Early colonists and settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries took most of the law enforcement responsibilities among themselves. All able-bodied men and young boys (sometimes even angry women) were the protectors of their community. Municipal police departments developed at various times in different areas of our still new and developing country. Many rural areas used the Sheriff system whereby one primary person was responsible for law enforcement and was assisted by other "highly regarded" local citizens as needed.
Although the history of law enforcement in early Niles began with the early days of Fort St. Joseph, the Niles Police Department as we now know it was organized in 1891 when its first Police Chief, George Dude Francis was appointed to the position. There are some early recorded "firsts" that are interesting: On April 5, 1901 the first arrest was made by Constable Dave Toll, for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. The city council had adopted an ordinance forbidding bicycles to be ridden on sidewalks. At that time bicycle riders were referred to as wheelmen. On March 21, 1904, the City Marshal presented the first report to the city council regarding police activities in the City of Niles. The report reflected that during 1903 – 1904 officers made 62 arrests and collected $91 in fines. On May 1, 1904, the city council adopted an ordinance granting a flat salary of $65 a month for the Chief of Police and $55 per month for "nightwatch constables", as they were called.
The first police headquarters (pictured above) in Niles was erected in 1895 and was located at the corner of Second and Main Streets. This little wooden building was used until 1926 and had standing room for approximately four or five men. In 1926, the wooden building was moved to the corner of Fifth and Wayne Streets where it was used by Patrolman Lawrence Elder, who was assigned to the north section of the city. Patrolman Elder had been with the Niles Police Department since 1923 and retired in 1948. In 1955 this same building was given to the Fraternal Order of Police and is presently standing at the entrance of the FOP Youth Park on North State Street.
Officer Clarence Shockley was the first Niles Police Officer to be killed in the line of duty. On August 14, 1907 a gunman laid in wait at the C.R. Smith lumber yard for Officer Shockley to make his night rounds. At 10:20 p.m. witnesses heard gun shots and when they looked in the direction the sounds came from saw a man running from the area. Glenn Kugler, who was walking in the area, also heard the gunshots and located Officer Shockley lying on the ground with blood flowing from several gunshot wounds. Officer Shockley received treatment by several local physicians but passed away from these wounds at 1:20 p.m. on August 15, 1907.
In August 1926 the City of Niles purchased the Dr. Homer Carr residence at 202 Broadway and police headquarters was moved from Second and Main to this location. In 1937 the City began building the Public Safety Building (pictured below) which encompasses part of the Carr location and all of the former Schmidt estate on the corner of Third and Broadway. The Public Safety Building cost a total of $96,550.00 to construct. This construction came about because of the combined efforts of the Board of Public Safety, the Board of Public Works and the WPA project (Works Progress Administration), which was President
Roosevelt’s effort to put America back to work after the great depression. The Public Safety Building was turned over to the City Council on April 24, 1939 and from that time it served as the location of both the fire and police departments.
At that time the Niles Police Department consisted of Chief L.O. Bates, Captain Fred Salloway, Captain Harry Petterson, Patrolmen Lawrence Elder, Thomas Whiteside, Oscar Schrumpf, Frank Forrest, Arthur Hall, Charles Corcoran, Chester Erickson, Thomas Shanton, and Arthur Pears, who later became the fourth Chief of Police.
During the first Chief of Police’s rein, George Francis (pictured below) saw many brutal crimes, arrested rumrunner and bootleggers and was categorized as "Dean of Policemen" for many years throughout the State of Michigan. He saw the police department change from a small booth on Second and Main Streets to the "new" Public Safety Building in 1939 and witnessed the change from answering complaints by rented horse and buggies to bicycles and finally to motor vehicles.
Chief Francis was succeeded by L.O. Bates, who was hired in October 1931 and was working as assistant police chief on the night shift when he became chief in 1935. Chief Bates retired in May, 1953 after 22 years of service. Chief Bates was succeeded by Arthur Pears Jr., who had been hired in January 1938. Arthur Pears Jr. was appointed acting chief of police in May and then was appointed as the police chief in June of 1953. Chief Pears retired in December 1965. All those who have served as police chief from 1965 until the present day are:
Rayford Crocker 1969 - 1972
Robert Graham 1973 - 1974
Jack Mast 1974 - 1975
Raymond Rudman 1975 - 1979
Carl Lowell 1979 - 1989
Myron Galchutt 1989 - 1995
Charles Rogers 1996 - 2001
Richard Huff 2001 - 2011
James Millin 2011 - Present
Chief L.O. Bates was with Patrolman Vance Cooper at the time Cooper became the second Niles officer killed in the line of duty. Patrolman Cooper was killed while apprehending James Crosby on March 4, 1937. Chief Bates and Patrolman Cooper stopped a Greyhound bus on M-60 and took James Crosby into custody. Crosby and Patrolman Cooper were handcuffed together and, as they were crossing the highway, they were both struck by another vehicle.
Pictured here (around 1980) are officers Hubert Ingram (L) and Rich Appleget (R).
Between the years of 1938 and 1965, the three-man police department grew to twenty-five officers, with one matron and two clerks. The horses and buggies and bicycles had given way to six automobiles and one motorcycle. The department had gone from 62 arrests to 13,957.
If Chief Francis or Chief Pears could see today’s Niles Police Department they would truly be impressed with the highly efficient law enforcement team that has emerged. Today’s police department is an exceptionally well-trained unit of men and women who must excel and specialize in many different fields including: tactical and strategic crime analysis, crime prevention, hostage negotiation, community policing and interaction, crime scene investigation, weapons expertise, Special Response Team activities, K-9 training, and many other specialties.
Pictured here: While campaigning for her husband (about 1943), First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is escorted by Patrolman George Smith, Patrolman Charles Skopec, and Patrolman Vernon Larson.
The Niles Police Department is currently made up of more than 55 professionals including officers, dispatchers, reserve officers, chaplains, records bureau personnel, and school crossing guards. Today the department boasts a fleet that includes not only standard police vehicles, but also specially outfitted vans, trucks, motorcycles, and SUVs. Officers today are equipped with state of the art weapons and related equipment including less-lethal taser guns and gas launchers. But the proof of the progress of the Niles Police
Department is seen in its ability to use today’s theories of community-oriented law enforcement as a viable tool in protecting lives and properties in our city. It is the professionally trained men and women of the Niles Police Department, utilizing law enforcement ethics as well as general orders and procedures, which have set the standard for future growth in preserving the quality of life we now enjoy.
Pictured from left to right: Russ Geideman, Ray Crocker, Bob Graham, Herb Block, Jerry Toner and Dick VanTuyl.