Here’s a chance to read one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in March 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .
Looking back at Pekin’s police department history
By Jared Olar
In the Pekin Public Library’s Local History room collection is a copy of Pekin Police Chief William Grant Jr.’s annual police department report for the year ending Dec. 31, 1941, submitted to Pekin Mayor J. Norman Shade and the Pekin City Council in January of 1942.
This was the police department’s second annual report. What makes the 1942 report of special interest is that it includes a 12-page year-by-year history of the city’s police department – apparently the first time anyone had attempted to draw up a resume of the department’s history. The records on which the history was based were compiled by Charles Schermer, officer in charge of the department’s records and identification bureau. Following are a few highlights from Schermer’s history:
“It is almost impossible to give much information about the early Law Enforcement officers of the city. It seems that the first record of a Police officer came the year the citizens of ‘Town Site’ voted to change ‘Town Site’ to an incorporated city. That was in 1849, and they elected the first Mayor and Aldermen. Bernard Bailey was elected Mayor, and he appointed Thomas Cloudas as the City Marshall, also the street Commissioner. According to the records the duties of the first Marshall was to catch and impound all the hogs and cattle running the streets, as they had been declared a nuisance. The first calaboose was built in this year, and cost the sum of $49.00. This calaboose stood till the summer of 1868 when it was destroyed by fire. So, Thomas Cloudas is the first mentioned Police officer of this city.”
In those days, Pekin had very much the character of a rough frontier town, and the city marshall had much more to do besides rounding up stray hogs and cattle. Perhaps most of the criminal offenses in Pekin from the 1850s through the 1870s involved alcohol-fueled violence. One such incident was Pekin’s first riot on July 4, 1851, when a steamboat’s drunken deck hands ran wild throughout the city. Cloudas rapidly collected a force of Pekin citizens who engaged in a battle with the deck hands in the city streets and finally, after a hard fight, managed to subdue and arrest the offenders.
The office of city marshall was filled annually by mayoral appointment. In 1850, the city marshall was Benjamin S. Prettyman, a prominent figure in Pekin’s early history whose life story was featured a few months ago in this column. Then in 1851, William Snider was appointed third city marshall, “and he was authorized by the Council to put all the prisoners in custody at the time to working on the streets to pay out their fines. They were fitted out with a ball and chain and put to work on the streets and alleys,” Schermer wrote.
Snider resigned in March of that year and Cloudas returned to his former post. Cloudas was reappointed as city marshall in 1852, in which year a new and larger calaboose was built at a cost of $7,000. According to Schermer, the city council that year decided the marshall would not be paid a salary, but would instead receive “all the fees that are established by Law as pertaining to his office.”
On April 30, 1854, the mayor appointed the Mexican War hero Richard William Tinney as city marshall, a position he would retain until March 5, 1855, when Tinney was relieved of his duties. As we have previously noted in this column, the ever colorful “Uncle Bill” Tinney later served as Tazewell County Sheriff, and afterwards owned and operated a hotel near the Pekin riverfront.
In 1854, the city had elected Charles Turner as its first Police Magistrate. “During this year the first Night police were named by Mayor M.C. Young, they being Thomas Shapard and N. C. Flood, their salaries being $45.00 per month.” So, for many years the city had both an elected police magistrate and an appointed city marshall. The marshall and the city police force were subject to annual reappointment by the mayor and city council.
Turner served a four-year term as police magistrate and then was re-elected in 1858. However, on Nov. 17, 1858, Turner was also appointed to the newly created post of “Chief of Police.” In succeeding years, however, the city police force would be headed by the city marshall.
In 1888, the office of city marshall was renamed “Superintendent of Police.” The same year, the city council proposed cooperating with the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors to construct to new and larger jail that would house prisoners for both the city and county, but Schermer notes, “No further mention is made as to whatever became of the idea.” Instead, the council decided to replace the old city calaboose with a new city jail on the east side of city hall.
The head of Pekin’s police continued to be known as the “Superintendent of Police” until the early 1900s. In 1903, Anthony Larkin was appointed police superintendent. There is a gap in police department records from 1905 to 1908, but by the latter year the head of the police department had become known as the “Chief of Police.” On May 4, 1908, Pekin Mayor Henry Schnellbacher appointed Charles Charlton to the post of police chief, while John Beetlet was named assistant chief. From then on, the Pekin Police Department’s head has been known as “Chief of Police.”
On this point, two errors should be noted in the summary of police department history found on pages 150-151 of “Pekin: A Pictorial History.” That account mistakenly says the title of superintendent of police was changed to chief of police in 1905, and that Charles “Charleton” was appointed in that year. Those mistakes appear to derive from misreadings of Schermer’s history of the Pekin Police Department.