Littleton Police History


A Brief History of the Littleton Police Department

The complete history of the Littleton Police Department has never been fully studied or recorded. Recently however, several Police Department employees began researching this history through various resources including archival government records, newspaper articles, and personal interviews. Much research remains to be done. What follows is a brief history of the Police Department based upon information learned thus far.

The Littleton Police Department story begins in 1890 when the townspeople of Littleton voted to incorporate their small community, thus forming a town government. The elected Mayor and Board of Trustees (Town Council) established a book of ordinances to govern the town, and appointed the first town marshal to enforce the laws.

The town was nearly thirty years old in 1890, having grown from Richard Little's original homestead of the 1860's, into a thriving farm community with a prosperous flour mill, a post office, and two railroad depots. Little information is presently known about law and order in Littleton before 1890. Any serious crimes were likely to be investigated by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department whose deputies might live in the area, or travel to Littleton by train from the county seat, which was situated in Denver at that time.

A look back at early Littleton would find community leaders most concerned with providing a safe and adequate water supply, building and maintaining roads and bridges, managing health and safety matters such as the construction of a sewer system, and the control of contagious disease outbreaks such as influenza, scarlet fever, and smallpox. Coal was the fuel of choice for heating buildings and powering steam locomotives, which rolled through town by the hour. Dirt roads were dimly lit by the town's early street lights, and men driving horse and wagon teams performed most of the town labor such as hauling, mowing, road grading, and snow removal. Communications was limited to mail service and the telegraph until the early 1900's, when the telephone came into use by businesses and affluent citizens. Telephone service for the town government was limited to a phone installed in the home of the town marshal, and a second phone installed in the mayor's residence.

The Board of Trustees appointed the town marshal for a one-year term beginning each April, when annual town elections were held and a new mayor and trustees took office. Some marshals who performed their duties satisfactorily were reappointed each year for several years, while others served only one term and were then replaced. During the fifty-year period from 1890 to 1940, twenty-six different men served as town marshal.

The position of marshal was one of only a few full-time paid positions with the town. Marshals were paid a monthly salary ranging from $50 at the turn of the century to $150 in 1945. They used their own wagon and team, and later their own automobile for personal and town business. Marshals wore a star-shaped badge and a sidearm, and later were issued a uniform purchased using money collected through dog licensing.

The men who served as marshals had varying backgrounds: dairyman, well digger, carpenter, liveryman, and feed store operator, to name a few. Four of the town's marshals had either served previously as Arapahoe County Sheriff or would hold that position after serving as marshal. Some held office on the Board of Trustees, and others also served as fire chief. No women have served as town marshal or chief of police.

The town eventually realized a need for law enforcement at night, and the title of Town Marshal was changed to that of Town and Night Marshal. Accordingly, the marshal's work shift was changed from daytime hours to a night shift from "7:00 P.M. until daylight of the following morning, each and every day of the year." The town water commissioner was appointed as Day Marshal to carry out law enforcement during the day.

While bank robberies and other serious crimes occurred on occasion, a good share of the marshal's duties were oriented toward civic service rather than crime fighting. Answering directly to the Town Board and mayor, the marshal was given assignments such as serving official notices, collecting delinquent taxes, circulating petitions, monitoring the operation of town street lights and checking for prohibited use of the town's limited water supply. Rabies was prevalent and unlicensed dogs and cats were shot on sight by the marshal who was paid 50¢, and later $1 for each animal which he killed and buried. Stray livestock was impounded by the marshal and later sold if unclaimed by the owner.

Nearly twenty or more trains stopped in Littleton daily and provided a steady flow of customers for the town saloons. Fort Logan soldiers, prospectors, itinerant workers and local townsfolk could find themselves in the custody of the marshal for drunkenness, fighting, and other forms of disorderly conduct. Marshals were ever vigilant for back room gambling, bootlegging and other vice-related crimes.

As horse-drawn vehicles gave way to gasoline powered machines, marshals were kept busy running down speeders and other traffic violators. Lawbreakers were taken before the Police Magistrate who levied fines and costs, or incarceration in the town jailhouse, a small building located behind the Town Hall on Main Street. Indigent prisoners were ordered to work off their fines on the streets of Littleton at the rate of $2 per day. Escapes from custody were not uncommon.

Other responsibilities of the marshal included janitorial duties at the Town Hall, attending to prisoners in the jail, and providing a bed and 30¢ meal to stranded travelers and hobos who were then shown the way out of town. "Special Police" were frequently deputized to help the marshal maintain order during special events such as dances and carnivals, and on Halloween nights. This practice of using reserve officers continued with the Police Department through the 1980's.

In the 1940's, Littleton reached a turning point in its history as it began its transformation from a small agricultural town to an emerging suburban city. By the end of the decade, the town marshal would become known as the police chief, and the one-man marshal's office would become a police department. A separate police fund was created for the town budget, and a marked police car was procured, complete with red light and siren. Officers wore traditional-style navy blue police uniforms. The first two-way, base radio was purchased to allow radio communication with the Denver Police and Arapahoe County Sheriff.

Unprecedented growth and development followed in the 1950's and 1960's, when several large industrial and commercial enterprises chose to locate their facilities in or near Littleton: the C.A. Norgren Company in northeast Littleton, the Centennial (horse) Race Track just west of the South Platte River, and the Ohio Oil Company (today known as Marathon Oil Company) in southeast Littleton. The most influential newcomer may have been the Glenn L. Martin Company (later known as Martin Marietta and as Lockheed-Martin) which opened a guided missile manufacturing plant a few miles southwest of Littleton in Jefferson County.

The resulting influx of new workers and their families ignited a population explosion. During Littleton's first 60 years--from 1890 until 1950--the town population climbed from 245 to 3,370, an increase of 3,125 residents. In contrast, during the short twenty-year period that followed, the population swelled from 3,370 in 1950 to 26,466 in 1970, a soaring increase of over 23,000 residents. Littleton's outlying farm fields were quickly replaced by new housing developments and retail centers. The building and population boom also created a need for more and better law enforcement.

By the mid-to-late 1950's, the Police Department was regularly staffed by the chief, one or more sergeants, and several officers. Two or three marked police cars were in service, fully equipped with two-way mobile radios. A base radio console was installed in the Police Department office, allowing for radio dispatching of police calls. Before that time, persons needing police assistance but unable to reach the on-duty officer, would telephone the phone company operator who would take the information and then summon a policeman by switching on a small red light mounted atop a tall pole on a street corner in downtown Littleton. If and when the on-duty officer saw the red light, he would contact the operator who would relay the call.

In 1957, Littleton adopted a City Council/City Manger form of government. The Town of Littleton would hence be known as the City of Littleton.

Guided by progressive and capable leadership in the 1960's, the Police Department made many changes and undertook new challenges to keep pace with its fast growing community. The Department left its cramped quarters in the Town Hall, and established a new police station in the old library building on Main Street. Department equipment and resources such as radios and vehicles were modernized and multiplied. The police force enlarged through the hiring of additional officers and support personnel such as dispatchers, animal control officers, secretaries, and records clerks. Minority officers were hired. Tan uniforms were adopted and white helmets replaced police uniform caps. Government grants were procured to fund special enforcement projects, officers were encouraged and given incentives to attend college, and specialized law enforcement and career development training was provided.

In the decades that have followed, the City's growth and development have continued at a controlled but steady pace. Community leaders have given more attention to preserving Littleton's remaining open space and small town character. The Police Department outgrew its Main Street station, and in 1977 moved to its present headquarters in the Littleton Center complex on West Berry Avenue.

Criminal activity also climbed steadily with marked increases requiring stepped-up enforcement in juvenile crime, drug offenses, traffic problems, and domestic violence. To keep pace with the changing community and modern innovations in police work, the Police Department instituted new enforcement strategies, assignments, and programs. These included the formation of a Special Weapons and Tactics Team (S.W.A.T.), assigning full-time crime prevention officers and later a crime analyst, the creation of a Youth Counseling Office (Y.C.O.), a police cadet program, participation in the South Metro Drug Task Force, the Officer-In-The-Schools and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) programs, the establishment of a traffic enforcement unit, a Drug Recognition Expert (D.R.E.) program, and the appointment of a victim assistance advocate.

Technological advances brought about by the Vietnam War and the space program ushered in a new age of high-tech crime fighting tools including computers, traffic radar and laser devices, sophisticated telecommunications and radio equipment, breath testing instruments, and a variety of scientific devices and techniques for forensic crime-solving.

The Department attracted high-caliber personnel by offering competitive salaries and good employee benefits. The first fully commissioned female police officers were hired. Continuing emphasis was placed on offering on-going training, providing high standards of service, and fostering career development. The Littleton Police Department earned a reputation for producing professional, career-oriented police officers. This reputation was later realized as a number of Littleton officers left the force to accept positions as chiefs of police with other Colorado police departments which have included the cities and towns of Englewood, Federal Heights, Cherry Hills Village, Grand Junction, Cortez, Northglenn, Bowmar, and Frisco. Numerous officers, some still working and others now retired, have served entire careers of 20 or more years with the Police Department. Littleton officers have been wounded or injured while working, but thankfully none have been killed in the line of duty.

In recent years, increased expectations of service and tighter budgets have challenged government and law enforcement to provide more services with fewer resources. The Littleton Police Department will meet this challenge, in part, through closer involvement and partnership with citizens and the community, through neighborhood-oriented policing, and through non-traditional problem solving which employs a wide range of government and community resources.

In 1990, the Littleton Police Department observed its 100th year of formal operation. Its rich and distinguished past history will influence its continued operation through the 21st century.

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