KCPD Historical Information   Lest We Forget
KCPD's FIRST POLICE CHIEF
Thomas Speers,
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, Missouri. 

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 T. Coleman.

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.

As 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 passengers. 

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 cemetery.

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 they needed.

The Star began a campaign against gambling in 1895 Thomas Speers’ Thunderer was estimated to bring $7,000-10,000 in April, 1995.

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 a railroad. 

 

Roy B. Speers, his youngest son, became Inspector of State Police in Nevada in 1920. 

Frank W. Speers, Chief Speers' grandson, was the third generation of his family in law enforcement. He began his career in 1923 with the Los Angeles Police Department where he was assigned to patrol, investigations and eventually was placed in charge of a burglary detail. He resigned from the LAPD in 1936 with the rank of Detective Lieutenant to take over as a detective on a steam liner ship company .

Thomas Speers is buried in historic Elmwood Cemetery located at 4900 E Truman Rd Kansas City, MO.