- The History of the Nevada Police Department
- A Directed Study by Katherine Kerbs
- Cottey College
- May 10, 2012
Today, the Nevada, Missouri, police department boasts nineteen full-duty officers and five civilian personnel. The crime rate in the area is very low, and the majority of the police work is in petty theft, domestic assault, and drug-related crimes. Over time, the Nevada Police Department has utilized technology to aid the human element in fighting crime and in their day-to-day operations. In the early days, this technology was as simple as a police dog and guns. As technology progressed, the police department moved forward with fingerprinting techniques, “walkie talkies,” and computers. Even as technologies progressed, the police department returned to old techniques, such as the police dog. Technology has been instrumental in helping the Nevada Police Department keep Nevada a safe and peaceful place to live; equally important, however, has been the dedication, compassion, and integrity of its men and women.[wpex_gallery columns=”5″ image_height=”80%]
The City of Nevada, Missouri, was incorporated on March 3, 1869. A town marshal and county sheriff maintained order in the town and surrounding area. As was common, in the absence of a large police presence, a group of vigilantes formed to ensure the safety of their town. They formed the short-lived Marmaton League at the end of the Civil War to keep the peace among the distraught Southern sympathizers. Little evidence exists on how organized law enforcement developed in Nevada. As late as 1880, the town was still under the protection of a town marshal, but by 1890, a force had been formed with a Chief and five policemen. The Chief was James Bridgeford and his patrolmen included William C. Duren, David A. Bateman, Christ Perry, James During, and William I. Fisher. There is little information available for these men other than their names and the earliest photo documentation is not available until ten years later, but there is no doubt that these men established the model of integrity and service that the police department continues to operate under today. The photo of the 1900 police department features a Chief Lee Carver and three policemen: Bruce Moore, James Durning, and James McCarty. It is possible that this smaller number of police is due to the changing climate of police work. In the beginning, the department could have been half-time work, which would explain the need for a larger number of officers. By 1900, it is possible that the force was established and, therefore, required fulltime policemen.
This photo is one of the first available of the early Nevada Police Department. The photo features five officers and a police dog. The men are named, though the dog remains anonymous. In the photo, one can see the types of technology available to police officers when fighting crime. The center officer is holding what appears to be a rudimentary police baton. It appears to be made of wood or leather, as opposed to the fiber glass or metal used today. There are also two guns placed on the table the officers are posed around. They are handguns and clearly to be used for short distance shooting. Also on the table is a holster of some sort. Due to the shape, it is difficult to tell if it would hold a gun, or possibly a knife. Also interesting are the police officers themselves. Needless to say, they are all men. There are only five officers in the department, much smaller than today’s nineteen. Only one officer is described as a “patrolman” and none of them is identified as chief. They all wear stars on their chests that look similar to a sheriff’s star, though the photo clearly identifies them as police officers. They are dressed in plain suits with ties or bowties, and each man has a different one on, which implies there were no uniforms, at least for the picture. They are wearing similar hats. The round-topped, stereotypical, turn-of-the-century hat, complete with seal, is on the head of each of the men, except one. The largest of the men has a cowboy hat on, as opposed to the matching hats of the others. This could mean that he is the chief and, therefore, has different headwear than the others. Or, it could mean that he is not part of the department and is actually the sheriff. This photo is an important piece in determining the early history of the Nevada Police Department.
Though this photo emphasizes the technologies used by the police department, the following story emphasizes how the human element was probably more important. In February of 1909, the Nevada Police Department had a bit of excitement. Both Chief Ed Owens and Mayor J.D. Ingram chased an alleged burglar around the Square. The sight was most amusing to pedestrians on the square. The man in question, who was caught, was accused of stealing $20 and a revolver from Father Basil’s apartments at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Clearly Owens and Ingram were dedicated to their service of the city, just like the many that came after them.
As time progressed, however, the technologies used by the police department became increasingly important, perhaps more so than the human element. Law Enforcement, as well as society, was forever changed by the invention and widespread use of the telephone. Telephones allowed policemen to keep in contact with the dispatcher using call boxes stationed on the street. By 1951, this practice was made obsolete by the use of the two-way radio. As in many other fields, the telephone provided opportunities for women, though they did not hold the job exclusively. In Nevada, one such female dispatcher was Katherine Holmes. Holmes was not the first woman to work in the Nevada Police Department as a dispatcher; her predecessor was Esther Chester, pictured here in a 1951 photo of the police force. Chester was a dispatcher on a temporary basis for three years, before becoming the night dispatcher in 1957. Holmes was employed with the Nevada Police Department in the late 1950s and was no different than her male coworkers when it came to dedication to her community. When Eva Grace Lindsey broke into a home in an attempt to steal Christmas gifts, she was taken into police custody and her nine-year-old son was left without a place to go for the holidays. Holmes took the boy into her home. Both Holmes and Patrolman Bill Ridgeway and Kent Hawkins took part in purchasing Christmas gifts for the boy. According to the Nevada Daily Mail, Holmes was also planning a birthday party for the boy, as well as considering keeping him in her home long term. A hearing was scheduled to determine the boy’s future, of which Holmes said, “We’d be very glad to have him.” Holmes is an excellent example of how the Nevada Police Department was comprised of caring and dedicated individuals. Holmes’ commitment to her job was so great that she invited it in to her home.
Instrumental in advancing the technologies of the Nevada Police Department into the 1960s was Chief Stanley Brittingham (1923-2008). Having served as an officer since 1954, Brittingham was promoted to lieutenant in November of 1960. He was promoted to the Chief of Police in November of 1962 and served until 1964. In his time as chief, Brittingham oversaw many transitions to the use of new technology. One such transition was the addition of “walkie talkies.” In January of 1963, the department received the new devices in order to communicate while on patrol. The “walkie talkies” could be used by officers doing security checks on buildings, as well as by officers in unmarked cars. The device measured “only eight inches in height and three inches in width.”With this new equipment, the officers could request backup, describe situations in front of them, and communicate with dispatch and other officers. Another major improvement was the return of a police dog. With the resignation of one officer, there was only one security officer for the downtown businesses in the evening hours. Chief Brittingham sought the purchase of the dog, which could do the work of two additional officers. Officer Raymond Bliss, the remaining security officer, was to be the dog’s handler and primary caregiver. The purchase of the dog, which was authorized by City Manager Richard Wilson, was to serve five purposes: “building and warehouse security; trailing of subjects, who have abandoned a car and are fleeing on foot; trailing of lost children and elderly adults; for prowlers in residential areas; and for major disturbances and riots.” According to Chief Brittingham, the Nevada area could expect up to a 92% decrease in crime with the addition of the dog to the force. These advancements helped move the Nevada Police Department into the technological age of the mid-twentieth century.
Even with the technological advancements made under Chief Brittingham, there were still several burglaries and attempted burglaries in the city of Nevada in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Chief Brittingham was a fine example of a police officer dedicated to his community. In the wake of this rash of burglaries, Chief Brittingham called all the police officers in for a three- hour conference to discuss what could be done to prevent more burglaries, especially in the downtown business district. It was resolved that a police officer would be on patrol throughout the night in the business district, even if this meant calling on reserve policemen to fill the need. The community was becoming exceedingly frustrated with the lack of protection provided by the police department, and according to the Nevada Daily Mail, was encouraged by this step forward. The robberies in question spanned a five-year period, though the Nevada Daily Mail indicates there was an increase in robberies through 1964. In late December 1959, $310 was stolen from Thorpe’s Appliances. The police department utilized fingerprinting technology to attempt to catch the burglar, but the evidence was lacking and a conviction did not seem likely. In October 1960, two men from out of state attempted to rob the Nevada Distributing Company on East Austin Boulevard. Brittingham arrived on the scene shortly after they had broken a padlock on the east side of the building. Using his two way radio, he called for back up and he and the other officers searched the building. The burglars were apprehended a short time later in the downtown area. Due to Chief Brittingham’s quick thinking and the technology available to him, the police were able to capture the culprits. Another robbery took place on the evening of March 24, 1964, robbers broke into King’s Jewelry store; the total loss was estimated at $20,000. Again, fingerprinting technologies were used to try to identify the culprits. Chief Brittingham also mentioned the similarities in this burglary to the one at Sterett Clothing Company a few weeks previously. Through this rash of burglaries, the Nevada Police Department utilized technology available to them, as well as the dedication of their men to stop crime and ensure the safety of Nevada’s citizens.
In addition to incorporating technology, the NPD also used innovative educational methods in an effort to reduce crime and maintain a positive image of police among the community’s children. In 1977, they joined a national movement to educate preschool and kindergarten-aged children about safety when going to and from school. Police officer John Blevins was approached by Police Chief Stanly Spedoni about becoming certified to teach this program in Nevada. Officer Blevins attended a national workshop in Kansas City to learn the program and prepare to implement it in Nevada. The program was held for the first time in 1977. Children were taught basic safety precautions including how to cross the street safely, how to read traffic signals, and how to be aware of “stranger danger.” A “mock-city situation” was created and with the help of local businesses, the Department was able to purchase twenty small bicycles to be used as “cars” in the miniature city. Blevins said the goal was for children to see police officers in a positive light and as people they could come to if they were in trouble. He said many children feared police officers or had negative opinions of them due to parental influence. The Safety Town program, he believes, was a way for children to become acquainted with police officers and understand that they were good people.
Officer Blevins also had many stories about his days on the Nevada police force from 1977-1980. It was Blevins who started a specific juvenile department within the police department itself. Blevins and the other officers conducted undercover operations and staked out popular hangouts to catch teenagers who were drinking underage or using illegal drugs. He said the operations were very successful because they were conducted with utmost secrecy. They were able to apprehend a significant number of teenagers. As part of training to head this juvenile task force, Officer Blevins attended the Highway Patrol drug school. He also implemented a program similar to DARE, but before DARE was a national project. In June of 1978, an article was published in the Nevada Daily Mail detailing the efforts of the Nevada Police Department in the area of crime prevention and safety. The article cites Safety Town, as well as twenty hours of instruction in law enforcement subjects at Nevada High School. The Department received federal grant money through the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration for an new radar system, as well as money from the Missouri Uniform of Law Enforcement System for an new computer terminal and “a camera, two radios and other investigative materials.”
Today, the Nevada Police Department is equipped with all the modern technologies such as cars and computers. While the Department has changed over the years to keep up with modern conveniences and remain up-to-date, one thing that has remained the same is the integrity, compassion, and dedication of the men and women who wear the uniform of the Nevada Police Department.
 Patrick Brophy. Three Hundred Years: Historical Highlights of Nevada and Vernon County, Missouri. (Boulder,
CO: D.G. Logan, 1993)
 Lang and Young’s Directory of the City of Nevada. Independence, KS: Lang and Young, 1890.
 “Fifty Years Makes a Big Difference” Police History Photo Gallery 2. http://www.nevadamo.gov//nevada-police-history-photo-gallery
 “Nevada Police, 1909.” Ibid.
 They are Bill Kennedy, Bill “Dutch” Owens, William Bills, Patrolman Pool, and Stan Stengly.
 “A Stranger Under Arrest.” Nevada Daily Mail (Nevada, MO) Feb. 23, 1909.
 “Fifty Years Makes a Big Difference.” Police Photo Gallery 2. http://www.nevadamo.gov//nevada-police-history-photo-gallery.
 “Radio Operator Owens is Retiring from the Force.” Nevada Daily Mail (Nevada, MO) Feb. 28, 1957.
 “Two Plead Guilty to Charges Today,” Nevada Daily Mail (Nevada, MO) Dec. 23, 1959.
 “It’s Looking Brighter for Young Lad,” Nevada Daily Mail (Nevada, MO) Dec. 22, 1959.
 “Dixon Is Named New Police Chief.” Nevada Daily Mail (Nevada, MO) Dec. 1, 1960.
 “News of Yesteryear.” Nevada Daily Mail (Nevada, MO) Nov. 28, 1972.
 “New Police ‘Walkie-Talkie.’” Nevada Daily Mail (Nevada, MO) Jan. 30, 1963.
 “Police Dog to Join the Force.” Nevada Daily Mail (Nevada, MO) Nov. 6 1964.
 “We’re All For It.” Nevada Daily Mail (Nevada, MO) Sep. 24, 1964.
 “Alert Police Work Lands Pair in Jail.” Nevada Daily Mail (Nevada, MO) Oct. 19, 1960.
 “$20,000 Burglary at King’s.” Nevada Daily Mail (Nevada, MO) Mar 25, 1964.
 John Blevins (former NPD officer) in discussion with the author, March 2012.