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Dayton Police History Exhibit - 2008
DPH 1900-1949


The Advent of Modern Policing in Dayton

1900 – 1924


Dayton Motorcycle Patrol Officers circa 1920s


The first quarter of the 20th Century was a time of great change for the Dayton Police Force.  One of the first changes was to the patrol schedule, which became a three platoon system that consisted of three eight-hour shifts; this shift schedule remained in use for the next 95 years.


In 1901, the Dayton force adopted the Bertillon system for criminal identification.  The system was based on “anthropometry,” which involved measuring specific parts of the human body that were thought to never change during a person’s lifetime.  The measurements were classified and placed on a Bertillon card along with a photograph of the suspect. 


New police officers were given little formal training before being placed on assignment.  Officers were issued badges, whistles, clubs and club cords, and by 1902 were issued belts as well; officers still provided their own uniforms and weapons.


By 1909, Dayton had become a sizable and industrialized city, and the police force followed right along.  The sworn ranks increased to 143 police officers and 30 civilian staff, which included nine turnkeys, or jailors, three telegraph operators and two surgeons.


A new method of patrol appeared during this time, as Dayton introduced the use of motorcycles in 1910 to its mobile police units that already included horses and some bicycles.  Motorcycles had been produced for sale to the public only seven years earlier, in 1903, by Harley-Davidson.


In 1918, a second motorized patrol method was introduced when the police force purchased several touring automobiles for patrol duty.  One year later, the Henry Fingerprint Identification standard replaced the Bertillon system for identifying criminals.  By 1920, officers began wearing service weapons in holsters on belts outside of their coats but they still had to purchase their own guns and uniforms.


Chief Wurstner Era – National Dean of Police Chiefs

1925 – 1949


Police Squad Cars with Two-way Radio Capability circa 1940s


In 1925, Rudolph Wurstner was appointed Chief of Police.  Wurstner, a popular police officer who had already been on the force for 22 years, would be the longest serving Chief, and his next 25 years would see some turbulent times for the police force.


The 1920s saw an increase in crime nationwide as a result of the prohibition of alcohol in 1919, and Dayton was no different.  The city was also greatly affected by the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, which set in motion the years of the Great Depression.  City employees were paid with city script, which was essentially an IOU. 


The early 1930s saw an increased use of automobiles for patrolling the city; in 1932 the first radio receivers were installed in patrol cars.  The system was one-way, from dispatcher to patrolman.


By the mid-1930s, it was becoming evident that the police force was not large enough to handle the increase in crime and traffic.  In 1938, when Dayton’s population was more than 200,000 and yet there were only 197 members of the police department, including the civilian employees. An FBI official warned that the police force was seriously undermanned.


In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt came to Dayton, and a radio transmitter was installed in a patrol car in an effort to protect the president.  Eventually, radio transmitters were installed in every patrol car, making Dayton the first police force in the nation to have its entire squad car fleet outfitted with a two-way radio communication system.


A 1947 study recommended that motorcycles be discontinued for patrol use and replaced with automobiles.  At this time, the police division had six motorcycles, 35 marked patrol cars, 14 unmarked cars and two ambulances.  This same year, the Hoyne Funeral Home was contracted to provide ambulance service for the city, ending 75 years of police operation of the ambulance service.


When Chief Wurstner joined the police force in 1902, the police force consisted of approximately 70 officers and had only two patrol wagons pulled by horses.  When he retired in 1949, the police force was at its “full” strength of 221 policemen.


Prohibition and the Gangster Era

1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s


 Dayton Liquor Squad Prepares to Bust a Still circa 1920s

In 1921, a “special liquor squad” was formed to enforce the federal liquor prohibition.  Dayton police had to confront the bootlegging of alcohol made in illegal stills throughout the city, and the enforcement of gambling and midnight closing laws.  In 1922, the special liquor squad conducted 1,165 raids and destroyed 192 stills.

In 1933, John Dillinger was gaining notoriety for robbing banks in Ohio and Indiana.  FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover would name him Public Enemy No. 1.  On September 22, 1933, Dillinger was visiting Mary Longnecker, one of his girlfriends, in her Dayton boarding house when he was arrested by two Dayton police detectives, Russell Pfauhl and Sgt. Charles Gross. 


While Dillinger was in custody in Dayton, he was interviewed by officials from Indiana, as well as from Clark County and Allen County for a variety of bank robberies.  Dillinger was then transferred to Allen County to stand trial for a Bluffton, Ohio bank robbery.  On October 12th, Dillinger’s gang broke him out of the Allen County jail, killing the sheriff in the process.  Daytonians followed Dillinger’s exploits in the local paper, until he was killed in July, 1934, by the FBI in Chicago, Illinois. 


The .38 Colt Super Automatic pistol that Dillinger was carrying at the time of his arrest in Dayton was taken by the detectives and given to Dayton Police Chief Rudolph Wurstner, who carried it for the rest of his police career.


In the summer of 1946, George “Bugs” Moran and his gang of outlaws were in Dayton planning a hold-up.  Moran had been the leader of the Chicago north-side gang that rivaled Al Capone’s south-side gang in the 1920s.  Moran was in fact the target of the infamous St. Valentine’s Day massacre of February 14, 1929.

Moran, Al Fouts and Virgil Summers hijacked the car of John Kurpe, who had $10,000 in cash that he had just picked up from the Winters Bank at West Third and Broadway.  Kurpe was the son-in-law of the owner of the Silas Tavern, and the money was intended to cash the paychecks of workers from the nearby GM plant.  After stealing the cash, Moran and his gang left Kurpe bound but unharmed in his car. 


Al Fouts was arrested a week later by Dayton police, shortly after the FBI arrested Moran and Summers in Henderson, Kentucky.  Moran and Summers were returned to Dayton and convicted of the armed robbery in 1947.  Moran died in prison ten years later.


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