5 min read
Posted on 07.15.14
  • 5 min read
  • Posted on 07.15.14

 We live in a new era of communications. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department used its Twitter account (@SLMPD) this week to invite the citizens of St. Louis to "Save the Date" on Saturday, July 19.

The occasion is a milestone in the life of the Department, the ribbon cutting at the new Police Headquarters at 1915 Olive Street. The festivities will commence at 10 a.m., as participants gather at the department's current headquarters and begin a celebratory parade to its new home - a 7-story, 143,000 square foot, Class A office building, originally constructed in 1990 as corporate headquarters of Sherwood Medical. Starting at 11 a.m. there will be some brief speech making, and a chance for the public to tour of the new facility.

Chief Sam Dotson likened the logistical challenge of establishing the new Headquarters to moving a family with 1,900 members - a family, by the way, that has stayed put in its current home at Clark Street and Tucker Boulevard for more than 85 years.

The last time the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department dedicated a new headquarters was on January 11, 1929 - Victor Miller was mayor, Lon Hocker, a prominent St. Louis lawyer, was president of the Police Board, and Joseph A. Gerk was chief of police.

The occasion included a gathering of dignitaries and a chance for the public to inspect the facilities, but did not appear to have been accompanied by great fanfare or to have resulted in much publicity. A quick review of microfilm copies of the relevant editions of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Globe-Democrat reveals no prominent news coverage.

Fortunately, a detailed account of the "formal opening of the new Police Headquarters Building" at the "southwest corner" of what then was called Twelfth Boulevard (later renamed Tucker Boulevard) and Clark Avenue, "as well as the new Gymnasium Building at the northwest corner of Twelfth boulevard and Spruce Street," appeared in the January 12, 1929 edition of the Police Journal, a weekly publication of the department.

The Journal suggests a possible reason for the absence of publicity over the new headquarters and gymnasium: Completion of the building had been a longtime coming. Funding for the grand facilities had been forced upon the City of St. Louis by the Board of Police Commissioners, in an exercise of the Police Board's then broad authority as a state body to compel city appropriations to meet department needs.

The cornerstone at 1200 Clark Street reflects that the building was "erected" in 1927. But the department didn't formally open its doors until early 1929. Here's why:

"Due to the fact that no provision was made for a police building in the Bond Issue passed several years ago," the Police Journal observed, "the Police Commissioners were compelled to submit items in the annual appropriations for the construction of these buildings. The new buildings have been under construction for two years, the cost being distributed over three annual appropriations."

The final product, according to the Police Journal, was "the last word in modern structures for police purposes" - a six-story structure covering one quarter of a city block, its exterior clad from top to bottom in Bedford, Indiana limestone, with interior walls of "exceptionally high grade polished Tennessee marble, floor to ceiling in the Headquarters lobby, and with five foot high wainscoting elsewhere in the headquarters corridors - and "[m]odern washrooms for both men and women ... on all floors, as well as a drinking fountain in front of the elevators on each floor."

Longtime denizens of Police Headquarters know the second floor was given over to the old prisoner processing "holdover" (decommissioned when the Justice Center opened). It boasted 36 cells suitable "the very latest construction and painted a light green .... well lighted and most sanitary" and suitable for "288 men."

The Annual Report the Police Board submitted to the Board of Aldermen the following spring - March 31, 1930 - offers a glimpse of the work centered at the new headquarters during its first year of operations:

The city was divided into 12 numbered police districts, plus a Central Police Districted, bounded on the north by Washington Avenue, Chouteau Avenue on the south, Twenty-Second Street to the west, and the Mississippi River to the east.

The department had 1,850 commissioned officers, including 1,333 patrolmen and 31 turnkeys.

There were 443 civilian employees, including 18 "police women," placed in a separate division, "auxiliary to the police force," which had been established in 1916. The women's work was focused on juvenile delinquency, and they exclusively handled all "wife and child abandonment cases."

The Police Band, meanwhile, had 31 members, and attended funerals of deceased officers "excepting in a few instances where the family of the deceased officers do not desire the services of the band, which has only been on one or two occasions," according to the police board report.

The department made 108,000 arrests during the year, the largest numbers of which were for robbery and violation of Missouri's "bone dry" law - the state's more strict, alcoholic beverage prohibition counterpart of the federal Volstead Law.

The most common occupations of male arrestees were laborers, chauffeurs, and clerks. The least common: weavers, with whiteners (cloth bleachers) and surgeons tied for second, and "beggars," brewers, and "wagon makers" tied for third. Locksmiths won an honorable mention for being law abiding.

Only slightly more "hucksters" were arrested (179) than lawyers (157) or upholsterers (134).

The most common occupations of female arrestees were prostitutes, housewives and "no occupation." The least common: telephone operators (1), with dishwashers and midwives tied for second (4), and milliners (women's hat makers) third (6).

During inaugural year of the 1200 Clark Street Police Headquarters operations, St. Louis police officers, in additional to regular police work, performed tens of thousands of "miscellaneous duties." They included dealing with: "accidents," "incorrigible children," "sick persons," "dog bites," "doors found open," "insane persons," "intoxicated persons," "vacant houses," "abandoned infants," "electric wires broken," "cruelty to animals," and "sudden deaths."

The Police Department's motto at the time of the last Headquarters dedication was: "Efficient Police make a City of Peace."

That sentiment still holds.

On July 19, St. Louis will dedicate a new headquarters for peacemakers, honoring and assisting the brave men and women whose mission is "Service, Integrity, Leadership and Fair Treatment for All."

(Photo: Police Headquarters at 1200 Clark Street is clad with Bedford, Indiana, limestone. It was dedicated on January 11, 1929.)