KCPD's FIRST POLICE CHIEF
Kansas City's first Chief of Police
was one of the most famous and
popular law enforce-ment officers
in the history of Kansas City,
Speers, was a native of Missouri,
born near St. Louis, Missouri
in 1839. His parents resided
in Missouri when it was still
a territory. They had crossed
the Mississippi River and settled
on a Spanish land grant purchased
by his grandfather in 1811.
In 1855, when he was only 16 years
old, the lure of gold took Spears
to California where he became
a gold miner. In his four years
there he became a member of the
"San Francisco Vigilance Committee"
under the leadership of William
He returned to Missouri in 1859 and
joined his father's brick manufacturing
business located in St. Louis.
In 1861 he was elected an alderman
and was holding that position when the
Union army occupied St. Louis.
He later became a member of the St.
Louis militia and in 1863 he was discharged
and moved to St. Joseph, Missouri. There,
he entered the freighting business,
driving wagons trains from St. Joseph
to Salt Lake City and on to California.
In 1868, following in his father's foot
steps, he came to Kansas City, Missouri
and set up a brick building business.
He soon became involved in politics
and in 1870, Speers, who was described
as a man of medium height with broad
shoulders, coolness and sagacity, was
elected town Marshal on the democratic
ticket. Kansas City in those days was
a frontier town. Cowboys and bordermen
were accustomed to entering the city
to enjoy its many saloons, gambling
halls and brothels. As Marshal, Speers
was said to have dealt with these men
with "nerve and good judgement" to keep
them under control and in a manner to
"command the respect of the rough bordermen
and criminals alike." During this
time, Speers' friends included such
legendary frontier lawmen as Wyatt Earp,
Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hickok and
William "Buffalo Bill" Cody.
In 1874, the "Metropolitan Police Law"
established Kansas City's police department.
Missouri Governor Charles Hardin appointed
George Caleb Bingham, a Missouri artist,
W. M. McDearmon and H.J. Latshaw as
the first Board of Police Commissioners.
Bingham became the first President of
the Board and led the Board in selecting
Speers as the first Chief of Police,
a post he held for 21 years.
Chief, Speers' unique policy was to,
whenever possible, proactively prevent
crime. Rather than waiting, as most
police departments of the time did,
to respond and apprehend the suspect
after a crime had occurred, Speers took
a different approach. During Chief
Speer's tenure as Chief, Kansas City,
Missouri was situated on nearly all
lines of the great railroads leading
from the Atlantic to the Pacific, making
it one of the great railway centers.
By 1901, an average of 20,000 people
would arrive and depart from the Union
Depot every day aboard the one hundred
thirty five passenger trains passing
through the city. Thus, 7.3 million
people would travel through the city
every year aboard the trains.
Naturally, many professional criminals
passed through the city among the train
So, Chief Speers would have his men
round up the "known criminals" as they
arrived in town. He would question
them and hold them until the next roll
call where they were shown to his officers.
Before releasing them, Speers would
warn them that they would be held responsible
for any crimes that occurred while they
visited the city and that they would
be arrested again if they were found
in town after a specific time.
Speers was fascinated with criminal
identification. He maintained a rogue's
gallery of photographs in his office
that by 1895 contained about 1,000 photos.
Apparently he was also instrumental
in the Police Department's adoption
of the "Bertillion System" of identification.
In 1881, Alphonse Bertillion introduced
a system of identification that relied
on eleven measurements of the human
anatomy and used the metric system to
record the data. Under this system,
arrests were photographed and measured
and if it were thought that they were
criminals, photos would be sent to the
principal cities across the country
asking for identification.
Speers was removed from office in 1895
after committing a slight political
gaff. Apparently he played a part in
unmasking the malfeasance of a justice
of the peace and close personal friend
to then Governor William A. Stone.
The Governor instructed two members
of the Board of Police Commissioners,
Bernard Corrigan and W.O. Cox, to replace
Speers, one of the most well known Police
Chiefs in America, with one of his personal
friends, L. E. Irwin. The Commissioners
refused and resigned from the Board.
The Governor then appointed George M.
Shelly and M. A. Fyke as the two new
Police Commissioners. They, in
turn, removed Chief Speers from office
and on May 4, 1895, Irwin became Kansas
City's second Chief of Police.
Chief Speers died on March 20, 1896,
less than one year after he was removed
from office. At the time of his
death, he was one of the best known
men in Kansas City and had been mentioned
as a candidate for Mayor. Flags
throughout the city were lowered to
half-mast and thousands of people attended
the funeral services at the Elmwood
Thomas Speers, of Kansas City, Kansas,
was presented a nickel-plated, 4½”-barreled
Thunderer with the back strap inscribed,
“Thomas Speers, Chief of Police, from
the Force 1882.” Speers had been marshal
of Kansas City from 1870 to 1874 and
chief of police from 1874 to 1893.
In 1893 the control of the police was
in the hands of the state. Missouri
Governor Stone replaced Thomas Speers,
who opposed gambling, with L. E. Irwin.
The Pendergast saloon was only one block
from the courthouse and became headquarters
for city office holders, lawyers and
gamblers. The North power elite was
made up of men who ran liquor and gambling
interest. James A. Reed became prosecuting
attorney for Kansas City. Pendergast
made friends and did favors at large,
but especially in the police department.
The police afforded his gambling and
prostitution interest the protection
The Star began a campaign against gambling
in 1895 Thomas Speers’ Thunderer was
estimated to bring $7,000-10,000 in
Speers' sons continued in law enforcement
after him. The older of his two
sons, George A. Speers became a member
of the Kansas City Police Department
in 1897. During his time with the department,
he was recognized for the capture of
John Shead, a noted Missouri train robber
and murderer. George A. Speers left
the Kansas City Police Department in
1918 to become a special agent with