Speed in Police Work
The American city, Volume 18, January 1918
THE "LIGHT" AND "HORN" ARE GREAT AIDS TO THE POLICE IN BERKELEY, CAL.
Berkeley, Cal.—The city of Berkeley, Cal., has been among the foremost to recognize that in these days of swift transportation one must set an automobile to catch an automobile, and some time ago all the patrolmen of the police department were equipped with Fords. The city pays each officer thus mounted $27.50 a month for the use of his machine, and in addition supplies the necessary oil and gasoline—which solves the financial problem for city and men alike.
Essentially a residence town, Berkeley covers a large area, and the chief of police, August Vollmer, says that were it not for the use of automobiles the force at present employed would be entirely inadequate, for the auto-mounted man covers about four times the distance which could be covered by a foot-patrolman. This speaks volumes for the economy of the plan, while as for efficiency, under the new system crime of a serious nature has been practically eliminated from the city.
The progressive methods adopted by the police department have met with the approval of the townspeople. The women of the city, particularly those who live in the more lonely districts, frequently express their feeling of safety since the automobiles have come into use. They know that within a very few minutes after telephoning to the station a policeman will be at their door, and that if their call for assistance be prompt the apprehension of the offender is also likely to be prompt.
A number of years ago a Gamewell signal and alarm device was installed in the Berkeley police station, and switchboard and automobiles work naturally together in police service, neither being capable of getting the best results without the other. Many things are gained by the combination, but chief among them is speed—that all-important factor in police work.
In connection with the switchboard, signal lights and alarm boxes are placed at equidistant points thruout the city. Horns also have been installed for day service and are used as well, in case of extreme emergency, by night.
From the alarm boxes on the street each patrolman reports to the central station once an hour. He calls his name and the number of the box, the location from which he calls being confirmed by a telegraphic tape which runs simultaneously with the indicator alarm box. The tape registers the number of the box and the hour and minute of the call, and the system keeps officers and sergeant in close touch.
Whenever a policeman is needed between calls, the desk officer presses an electric button, and on the street a red light flashes, so many times for the man in one district, so many times for one in another. In case of murder or other great crime, all the police lights of the city are turned on in a steady blaze, and in less than half a minute the men begin to call in—as swiftly, in fact, as they can motor to the nearest boxes and unlock them. This means of quick communication, coupled with the automobile service, makes it possible for the full force to be at work in an incredibly short space of time.
The first man to report may be sent speeding after the automobile in which the criminal is making his escape ; the next may be assigned to cover the nearest street car to which the fleeing man might transfer himself; others are sent to the scene of the crime itself. Even the inspectors use automobiles, and fingerprint men are on the scene while the finger-prints are fresh. Often the victim of the crime has his life saved by means of the first-aid outfit which every officer carries in his machine, and, if the injury be not too severe, the sufferer is taken direct to the hospital without having to wait for an ambulance.
In the central station an ordinary switchboard is set at right angles to a Gamewell board, and whenever quick service is especially indicated, the operator can reach over, press an electric button, and, while he is receiving the description of a criminal over one telephone, he can be repeating it over the other to the officer in whose district the crime is being committed. It has even happened that an arrest has been made before the complaining citizen could get from his telephone in the back of the house to the front door, and when he did reach the front door he was met by an officer escorting the offender up the steps in order that he might be identified! and the improved Dundas Street Highway. The Boulevard has been very largely used by the motoring public; as many as 762 automobiles have passed a given point upon it in one hour.
Recently a woman telephoned that she had heard a shot and had seen a man, whose description she gave, running away from the vicinity. A man from the station, a finger-print expert, ran out, jumped into his car, and went speeding towards the junction nearest the scene of the crime. He arrested a man answering in a general way - to the description given, who was running for a car which would have taken him to another city.
The fellow was turned over to a patrolman, and the arresting officer went to the scene of the crime, where he found the body of the victim, who had been murdered. He also found a dagger, dropped in the haste of flight by the murderer, whose first intention had evidently been to use it instead of the gun. Before anyone else had an opportunity to touch the dagger, the finger-print man was able to develop the latent prints upon it; at the station the finger-prints of the arrested man were taken—and they tallied with the impression on the knife.
In ordinary cases that knife might have been handled by a dozen persons before an officer got his hands on it, and all positive evidence as to the criminal's identity would have been obliterated. Without this evidence the man undoubtedly would have escaped justice, for, as it happened, there was nothing else of an equivocal nature to connect him with the crime.
This is but one of many instances that could be given of the speed and accuracy with which police work may be clone when a department is equipped with the modern means of accomplishing its most difficult task.
BARRARA PEARSON, Secretary to Chief of Police.