History of the Cedar Rapids Police Department

Historical records dating back to the early 1840's noted that a lone constable served Cedar Rapids.  A town charter was not created, adopted and passed by the Iowa Legislature until January 15, 1849.  The population of Cedar Rapids was a mere 380 people in 1850.  A series of lone City Marshals provided law enforcement services until the early 1880's.  The Cedar Rapids Police Department grew to an authorized strength of 12 police employees in 1883.  According to an 1857 historical reference, the town jail was located at the rear of a lot on Third Avenue at First Street.  It was a wooden building, measuring about 12 feet by 15 feet, with one grated-barred window.

Cedar Rapids Police Station is located at 505 1st Street SWHEADQUARTERS

1876-1897: Police Headquarters adjoined City Hall and was located at South Washington Street between Eagle Avenue and Park Avenue East.  The formal address of City Hall was 51 and 53 South Washington Street, which later became 51 and 53 South Second Street.  This location served as headquarters until 1897.

1897-1909: Police Headquarters was located at 300 South Second Street SE.

1909-1923: Police Headquarters was located on May's Island, along with City offices.  In 1923, the department was forced to move with the looming construction of the existing Linn County Courthouse.

1923-1937: Police Headquarters was located at 211-213 First Street SW

1937-1997: Police Headquarters was located at 310 2nd Avenue SW

1997-Present: Police Headquarters continues to be located at 505 First Street SW


1878: Common crimes sounded like scenes from the "Old West" and included prostitution, gambling, drunken gunplay on downtown streets, selling whiskey, allowing stock to run at large within the City limits, spearing fish, insulting ladies on the streets, and even arrests for "pure wicked cussedness."  According to old arrest log books, these were common offenses into the early 1880's.

1883: The City Council increased the strength of the police department to 12 officers.  Employees worked two shifts with each working 12 hour tours.  The marshal, his deputy, three patrol officers and one jailer worked the Day Watch.  One supervisor, one jailer and four patrol officers worked the Night Watch.  Pay was increased to $50 a month and officers still worked 12-hour days seven days a week.  Officers did not receive paid vacation or paid sick time.

Long before there were radios, automobiles and (most importantly) speed in response to reports of crime or need for assistance, if a citizen needed a police officer, then that citizen would literally have to run to find an officer.  If an officer could not be located and the need was urgent, someone would run to police headquarters and the police employee on duty came outside the station and blew a shrill whistle.  The police officer would then respond.  If something needed serious attention and no officer answered the whistle, the employee could resort to using the fire bell to rouse officers.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department purchased "Black Maria," a wagon used to haul prisoners in 1883.  Before that, the officers on duty subdued their prisoners on the spot and then marched them to jail.  The wagon was considered a real luxury at the time.

1885: A telephone call box system was installed in Cedar Rapids that allowed officers to contact police headquarters.

1913: Sworn personnel were issued a star, whistle, billy club and simple flashlight.  New hires were assigned to be with an experienced veteran officer for a day or two before going out on their own.

A news article reported that the Police Department's three motorcycle officers never failed to make an arrest for speeding violations.  The motorcycles had a top speed of 65 miles per hour and were outfitted with a special device to clock the speed of motorists that the police were tailing.

1920: According to first-hand accounts, two motorcycles were used by police.  Streets were paved in the downtown loop.  However, First Avenue East from 19th Street to Marion was a mere gravel road in those days.  Sworn personnel at the time worked 11-hour days, seven days a week.  The pay was $130 per month.

1922: The police force consisted of 32 men working a standard 60-hour work week.

1927: First Chevrolet reportedly used as a squad car in Cedar Rapids.

1928: First Whippet reportedly used as a squad car in Cedar Rapids.

1929: The work week for sworn personnel was decreased to 48 hours.  Experimental radio receivers were first installed in a few of the department's Model A Ford's.  This continued into 1930.

1930: Installation of a police radio system occurred.  The department was reportedly the first police department west of the Mississippi River and one of the earliest in the country to have a direct short wave radio station giving the police department direct contact with patrol units in the field.  The new police short-wave radio was paying big dividends for the force's "flivver squad."  After a 20-second warm-up of the radio's vacuum tubes, the station's dispatchers could be in constant contact with the officers in the department's patrol cars.

1937: Construction of a new police headquarters at 310 2nd Avenue SW was completed in November.  The impressive building was constructed of steel, concrete and brick and was trimmed in Bedford stone.  The architect was Charles B. Zalesky and the building alone cost $120,819.  A federal Public Works Administration grant amounted to $56,454, of which $10,000 was paid for site acquisition.  The building would serve as the Cedar Rapids Police Department headquarters until 1997 - a period of 60 years.

1948: The police department completed the new FM police radio installation.  The new system tied police, fire, sheriff and ambulance services (including vehicles) into a single, high-fidelity network.  It was a remarkable collaborative venture and allowed all personnel to communicate with each other.

1978: Arthur "Art" Collins (1909-1987) said that he got together frequently with Cedar Rapids police personnel Henry Nemec (1902-1992) and Frank Bukacek (1903-1975) to talk about radio in the very early 1930's.  The squad car was parked in front of the house so often that the neighbors began to wonder if Collins wasn't in some kind of trouble with the law.  Collins founded Collins Radio in 1933.  The business was the forerunner of Rockwell Collins, an organization that would design, produce, market and support electronic communications, avionics and in-flight entertainment systems for commercial, military and government customers worldwide.

2000: Cedar Rapids Police announced that as police squad cars were replaced with new Ford Crown Victoria vehicles, these vehicles would be painted with a traditional black and white color scheme.  It was anticipated that it may be 12-18 months before the first black and white police squad cars would appear on city streets.  Police officers drove black cars with white front doors from about 1958 to the early 1960's.  After that, the department went to solid colors like blue and then white.  The department switched from blue to white police cars in about 1979.

A Note of Appreciation

The Cedar Rapids Police Department would like to thank Lieutenant of Police Kelly D. Fitzpatrick for his diligent research and preparation of this historic information.  We appreciate his dedication to preserving history and for recognizing the significance of policing in Cedar Rapids.

© 2024  Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 101 First Street SE

Powered By Revize Login