Technological breakthroughs of the late 1920's revolutionized police work as nothing before or since, and the city's modern police department can trace its roots to this period. The beginning of radio communications in 1930 gave the department a significant edge over criminals. The chief of the city's Department of Electricity, Ralph Wiley, helped the police department use the radio to its full advantage.
While Buick touring cars used by the department's Traffic Division were excellent pursuit
vehicle for their day, traffic officers frequently were forced to stop at police call boxes or
pay telephones to request instructions from headquarters. Wiley solved the problem by
setting up a private, low-frequency radio transmitter in the Jefferson Square Central Fire
Alarm Station. There, an officer could broadcast orders to a fleet of
The department also made use of another technological innovation when it introduced the
city's first motorcycle unit. The unit was official named the Sidecar Motorcycle Corps, but
known as "The Flying Squad," after the winged wheel insignia of the uniform shoulder
patches. The squad consisted of 90 men and 45 Harley-Davidson motorcycles equipped
with sidecars. While private citizens and the newspapers frequently ridiculed the
motorcycles as "motorized bathtubs," the Flying Squad tandems proved to be the most
efficient pursuit vehicles used by the department.
While no one is certain which side fired first, a gun battle ensued which left two of the
strikers dead and many more injured, primarily by a stampede of panicked demonstrators.
The entire city was thrown into turmoil, and retired police officer Dan McKlem explained
The unions held everything up for two months. They stopped streetcars and buses, and we
had to commandeer automobiles so we had cars enough for the police force. You'd tour
around where the trouble was supposed to be and just hope for the best. I managed to get
through it without much trouble until the strike finally ended and I put in for my vacation.
We'd all worked 'round the clock, and never got a dime's worth of overtime for it."
The strike did enable the department to experiment with two new crowd control techniques.
The first, teargas, had been sitting unused in the department's arsenal since shortly after
World War I. The second, aerial reconnaissance, was used temporarily when milling
crowds of thousands of striker blockaded the waterfront. The department borrowed a
Other courses included 73 hours of physical education, 48 hours of firearms training, 18 hours on police organization and administration, and 25 hours of instruction in police reports and records. Following the completion of the classroom training, recruits were assigned to the field under the supervision of seasoned veterans for "hands-on" experience. The department's program was easily the most thorough in the nation, and was imitated by departments throughout the United States.