From its birth as a settlement in the shadow of Camp Worth, the history of Fort Worth and its police force is intertwined with the history and legends of the Old West. On March 1, 1873, the City of Fort Worth was incorporated, and on April 12 of that year E. M. Terrell was appointed the first City Marshal with a force of four policemen. However, that "force" was short lived when on May 10, the police department was abolished for economics reasons, leaving Marshal Terrell to enforce the law alone. In October of 1873, Terrell resigned leaving the City without any law enforcement until April 1874 when T. M. Ewing was elected Marshal.
Fort Worth's location on the cattle trail leading north meant there was always a steady stream of cowboys passing through the area in need of supplies and recreation before taking their herds to Kansas. "Recreation" for the cowboys was the biggest business in town; and early law enforcement efforts had to be tempered by an awareness of this fact. All-night saloons and gambling houses made up much of the town, and the owners of these establishments were not interested in preserving the peace, as much as they were interested in seeing that their businesses continued to thrive.
In 1876, with crime running rampart, "Longhair" Jim Courtright was given the difficult task of policing this roaring cowtown by succeeding John Stocker as City Marshal. With his reputation as a scout, a performer in Wild Bill Hickock's Wild West Show, and possessing a noted dexterity with firearms, Courtright was able to give City Fathers what they wanted--a town where money and liquor flowed, but where bloodshed was cut to a trickle. It was under Courtright that a "police force" was created--the authorization to fill two positions with men to assist him in his duties. A reputation went a long way in those days, and Courtright's reputation with a gun was enough to make many men think twice before trying something that might draw the Marshal's attention. Reportedly as fast or faster than most famous gunmen of his time, Courtright was able to reduce the number of killings in Fort Worth to less than at any time before or since.
The Department continued to grow after Courtright's departure, with the first detective being appointed in 1883, and the first traffic officer working the corner of 3rd and Main on Trades Day. After years of dispute between the Mayor and the City Marshal for control of the police force, an unauthorized meeting was held between the two men to decide the fate of many of the officers, including the Chief of Police. By 1887, the department was left with two mounted officers, two patrolmen, one jailer, and two sanitary officers.
As the century turned and the technological and social changes that were to shape the twentieth century appeared, the Fort Worth Police Department hurried to keep pace with the society it served. In 1905 the Department realized the advantage of working with other law enforcement agencies and joined the Texas State Bureau of Information for the bargain price of twenty-five dollars. In 1907, the Department was relieved of many problems by enactment of the present law forbidding the operation of gambling houses in the State of Texas. Also, in that year, in response to activities of the suffragette movement, the department hired its first woman, Ollie Hargrave, to serve as police matron. Mrs. Hargrave, was commissioned in May of 1907. Although considered a "special officer," Mrs. Hargrave had full arrest powers.
This was about the time that the first automobiles were mingling with the horses and wagons to create another twentieth century phenomenon: the traffic jam. In 1909, the Department's first motor vehicle went into service--a five horsepower Indian motorcycle gave chase to traffic violators and introduced them to yet another breakthrough--the traffic ticket. The first motorcycle patrolman, Henry Lewis, set up a speed gauge in the 100 block of West 7th, a measured eighth of a mile. Indicating the amount of traffic at the time, it was said Lewis was so adept at his job that he could tell from the sound of an approaching car not only how fast it was traveling, but whose car it was. A motorized patrol wagon was introduced in 1911, and in 1914, the first patrol car went into service.
Bicycles were introduced in 1914 and for several years, a fifteen-man detail pedaled up and down the streets of Fort Worth. The silent bicycles whizzing softly about the town gave the Department a new visibility and provided them with a tool that could bring them quickly and quietly to the scene of a crime. More than once, this particular piece of machinery was cursed by a burglar caught in the act by an officer's silent arrival on a bicycle.
In 1907, Ollie Hargrave was commissioned as the first female "Special Police" and was assigned duties related to jail matron, traveler's aid, and children's aid, but she also had a badge and pistol and would occasionally make calls with the regular male officers. The first regular policewoman was Emma Richardson, commissioned in 1921. However, it would be the 1970s before women were first assigned to traffic and patrol positions. Another event in 1921, common to us now but a sight that drew crowds in 1923, was the introduction of the first stop sign at the intersection of 13th and Jennings. Found to significantly reduce the number of accidents and other traffic impediments at that corner, the concept was quickly expanded so that not only stop signs, but other traffic controls were installed in congested areas around the City.
With the arrival of the 1920's and Prohibition, the task of enforcing the 19th Amendment was added to the list of the Department's responsibilities. Working with the federal prohibition agents, Fort Worth Police enforced the law and confiscated thousands of bottles of bootleg beer and liquor. On March 30, 1927, 16,000 bottles of beer were seized and destroyed in one raid alone.
During the 1930's, the Department continued to grow and began to build a nationwide reputation for its contribution to a number of famous cases. Fort Worth officers played a key role in the demise of the Clyde Barrow gang, a group later depicted in the famous movie "Bonnie and Clyde." The Charles Urschel kidnapping brought more praise to the Department, with Fort Worth detectives turning over valuable information to federal investigators. Urschel, a wealthy Oklahoma oilman, was taken from his home and hidden at a farmhouse in Wise County--a farmhouse later raided by federal agents assisted by detectives from the Fort Worth Police Department.
In the 1950's, several technological advances were introduced into the Department for use in police work. The first Radar Speed Check was set up in 1954, sending up a roar of protest over police "speed traps." Neighborhood children reduced its efficiency somewhat by waving down motorists as they approached the radar zone, but the idea of radar overcame these initial problems and soon became an accepted tool of the Police Department.
For many years after the advent of the squad car, two officers were assigned to each unit; but on October 1, 1959, the pure one-officer patrol was initiated on all beats and the shotgun replaced the observer as an officer's partner.
In 1956, a teletype machine was added to the Department's equipment, aiding communications via a direct line to the Texas Department of Public Safety. The Police Crime Laboratory was opened for the first time in 1961.
In the wake of the 1960's, the Department had new challenges to meet, and did so with a vast array of new programs. The Foot Patrol Unit was added to the force and continued the process started by Community Relations. The presence of an officer walking the streets downtown did much to reassure the populace and gave people ready-access to officers on patrol. A Drug Abuse Prevention Project was created to combat a problem that was reaching epidemic proportions, and a Neighborhood Crime Prevention Team was created.
Several events highlighted the year 1985 for the Fort Worth Police Department, including a move to new facilities. An operating agreement between the city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County essentially put the Police Department out of the jail business. In December 1985, Thomas R. Windham was appointed the Chief of Police for the City of Fort Worth.
In early 1986, Chief Windham initiated a whirlwind period of meetings internally to learn the department and its personnel. During this process, he initiated a series of monthly meetings with the community called forums that continues today. The forum's objectives were to seek input from the community on departmental issues with a focus on creating and supporting community dialogue and increased citizen participation. The forum process has proven to be a cornerstone in developing a responsive community-oriented police department.
In September, 1991, the Fort Worth City Council, Fort Worth Police Department, and city businesses and community leaders began a private-public partnership which has two key components--law enforcement and crime prevention. One element of CODE:BLUE, the name given to this partnership, is the Citizens on Patrol. While seemly an extension of the proto-typical neighborhood watch, the Citizens on Patrol program includes comprehensive training by the police department of all participants. This program has succeeded beyond everyone's expectations.
By the end of 1993, community policing in Fort Worth was paying dividends, as crime decreased by 24%, and the city went from 5th to 12th place in a comparison of crime rates among selected large cities.
In 2000, upon the death of Chief Windham, Ralph Mendoza was appointed as the new Chief of Police. Chief Mendoza is a veteran of the department, serving for over 25 years and rising through the ranks to Executive Deputy Chief before his appointment as Chief of Police.
In 2008, Ralph Mendoza retired as Chief of Police and Executive Deputy Chief Patricia Kneblick was appointed interim Chief of Police. Chief Kneblick was a 26 year veteran, the first female Deputy Chief and the first female Chief of Police of the department. In December of 2008, Jeffrey Halstead, a Commander with the Phoenix Police Department became the 24th Chief of Police for Fort Worth. Chief Halstead retired in 2014 and Assistant Chief Rhonda Robertson was appointed Chief of Police during the national search. Joel Fitzgerald became Chief of Police of the City of Fort Worth Police Department in October 2015 serving through May 2019 as the city’s first African-American police chief. In December 2019, Assistant Chief Edwin Kraus, a 26-year veteran of the Fort Worth Police Department, was named Chief of Police.
Today the Police Department is divided into three bureaus--Patrol, Support, and Finance/Personnel--the work is then further split into more specialized units. Each unit within a division has a specialized area of expertise.
Covering the City in six patrol divisions, the officers on patrol help the 895,008 citizens of Fort Worth through many problems that develop in a city of this size. In the course of this activity, an officer is called on to perform tasks that would test the patience of any mortal, and to perform these tasks in an efficient manner. In the course of a day, an officer may be called on to settle a domestic quarrel, quiet an unruly citizen, confine those who drink to excess, lend assistance to the young and aged, and bring an end to situations that erupt into violence.
The Fort Worth Police Department today is a far cry from the days when Jim Courtright challenged cowboys to draw on him in the wild days of Fort Worth's past. Take away the technological advances and the growth in population, and the essence of sound police work is the same as it was in those early days: recognizing the community's needs for protection and assistance, and meeting those needs in an orderly, efficient fashion. The bulk of police work is done now as it was then--the single officer answering a call for assistance and using sound judgment at the scene. No matter how much the world changes in the years to come, no matter what dazzling prospects are offered us by the technology that has already changed our lives, the police officer will be the one that people look to in times of crisis, and will be the one to rise to the occasion.
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P.O. Box 6525, Fort Worth, Texas 76115