Ottumwa Police History

The Ottumwa Police Department celebrated 160 years of service in 2011. The first law enforcement in Ottumwa originated on March 3, 1851 under the town charter when the appointment of a town marshal was adopted. Ottumwans were not quite ready for organized law enforcement however, and did not wish to delegate their protection and enforcement duties. The first marshal was fired three months later. Several marshals served the City over the next eight years at a salary of $15.00 per month.

In 1859, the Burlington & Missouri railroad came to Ottumwa with subsequent industrial and population growth. Crime also increased and in April of 1860, Ottumwa experienced its first recorded murder. The citizens tried to lynch the defendant but were stopped by the marshal. The defendant was subsequently sentenced and hanged in the town square later that year.

In the late 1860’s, the old town charter was abolished and the City was organized under the general law of the State for incorporation of towns. The police force was increased to three men and the marshal’s salary was raised to $50.00 per month. The first city jail was also built during this period.

The City Council decided to increase the force and provide uniforms in the late 1870’s. By 1880, the department consisted of nine policemen, one deputy and the marshal. In 1887, the first paddy wagon was purchased for the department along with nine persuaders (clubs).

In the early 1890’s the City Council installed the first Police Judge and created the post of Police Captain. Due to increasing crime rates and a growing vice problem, the department was gradually increased to 17 officers.

In the early 1900’s the City Council was caught up in a religious and political battle over crime and vice in Ottumwa saloons. The saloons were closed but the City Council was forced to reduce the police department to 6 officers due to the loss of the liquor revenue.

The department’s struggle for progress continued. A new chief hired in 1917 demanded additional personnel and new equipment. The department received one ambulance, two patrol cars, and a motorcycle.

By the 1930’s the department had grown to a total of 19 men and one woman. Two new police cars equipped with radios were also added. A complete change in the problems confronting the police and the methods of dealing with them surfaced during this period. Scientific criminal investigation advancements resulted in the department forming the Bureau of Identification.

Gambling, liquor and prostitution were major problems in the late 1930’s and early 40’s with crime increasing at a rapid rate. The department’s staffing levels were decreased during the war years. The department’s leadership refused to compile and publish crime rates at this time. They felt that such information stood as a charge against the police rather than as a problem for which the entire community was responsible.

In the 1950’s the department was increased to 35 men and 2 women with four patrol cars in service.

By 1959, scientific developments further signified the complexity of the police function. Police training schools concerning firearms and self-defense were instituted with the assistance of the FBI. New equipment was purchased including replacement radios, a teletype system and radar units. The Municipal Court was established and officers were trained in case preparation and court procedures.

Increasing urbanization and the movement of people from farms and small towns to the City during the 1960’s magnified police problems. Ottumwa’s population had grown to nearly 40,000 and the police department’s authorized strength was 45 officers.

By the mid 1970’s, the police department’s focus began to change. Crime prevention and public safety awareness programs were enacted during this period. The communications unit was reorganized and began to monitor burglar alarms. The State required that officers receive police-related training and become certified peace officers. The part-time position of Training Officer was added to the department and in-service training was instituted.

In the early 1980’s, the department became the emergency 911 center for the county enabling dispatchers to receive calls for police, fire and ambulance services. The department’s records unit became computerized as the State and national requirements for crime data increased. The department recognized that officer training was becoming essential. The Training Officer position was converted to full time and an extensive training record system was established. A 12-week Field Training Officer program for new officers was developed and implemented during this period.

The Southeast Iowa Inter-Agency Drug Task Force was formed in 1990 and operated with federal funding. Task Force member agencies included Bloomfield, Ottumwa, Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and the counties of Davis, Wapello, Jefferson, Henry, Keokuk, and Van Buren. The goal of the Drug Task Force was to fight the manufacture, import and sale of illegal drugs.

Enhanced 911 service was added in late 1994. This system automatically displays the location of any 911 call placed within Wapello County. The computer-based display also identified which emergency service agencies should respond to that specific address.

The department began to move towards the community policing concept in 1995 and 1996. Six Neighborhood Watch groups were formed and through a series of community partnerships, police officers were assigned to the High School, Middle School, Ottumwa Housing Authority, and the Quincy Place Mall.

In November, 2000, the Ottumwa Police Department moved from City Hall to the new Wapello County Law Enforcement Center at 330 West Second Street. The Wapello County Sheriff’s Office and the County Jail are also located at the Center.

As we progress into the 21st century, the men and women of the Ottumwa Police Department will continue to strive to provide the best law enforcement services possible to the citizens of Ottumwa.

Ottumwa Police History