Designing the Law: The Debate over the 1887 Reorganization of the Pittsburgh Police

Elaine Frantz, Kent State University

In 1887, the city of Pittsburgh placed its police force under a newly-established Department of Public Safety, a move which is generally considered the moment of institutional professionalization of the force. This paper first explores how the city justified and explained this transition, and what objections it met with, and then draws upon criminal indictments and police records from the years just before and after the transition to analyze how this transformation impacted the nature of the work of Pittsburgh police: what sorts of arrests they made and where, and how citizens recognized, or failed to recognize, the authority of policemen before and after the change. The criminal court records of Allegheny County (which included Pittsburgh) are not well-preserved, and have not been organized, but still exist unprocessed in the county courthouse. I have been working through those criminal indictments which are extant, and am fortunate to have found a nearly-complete set of indictments fro 1888. These reveal a good deal of resistance from arrestees in the form of false-arrest and assault changes brought against police officers and of assault charges brought by police officers against citizens who freed men police officers had arrested. This paper, then, brings together the public discourse on policing surrounding the 1887 transition with records of the uneven efforts of police on the streets to assert their authority. These reveal the unsteady and collective negotiation of real police power at the moment of its institutional consolidation.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 66. Debating Progressive-Era Police Professionalization