History of the Rochester Police Department

A Brief History of the Rochester Police Department

The earliest beginnings of the Rochester Police Department (RPD) "Serving with Pride" the City of Rochester, NY, can be traced back to March 21, 1817, when Colonel Nathaniel Rochester founded this growing mill town carved from the forests of western New York along the Genesee River, initially becoming the oldphoto2Village of Rochesterville. The charter of this new village allowed for the hiring of a constable and formation of the first night watch on December 28, 1819, marking the establishment of the RPD.  

Stimulated by the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 and eventual western railroad expansion, Rochesterville continued to grow into a major manufacturing center. In 1834, Rochesterville was incorporated as the City of Rochester. In 1853, Addy Van Slyck was named Rochester's first Chief of Police. Rochester soon became a leader in law enforcement, technology and innovation. By the end of the Civil War in 1865, constables and night watchmen were reorganized into a "Metropolitan Police" Bureau. After 1880, Police Chief Joseph Cleary introduced telegraphic "call boxes," which were later replaced with telephones. A police bicycle division was created in 1893, with mounted  horseback patrols added in 1895. The Bertillon System of Crime Identification was adopted in 1903, which applied anthropometry - the first scientific study of measurements and proportions of the human body used by police to identify criminals.  Before that time, criminals could only be identified by name or photograph. The Bertillon System would eventually be replaced with the advent of fingerprinting.

A formal police recruiting process began in 1904, and a traffic bureau was initiated in 1905, stationing officers at busy Main Street intersections at East Avenue, St. Paul, State and Fitzhugh streets. After 1913, police cars and motorcycles were introduced to coincide with the installation of traffic signals and need for traffic enforcement, including the issuance of traffic tickets. Mobile police radios were first used in 1931 and traffic radar detection units were acquired in 1952.

pict3Police officers were initially hired through political appointment. In 1900, New York State enacted its Civil Service Law and the professionalism of police service increased. Police officers were selected and promoted through competitive civil service examination, as well as receiving increased job security and retirement benefits for their service. The police academy opened its doors in 1953. In 1913, Officer Nellie McElroy was hired as the Department's first female police officer, becoming only the ninth policewoman in the nation at that time. In 1947, Officer Charles Price was hired as the Department's first African American police officer. *Fifteen Rochester Police Officers have given their lives in the service and protection of the City of Rochester, most recently on September 4, 2014, when Officer Daryl Pierson was fatally shot in the line of duty.

Today, the RPD serves a community of over 210,500 people within a total geographical area of 37.1 square miles. City of Rochester Chief of Police Mark Simmons leads an agency of 870 sworn and non-sworn employees dedicated to the fair and impartial enforcement of laws, while improving the quality of life for the City and citizens of Rochester.

The RPD is recognized in New York State and across the nation as a leading law enforcement agency. Department members are proud of the high quality of service they provide, along with a continuous pursuit of policing excellence. 2019 marks the Department's 200th Anniversary and commencement of its year-long Bicentennial celebration.