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A Brief History of the Philadelphia Police Department
by Police Officer Phil Bowdren (Ret.)

The history of the Philadelphia Police Department traces its origin to Hans Block who, in 1663, established the first system of patrol in the city's Swedish settlement.

By the year 1700, Philadelphia had increased its population to 4,400. As a result of this growth, the citizenry established a method of citizen participation known as "Town Watch." This system remained the basic form of police protection until 1751. In 1751, the General Assembly, in response to the needs of the citizenry, established the first paid police agency. This agency, comprised of wardens and constables, patrolled the city on a limited basis, usually stationed in "watch boxes." These men faithfully served the people of Philadelphia without losing a single officer to violence. Unfortunately, in 1828, Watchman Steve Heimer was the first Philadelphia peace officer to be killed in the line of duty.

Modern police history as we know it began in 1850 when steps were taken to strengthen the force. A police marshal was appointed who not only had control over the police in Philadelphia, but also in outlying districts. Four years later, in 1854, a major change in the structure of the entire city, its government and police services was to be undertaken.

On February 2nd of that year, the Act of Consolidation was passed by the General Assembly. This Act created the Philadelphia of today. Up until that time, the actual city of Philadelphia encompassed a very small area. The total land area had been only 360 acres. Following the Act's passage, it expanded to 83,000 acres. In other terms, the city grew from two square miles to over 129 square miles.

Philadelphia continued to grow in population and influence and, by the latter half of the 19th Century was a major urban area. The city was then involved in national and international commerce. This commerce led to the development of increased port facilities and to the formation of the Harbor Patrol in 1860. This time period also brought integration to the department. The first black police officer was appointed to the department in 1881. In 1886, the department hired its first women to serve as matrons.

In 1887, a new city charter was passed called the "Bullitt Bill", and a very important change in the police department was made. The Department of Public Safety was created and the police were put under the supervision of the Director of Public Safety.

Up until this time, all patrolling had been on foot and the difficulties involved here were becoming more prevalent as the city expanded. So, in 1889, 93 horses were purchased and the city had its first mounted patrol. This mounted patrol served the city until it was disbanded in 1951.

The 20th Century brought new technological advances to the department. In 1906, the department purchased its first motorcycles and by 1936, radio cars were in operation.

The "Roaring Twenties" and the "Thirties" were relatively subdued in Philadelphia, thanks to the efforts of the department under Director of Public Safety Smedley Darlington Butler, then a Brigadier General on independent duty from the Marine Corps and a two-time recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. In the forties, the police auxiliaries who performed order maintenance and civil defense duties assisted regular officers.

The police department has continued to grow and improve since its early beginning. Today, the department has over 6,600 officers, approximately 405 patrol cars, 116 emergency wagons and numerous auxiliary vehicles for police use.

The department is now equipped with a 13-channel radio network, Station KGF587, that allows officers to maintain constant contact with Police Headquarters and other policemen. The radio system handled 3.4 million requests for police assistance in 1980.

Criminal Investigation and investigation has become a sophisticated science and the department possesses an experienced, well-trained detective bureau along with other specialized units. The department has continued to be an innovative leader among agencies responsible for major urban areas, and has continued Philadelphia's ranking as having one of the lowest major crime rates of the ten largest cities.

Today, the department enjoys the benefits of an increasing number of advanced technologies. Resources like the facilities of the crime laboratory, an automated fingerprint identification system, computerized suspect library with digitized suspect images, a computerized Philadelphia Crime Information Center (P.C.I.C.), a helicopter unit, a digitized reporting system that enables all branches of the criminal justice system access to documents without delay (P.A.R.S.), a CCTV arraignment and training system, LoJack tracking equipment and other innovations continue to place the Philadelphia Police Department at the forefront of hi-tech crime fighting.

Today, 900 School Crossing Guards, the Police Explorer Scouts, and citizens who participate in the Town Watch Program join the department in its efforts. Centers operated by the Police Athletic League bring youth into contact with officers through recreational activities. Police Week, observed annually since 1963, offers demonstrations of modern methods of police science. Public support of the annual Hero Scholarship Thrill Show serves the needs of the families of officers who have fallen in service to their fellow citizens. Each member of the department is proud of the continuing respect given to the ideals of Honor-Integrity-Service that are the hallmarks of the Philadelphia Police Department.

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Information listed here is believed to be current at the time of publication. However, some of the material presented here may have expired since it was posted. Persons should contact a Philadelphia Police representative whenever relying on dated material or information that is subject to change.
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