---the first night watchman of Grand Rapids--- to patrol a beat along Monroe avenue from Ottawa to Lyon. He was on the beat several years.
When the city secured its revised charter of 1857 the common council was empowered to appoint a police constable and one watchman for each of the five wards, but the council appointed comparatively few watchmen previous to 1871, although at times several were named at the request of individuals. The police constables were given the authority of the ordinary town constables with certain restrictions, and the watchmen could make arrests in certain cases.
The police force of the city was regularly organized in June, 1871, with a chief and eight patrolmen, who were appointed by the common council. The legislative act of 1881, creating the board of fire and police commissioners, gave the member powers and duties connected with the appointment, government and discipline of the police force, which they continued to exercise until the present city charter was adopted.
The first chief of police was James L. Moran, appointed in 1871. He served until 1878. He was succeeded by the following: Isaac Sigler in 1879; James L. Moran, 1880; Horace W. Davis in 1881; Van Epps Young in 1882; John Perry in 1883; Israel C. Smith in 1887, William H. Eastman in 1889; Harvey O. Carr in 1893 and Albert A. Carroll, from July 6, 1914.
The old police headquarters used to be on the second floor of the brick structure on the site of the present Grand Rapids Savings bank building, Monroe and Ionia avenues. In June, 1882, the headquarters was removed to Lyon street and Campau avenue, and in 1892 to Ottawa avenue and Crescent street.
June 19, 1885, 28 signal stations and apparatus to operate a central office, in two circuits were installed, at a cost of $3,200.
The Bertillon system of identifying criminals has been in use by the department since 1897.
Since its organization the department has been efficient, especially under Harvey O. Carr and Albert A. Carroll. Chief Carr acquired a wide reputation as a capable official, and when the International Association of Police Chiefs was organized he was chosen its secretary, which office he continued to hold for more than twenty years and until he resigned as head of the Grand Rapids force.
The police department at present consists of about 215 members.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000