The D.C. police department, born at a time when Abraham Lincoln was president and counterfeiters and jewelry thiefs were the criminals of the day, will celebrate its 125th birthday Wednesday with a public party in front of police headquarters.
The festivities will begin at 9 a.m. and run until 3 p.m. at 300 Indiana Ave. NW. Mayor Marion Barry, Police Chief Maurice Turner and McGruff, the crime-fighting dog, none of whom were around when the department was born, will be on hand to celebrate.
After an opening ceremony, bands will play, free refreshments will be dished out and people can peruse an exhibit of the latest in police equipment. Since it's their party, police officers can be expected to strut their stuff -- and they will, rappelling from a helicopter and showing off tools of the trade such as a bomb disposal truck, boats and everything used by the Emergency Response Team.
It was Aug. 6, 1861, when the department was established by an act of Congress. The police force, now with 3,880 members and 513 civilians, was originally to consist of a superintendent, 10 sergeants and a number of patrolmen not to exceed 150, according to "District of Columbia Police," a history of the department published in 1894.
The superintendent earned $1,500 annually, each of the 10 sergeants, one for each precinct, was paid $600 annually, and the patrolmen earned $480 a year. Today, a beginning officer starts at $21,780 and that goes up to $22,978 Oct. 1.
According to the history book, the act that established the department also laid out its duties, specifying that, among other responsibilities, the police were to: " ' . . . remove nuisances from the public streets, road, alleys, highways and other places' and 'to see that the laws relating to the observance of Sunday and pertaining to pawnbrokers, mock auctions, gambling, intemperance, lotteries, vagrants' was enforced."
President Lincoln requested that the board of commissioners appointed to oversee the department travel to New York to study the features of that department, a system that had borrowed from the London police department.
Among the qualifications, applicants for the job of police officer had to "be able to read and write the English language; be of good health and sound mind," and "be of good moral character."