History of the Rochester Police Department

A Brief History of the Rochester, NY Police Department

The earliest beginnings of the Rochester Police Department (RPD) and its motto "Serving with PRIDE - Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Dedication, Excellence" in 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 Early Rochester Police OfficersVillage of Rochesterville. The charter of this new village allowed for the hiring of a constable and formation of the first night watch, marking the establishment of the RPD. A book written by William F. Peck tells the story of the History of the Police Department of Rochester, N.Y. from the Earliest Times to May 1, 1903. As Peck recounts "It finally dawned upon the inhabitants that it might be well to have some additional guardians, and then they remembered that their charter had alluded to something of that kind. At a meeting held December 28, 1819, it was voted "that a sum of eighty dollars be raised by tax to defray the expense of maintaining a village night watch, which had been appointed on the 10th inst., and to be continued so long as the said money raised will admit." That fixes the date of birth of the police department of the city of Rochester, for that night watch was the predecessor of the patrolmen of to-day..." Peck continues "Who that original night watch was may never be known; his name, unfortunately, is lost in oblivion, for it does not appear in the manuscript records..."

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 and Newton Rose was appointed as the first Captain of the Watch. In 1853, Addy W. 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. In 1886, Police Chief Joseph Cleary introduced the police telegraph "call box" system. Rochester was the first City in the State to adopt this "call box" system, which started with 30 stations on the streets. Soon thereafter, Superintendent Miller invented a central energy telephone for all police telegraph circuits, which allowed for direct telephone communication from each of the street boxes with police headquarters, precinct stations and the fire department. Rochester was the first City in the United States to have this central energy telephone feature applied to the police telegraph system. 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.

Police 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. A formal police recruiting process began in 1904. A traffic bureau was initiated in 1905, which stationed officers at busy Main Street intersections at East Avenue, St. Paul, State and Fitzhugh streets. On September 23, 1913, Officer Nellie L. McElroy was appointed as the Department's first female police officer, becoming the first policewoman in New York State and only the tenth policewoman in the United States. After 1913, police cars and motorcycles were introduced to coincide with the installation of traffic signals and a need for traffic enforcement, including the issuance of traffic tickets. Mobile police radios were first used in 1931. In 1947, Officer Charles Price was hired as the Department's first African American police officer. Traffic radar detection units were acquired in 1952 and the police academy first opened its doors in 1953.

Rochester Traffic Enforcement 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. A Fallen Officer Tribute Poster was illustrated by local artist Carol Culhane in 2019 to honor the legacy of our fallen heroes. Ms. Culhane's father, Rochester Police Officer Harvey Kusse,  served in the RPD from 1943-1971.

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 La'Ron D. Singletary  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 RPD's 200th Anniversary and commencement of its year-long Bicentennial celebration. Many officers are wearing commemorative uniform badges minted from Chief Cleary's original badge dating from 1885. The RPD has an honorable history and the Rochester Police Department Blue Book - 1911 continues the Department's story from Peck's above-referenced book.