Cape Girardeau has always had a law enforcement officer to provide a system of law and order for the protection of our citizens since the community was established in 1806. In the beginning, the City Marshal’s position was created by City Ordinance Number 5 which required the Mayor and City Council to appoint a Marshal who was empowered to enforce all city ordinances. During these early years, the City Marshal did not receive a regular salary, but was paid on a fee basis. For serving a delinquent citizen notice, the Marshal would receive $0.50. The Marshal was paid $0.75 for making his weekly patrol of the Cape Girardeau community. For attending City Council meetings, the Marshal would receive a regular compensation of $1.00.
In December of 1806, the city jail was completed. Problems with the contractor resulted in the postponement of the completion of the courthouse until 1851. The present Common Pleas Courthouse is a part of the original building and jail facility.
The calaboose (the original city jail) was constructed in 1856 and was located just north of the fountain in the courthouse park. The calaboose faced east, had a barred window and door, and measured 12 x 25 feet. The cells within the calaboose contained iron rings fastened to the walls where criminals could be chained. A dungeon whipping post was located nearby and, in 1859, a workhouse was built where offenders of the law could be sentenced for a period of 10 hours each day as a form of punishment.
The Cape Girardeau Police Department became a reality with the passage of an ordinance in March of 1859. This ordinance provided for the appointment of the Police Captain with a Lieutenant as his assistant. As the years passed, other assistants were added and the department grew in size; however, the fee system was still in effect for payment of the officers, thus the more arrests, the higher the officers’ salaries could be.
According to the 1906 City Directory for Cape Girardeau, Missouri, “In a metropolitan city like Cape Girardeau, with more than 12,000 souls, a majority of which were employed in 45 different manufacturing plants, the maintenance of the law and order is often most difficult. Fortunately, for the City of Cape Girardeau, the people have considered well all these requirements for in making Willis Martin their Chief of Police. They not only conferred an honor on Mr. Martin, but upon themselves in showing their good judgement. Chief Martin was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin on January 17, 1861, and there he received his education, graduating from the high school of that city. He arrived in Cape Girardeau in 1894 and served on the police force until 1903. Mr. Martin was married to Ms. Annie Vogelsang of Cape Girardeau on June 8, 1886. His office was located in the courthouse and his residence was 925 William Street. During the early 1900’s while Chief Martin was serving as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer for the City of Cape Girardeau, he was accompanied to Police Judge Rudolph Bauhn, Patrolman H. H. Miles, and Patrolman Collins Adkins.”
The Cape Girardeau Police Department remained much the same until 1918 when the alderman form of government was replaced by the commission form. At that time, the Marshal’s position was no longer elected. Instead, the Marshal and his assistants were appointed by the City Council. In addition, the fee system was abolished and for the first time, policemen were given a regular salary. Qualifications to become a police officer were also established. “An officer must be at least 21 years old, male, able-bodied, and a sober and discrete person.” In addition to the duties of keeping the peace and enforcing the city ordinances, a new duty was added for local police officers shortly after the turn of the century…directing and controlling traffic.
In 1909, a new police station and jail was erected at the corner of Frederick and Independence Streets. Both police and fire departments shared the building until 1960 when the police department moved to a building that was formerly occupied by the Grace Methodist Church at the corner of Sprigg and Independence Streets. During these years, the Cape Girardeau Police Department consisted of approximately 24 men and was commended by several Chiefs of Police, including Captain Fritz Schneider. In a magazine article from the July 1955 Edition of the Missouri Peace Officers Association “Law Enforcement,” Mr. Bob Rouce, State Representative for Law Enforcement described the Cape Girardeau Police Department as follows… “Two officers are graduates of the FBI Academy, Captain F. L. Schneider and Sergeant M.F. Morton. The department has three police cars and two motorcycles. It has two-way radio equipment in all vehicles except the motorcycles, which have a receiver only. Mr. William Leon McLaughlin is the commissioner over the department.” Mr. Rouse described Chief Schneider as something “as a novelty among policemen.” “At least a half a dozen times during his 18 years with the department, he has been offered the job of Chief of Police, and an equal number of times, he has answered with a polite, but firm no.” According to the article in September of 1954, an auxiliary police unit was recruited with the strength of over 60 men. According to Captain Schneider, the auxiliary policemen played a dual role as both as civil defense policeman and also as a special policeman. “Police vehicles were equipped with riot guns, as well as Thompson machine guns, and tear gas was always on hand for any emergency. Although the Cape Girardeau Police Department is so situated that a crime could be committed and the offender could flee to several other states in a few hours, it does enjoy a low crime rate; there has been a decline in burglary offenses and an effective patrol system has been carried out.” The basement of the new police department was also used as a jail with room for about 16 prisoners.
As the department continued to grow, it was recognized that the police facility could no fulfill the needs of the community of the growth of the police department. In 1973, plans were made for the department’s present headquarters at the corner of Sprigg and Merriwether Streets.
The police department moved into the present facility in the Fall of 1976 at a cost of approximately $825,000. The headquarters building, designed by local architect, Thomas Holshauser, featured a street level garage opened by remote control for bringing in prisoners and a sophisticated communications tower with dual control radio and telephone positions. In addition, the building possessed an armory, a division director’s office, and a complete photo and laboratory, prisoner processing room, locker rooms, interrogation rooms, detective offices, an indoor firing range and a federally approved jail that could hold up to 32 prisoners.
During the 1970’s, the City of Cape Girardeau became known at the City of Roses with an estimated population of 38,000 citizens. The City’s police force consisted of more than 52 sworn officers, both men and women, and 10 civilians. Boasting the distinction of the largest police department between Saint Louis and Memphis, the Cape Girardeau Police Department, although smaller in size, faced many of the problems of larger urban areas. According to the Chief of Police in 1975, Chief Henry H. Gerecke, “I’m a great believer in giving men professional tools and making them more professional.” During this time, Chief Gerecke began the reorganization of the department in classical Chain of Command form, which included fitting the department with new uniforms and equipment styled after the Los Angeles Police Department in California. In addition, police officer training became, and still remains one of the police department’s top priorities. At that time, Lieutenant Howard H. (Butch) Boyd, Jr. who was a six-year veteran of the force and would become the Chief of Police in 1989, was the training officer responsible for seeing officers were trained and remained proficient in police skills. During this period of tremendous transition and technology, Chief Gerecke developed the motto, “Don’t tell me what we did yesterday, what are we doing today.” This quote characterized the department’s aggressive and comprehensive efforts to reduce crime and prepare for the future through specialized training, citizen involvement, crime prevention programs, and healthy respect for sophisticated equipment and facilities as tools of the department could use to meet the needs of the Cape Girardeau community.
During the 1980’s, the City of Cape Girardeau’s population remained relatively stable, thus allowing the Cape Girardeau Police Department to continue to pursue those goals established by Chief Gerecke under the subsequent command and leadership of Chief Ray Johnson and Chief Butch Boyd. Located in the facility constructed in 1976, the Cape Girardeau Police Department enjoyed one of the most advanced police communication systems within the State of Missouri with 24 vehicles, each equipped with two-way police radios and all of the police cruisers equipped with 32 channel programmable radios that offered communications with regional law enforcement agencies and emergency preparedness officials. The Cape Girardeau Police Department had also developed a permanent record system for complaint and arrest records and maintained the personnel records on all current and past employees within the permanent files. In addition to improvement in the police department’s equipment and facilities, the 1980’s witnessed the development of a specially equipped five-man special response team trained by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. These officers, who served on a voluntary basis, were equipped with two-way radios, semi-automatic weapons, shotguns or submachine guns, and a full range of chemical munitions and equipment.
In May of 1985, the Cape Girardeau Police Department was instrumental in establishing and implementing a program to provide financial assistance to senior citizens that experienced property loss or damage as a result of crime committed against them. This program, known as the Senior Citizens Victim Crime Fund, was administered by a six-person board consisting of the Chief of Police and five business or community leaders.
During the early 1990’s, the department began a transition to the philosophy of community-oriented policing by assigning two police officers to work closely with residents and businesses to identify underlying community problems. The response to the concept of community oriented policing by the City of Cape Girardeau was both enthusiastic and promising. Within the next ten years, both officers became well known for their work with Cape Girardeau schools, neighborhoods, and families.
In July 2013, Wes Blair was appointed the 34th Chief of Police. Chief Blair has a diverse background in law enforcement and served as the Assistant Chief in Lancaster, Texas prior to moving to Cape Girardeau. Chief Blair also has experience as a Federal Air Marshal and Border Patrol Agent. Earlier in his career, he served Lancaster as a patrol, training, and communications officer. He holds a Master Peace Officer Proficiency certification from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education and is an FBI National Academy graduate. Chief Blair holds a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington and earned a bachelor's degree in organizational leadership from Mountain State University.
Today, the Cape Girardeau Police Department consists of 75 sworn police officers, 27 full-time civilian employees and a Reserve Unit who are responsible for a myriad of police activities ranging from patrol to nuisance abatement. The Cape Girardeau Police Department is operating on an annual budget of approximately 6.5 million dollars. The Cape Girardeau Police Department has evolved from a 2-person police department in the early 1900’s to a police agency serving a community of approximately 38,500 citizens. It is estimated that, during the day, there are over 100,000 people in the City on a daily basis. This includes people who commute from other communities to Cape Girardeau to attend school, work, or for recreational activities. Cape Girardeau Police Department continued to witness the rapid change in technology, which not only provided wonderful tools for policing, but also changed the complexity of crime over the internet.
Officers and employees of the Cape Girardeau Police Department find themselves looking back at the proud historical accomplishments of those served, with hopeful visions of a better Cape Girardeau through “Service, Pride and Integrity,” the values of the Cape Girardeau Police Department.
The Cape Girardeau Police Department is presently organized into two bureaus encompassing Field Operations and Support Services. In addition to the Chief of Police and two Assistant Chiefs, there are 5 Lieutenants, 8 Sergeants, 10 Corporals and 47 Patrolman. There are 27 full-time civilian employees that work with our sworn personnel and support the many necessary functions of our department. Additionally, the Cape Girardeau Police Department is fortunate to have a Reserve police volunteer program. The program is under the supervision of the Field Operations Commander.
All officers of the Cape Girardeau Police Department must have completed a minimum of 480-hours of police academy training and become a certified police officer in the State of Missouri. Our Department then provides up to three months of field training before the officer is prepared to work on patrol alone.
As internal programs unfold, the department embraces the philosophy of team management which has witnessed the development of the Historical Team, the Awards and Commendations Team, a Policy Development Team, the Strategic Planning Team, and the Uniform and Equipment Team. These teams work with the Chief of Police in developing policy and recommendations, as well as the vision for the future of the Cape Girardeau Police Department.
In 2013, officers responded to a total of 51,957 calls for service, and documented 9,430 written reports. Also, during 2013, there were 3,507 arrests, 263 juveniles cited and 5,287 traffic citations issued.