History of the Oshkosh Police Department

Photo of Police building on the corner of Algoma and Bond 1885
Police building on the corner of Algoma and Bond 1885

Photo of OPD Police Force 1899 Chief Rudolph Weisbrod
OPD Police Force - 1899 Chief Rudolph Weisbrod

Prior to the year 1853 Oshkosh was policed by a town constable. It was not until the spring of 1853 that Oshkosh was made a city by Charter, which was carried by a majority vote of the people. At this time, there was a city Marshall who was elected by the people. The population at this time was approximately 2900 people.

The location of the first police station was at the northwest corner of Otter and Shannon Street (State). It was later moved to the corner of Bond and Algoma when the first police headquarters was razed. Upon completion of the present City Hall, the police department was again moved to its present quarters in 1887. In 1963, when City Hall made the move to its present building at 215 Church Avenue, the police department moved as well. The department's final move took place in 1980 to the present site of the Safety Building located at 420 Jackson Street where they shared the facility with the Winnebago County Sheriff's Department until 2003.

Through an ordinance adopted on July 25, 1861, the first organized police force was formed and headed by a Marshall who was to be appointed by the Common Council. The Mayor was given the authority to hire such persons, and for such time as he may see fit, to act as policemen. The first police force under the new ordinance consisted of a Marshall and four police officers. The first Marshall under the organized police department, Joseph Jackson, was the first white man to be married in Oshkosh in the early spring of 1838. It was not until 1873 that the title of the head of the police was changed from Marshall to that of Chief of Police. The first Chief of Police was E. M. Neff.

As the city rapidly grew in population, the police force in 1888 consisted of 12 men and a Chief.

The Oshkosh Police Department has had three officers die in the line of duty:

  1. Officer Louis Hardy - Died from gunshot wounds in 1890 while investigating a tavern disturbance
  2. Officer George O'Connor - Died in a servi-car traffic accident in 1922
  3. Officer Walter Spiering - Died in a servi-car traffic accident in 1939

In a July 23, 1911, newspaper clipping, Chief Henry Dowling denied charges that visiting motorists were singled out for arrest on charges of driving faster than 12 miles per hour.

In 1914, the first piece of motorized equipment was added to the police department, this being a one cylinder excelsior motorcycle, which was a great asset to the department in the handling of the rapidly growing number of motor vehicles on the road at that time. In 1917, the city acquired its first combination ambulance and patrol wagon, a great improvement over the horse drawn equipment , which it replaced. It was not until 1924 that the first squad car was purchased, this being a Model T. Ford touring car. Prior to the time that the first motorcycle was added, the police officers on outlying beats patrolled with bicycles.

OPD Police Force - 1919
OPD Police Force - 1919
OPD vehicles - 1920
OPD vehicles - 1920
OPD Police Force - 1923
OPD Police Force - 1923 Chief Art Gabbert

In the early history of the police department, there was only one bank robbery, which took place in September of 1920. The suspects were readily apprehended and dealt with by the courts.

In 1922, the Gamewell Call Box System was installed. Under this system, the officers working on the beats were required to call their headquarters every hour, on the hour, for any further information or instructions that came in after the starting roll call. Prior to the installation of the call boxes, the officers used any available phone to contact their office.

In 1931, at the request of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the police department submitted records of all crime in the city, monthly and annually. Through these records, a summary of all crime in the United States is compiled, and our office receives a copy of the summary each month.

In an attempt to improve safety conditions for both motorists and pedestrians, the police department in 1931 joined forces with the National Safety Council. Through reports sent to the National Safety Council for competitive safety recognition, with several cities throughout the United States, the police department has received several meritorious awards and honorable mention.

From a newspaper clipping in 1931, Mayor Brown had some tire covers made up with an Indian head on them with a caption at the bottom reading "Oshkosh has 4100 Scouts and 41 hard shooting policemen."

By a charter written in 1934, the members of the police department joined the Wisconsin Policeman's Protective Association. This is an organization for better cooperative legislation on all matters concerning the police, and also to maintain a closer relationship between all police departments throughout the State of Wisconsin.

In 1935, to promote the safety of school children at street crossings while on their way to and from school, the School Boy Patrol System was inaugurated, under the direction of Franklin Kreml of the National Safety Council.

The first radio messages were dispatched by the police department in 1936. These were given out to the squad cars by means of a phone call to the Sheriff's Department, who in turn relayed the messages to the squad cars. There was no way of knowing then whether or not the squad received any of these messages, as they were equipped with a receiver only and could not confirm any of the messages given to them. They were required to call their office once each half hour to get any further instruction to carry out on their tours of duty.

Photo of OPD Pistol Team Officers
OPD Pistol Team Officers
From Right to Left:
Frank Bollom, Bud Lowell, Kenny Wood,
Bill Kieckhafer, Unidentified
Photo of OPD Pistol Team circa 1950
Newspaper clipping from The Oshkosh Northwestern 1940
Photo from The Oshkosh Northwestern newspaper clipping 1940
(left)Article written in
The Oshkosh Northwestern
1940
(click on the article to the left and view a larger version)

In 1942, the Oshkosh Police Department had its first two-way radios operating under the Winnebago County Sheriff's Department radio station WAKE. Under this system, the office could contact the squads and the squads, in turn, could confirm any messages given them. In March 1950, the City of Oshkosh purchased a three-way station known as K.S.B. 360 along with 15 mobile units. Under this system, the office may call the squad or motorcycles, and they could confirm any messages. Also, they could talk from one cycle or squad car to the others without the Desk Sergeant having to take part in any of the conversation. The addition of radio equipment has made it possible to apprehend criminals and violators more rapidly and has been a great asset in the prevention of crime and accidents.

In 1946, the first police power boat was added to the department and is credited with recovery of many drowned bodies and saving numerous lives.

In 1948, the Oshkosh Police Department collected dog taxes, delivered black lists, were responsible for Ambulance Service, conducted driver license testing, and delivered and collected city taxes by going house to house to both deliver and collect the taxes.

We have come a long way from our start back in 1853. Today, the Oshkosh Police Department is a full service Law Enforcement Agency, which employees 99 Police Officers and a Support Staff of 36 full and part-time Civilian Employees.

The Oshkosh Police Department is Nationally Accredited (CALEA) and State Accredited (WILEAG), and is regarded by many as one of the leading Law Enforcement Agencies in the State of Wisconsin.

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