Fort Collins Police Department: 100 Years of Public Service, 1913 to 2013
The first in a series of articles chronicling the history of Fort Collins Police Services
As the Fort Collins Police Department celebrates 100 years of service to the community, its rich history unfolds as a reflection of each era and the demands of the time.
After the military left in 1864, county sheriffs provided protection. When Fort Collins became an official town on February 3, 1873, an election for a constable was held - Edwin Lakin Peterson received 12 of the 23 votes cast.
Crime in the 1800s was fairly mundane: cattle in the streets, prostitution, liquor violations and dogs at large. Constables and marshals also spent much of their time mending fences, fixing sewer lines and running vagabonds out of town. But there were notorious crimes as well.
The first documented murder occurred in 1881 when Albert Sherwood, a cook at the Tedmon House, was shot by Tex Lindeville at a brothel on Meldrum Street. In a row between the two, Sherwood reportedly began hitting Lindeville on the head with a pitcher. Lindeville claimed self-defense and was acquitted.
The second murder happened in the 300 block of Walnut Street in 1888 when a drunken James H. Howe slit the throat of his wife. Howe was arrested and taken to jail, but then a band of masked men rushed the jail, placed the sheriff under guard, drug Howe into the courthouse yard and hanged him. No one was arrested.
But in time, things began to change. The population had grown from 1,356 in 1880 to 8,210 in 1910 and people kept coming. Law enforcement began to evolve with the population growth and with the hiring of Albert Baker in April 1913. Baker took the job seriously and adopted the title of Chief of Police. He is credited with professionalizing the department, and his actions apparently impressed the Council. In January 1914, Council granted the Police Department a budget for the first time.
A burgeoning population and increased crime required more police officers. When Baker was hired, two full time police officers served under him. By 1922, there were five, including Baker. By 1925, two more had been added and, in 1936, nine officers were employed serving more than 11,000 people.
The officers worked ten-hour days, six days a week, serving as dispatchers, patrolling both in a car and on foot, and performing all administrative tasks. In 1950, the first civilian staff was hired and, in 1961, officers' work hours were reduced to 40 per week.
Then a dramatic change in court requirements demanded stricter record keeping and evidence handling, which necessitated more administrative staff and allowed police officers to focus on law enforcement. By 1972, 11 civilian employees were serving the 43,000-plus population. By 1977, another 12 had been hired.
The physical police department also saw changes over the years. Originally housed at 234 Walnut Street, along with the fire department and all City departments, the Police Department had three rooms. The room that held the officers' lockers also served as the municipal court. In June 1958, the Police Department, along with all other City services, moved to 300 Laporte Avenue. In 1982, most city departments moved into the current City Hall, while the Police Department remained the sole occupant of the old building. In 2007, a new state-of-the-art facility opened on Timberline Road. Today, Fort Collins' population is more than 150,000 thousand with 197 sworn officers and 103 civilian staff currently assigned to serve and protect.