KCPD Historical Information   Lest We Forget
Kansas City, Missouri Police Dept History

The Kansas City, Missouri Police Department had its beginning April 15, 1874, when the Board of Police Commissioners, selected by Governor Charles Hardin with George Caleb Bingham (famed Missouri artist) as its president, appointed Thomas M. Speers to fill the office from April 15, 1874, to May 4, 1895. No chief since that time has held the office as long as Chief Speers. Chief Clarence M. Kelley, who in 1973 resigned to become the second permanent Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was head of the Kansas City Police Department almost twelve years and was second in the length of time he served the citizens of Kansas City. Both of these men were far advanced in their talents and actions in the field of law enforcement, capable of giving the most to the citizens of Kansas City for the dollars spent and the manpower available.


Since the appointment of Chief Speers, Kansas City has been served by forty-six men as head of the department. A search into history of the background of each of these men soon reveals that each had an outstanding gift of leadership and responsibility that suited them for the important office they filled.

In front of the Police Headquarters Building, 1125 Locust, stands a statue of a police officer cuddling a small child in his arms. The monument in itself relates a story, but a closer look reveals one hundred and nineteen names engraved in the stone - men who gave their lives in upholding the oath they took at the time they became police officers. These men gave everything with the hope that their sacrifice would make the city a better place to live. If space permitted, each name would make a story well worth telling.

Communication has always been most important to the efficiency of any police department. With this knowledge, in approximately 1902, the Gamewell Communication System was adopted. This was an electric police alarm box operated on telegraphic principles by which a patrol officer could send prearranged messages to headquarters by operating certain switches. This method was very primitive when measured by today's standards, but was a revolutionary advancement when it was first put into use.

In 1931, use of the police radio was initiated. The first of these was an AM radio that could be used for communication from a police dispatcher at the Headquarters Building to the police cruiser in the field. Again, these were an improvement over anything up to that time, but suffered the drawback of the officer being unable to voice a reply to the dispatcher.

The big advancement in communication by the Kansas City Police Department was in September, 1935, when two-way radios were installed in the first twelve patrol cars. The mobile broadcasting stations had a power of 7.5 watts. The sets were installed under the rear seats of the cars and were powered by special generators in no way dependent on the regular battery. Each car was equipped with an antenna about "ten feet high resembling a fishing pole." Officers were given instructions in law governing the use of radios and issued a third-class operator's license.

Today each officer has a radio or walkie-talkie near him at all times when he is in the field. This is operated through the modern FM equipment. In addition to the radio equipment, the officer has the use of a computer, stored with information at his fingertips at all times. Through this computer, the officer is in communication with every major law enforcement agency in the United States.

Another important tool needed for fast, efficient police work is proper fast transportation. In the early history of the department, the city was divided into beats. These beats were covered by a patrolman walking and observing. In the late 1800s, Chief Speers hired James McManamin to ride a big bay horse about the city, patrolling and serving papers. Young McManamin proved so satisfactory that other mounted patrolmen were put on the city's streets. The mounted patrol grew until its number reached forty-five. This method of patrolling was phased out on Labor Day, 1929, when it was found that horses were too expensive compared to more modern methods of transportation.

The state-appointed board of commissioners was dismantled in 1932 when the police department was brought under home rule during the height of political boss Tom Pendergast's power. State control was again established in 1939 in an effort to wrest control of the police department away from the corrupt Pendergast political machine by Governor Lloyd Stark, who appointed another board of police commissioners who in turn hired FBI agent and attorney Lear Reed as the new police chief. The state-appointed board of commissioners (BOPC) continues to preside over the KCPD to this day. The Kansas City, Missouri Police Department and St Louis Police Department shared the unique status as being the only two departments in Missouri administered by a governor appointed board of police commissioners but a style of administration used in several other cities in other states. Officers of these respective departments were designated 'Officers of the State of Missouri' with jurisdiction in their cities. Kansas City Police Commissioners were appointed from locally generated lists of candidates of prominent Kansas City residents and of the current mayor of the city. The St Louis Department has since returned to home rule.