Washington DC Police History

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has been serving the District of Columbia for more than 160 years.  In 1802, when the original city charter was approved, police authority was centralized and power was granted to the city itself to establish patrols, impose fines, and establish inspection and licensing procedures. Until the creation of the Metropolitan Police Department in 1861, the city had only an auxiliary watch with one captain and 15 policemen.

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln took personal interest in founding a regular police department for the District of Columbia. It was a time of constant danger in the Nation’s Capital. With the beginning of the Civil War, an army was billeted in the city, government employees were increased by ten-fold, and hordes of unsavory elements descended upon the District’s few square miles. President Lincoln personally dispatched an emissary from the newly created Board of Metropolitan Police Commissioners to New York City to become familiar with that system, which itself was based on the world-acclaimed Metropolitan London Police Department.

The ideas and knowledge gained from this study led to the creation of the Metropolitan Police Department on August 6, 1861. In September of that year, attorney William B. Webb was appointed the first Superintendent of the Police, with an authorized force of 10 sergeants and a number of patrolmen as needed, but not to exceed 150. 

Over the years, the MPD has grown in size, diversity and expertise.  As the police force for the Nation’s Capital, it has protected the city, its citizens and visitors through many historic events and social changes.  The DC Metropolitan Police Department has a rich and unique history and the DC Police Memorial and Museum is dedicated to telling its story and protecting its artifacts and heritage.

 

Below, watch Nick Bruel, former MPD Lieutenant, DC Police Memorial Board Member and MPD Historian talk about a few of the fascinating items in our collection:

 

MPD in History

The Sting Operation and its DC Police Origins

The Sting Operation and its DC Police Origins

Anyone familiar with law enforcement knows about Sting Operations – coordinated, deceptive campaigns to catch a person or persons committing a crime. They had their origin in the 1970s under the direction of Bob Arscott, a DC police Detective Lieutenant….

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The Police Badge – Origins and Meaning

The Police Badge – Origins and Meaning

A symbol of authority, respect, integrity, and trust.

The first idea of a badge was created long before modern law enforcement. The badge eventually became an identifier of authority within public servants, thus leading the way for police officers to distinguish their rank.

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The Race Riots of 1919

The Race Riots of 1919

In the summer of 1919, the First World War was over but simmering racial tensions, some say inflamed by local newspapers,...

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First to Current – Ascending Order

  1. William B. Webb  – Sept. 1861 – Nov. 1864
  2. A.C. Richards  – Dec. 1864 – Jan. 1878
  3. Thomas P. Morgan  – Feb. 1878 – Nov. 1879
  4. William G. Brock  – Dec. 1879 – April 1883
  5. William M. Dye  – April 1883 – June 1886
  6. Samuel H. Walker  – July 1886 – Dec. 1886
  7. William G. Moore  – Dec. 1886 – July 1898
  8. Richard Sylvester  – July 1898 – April 1915
  9. Raymond W. Pullman  – April 1915 – Feb. 1920
  10. Harry L. Gessford  – April 1920 – Dec. 1921
  11. Daniel Sullivan  – Feb. 1922 – Oct. 1925
  12. Edwin B. Hesse  – Oct. 1925 – April 1929
  13. Henry G. Pratt  – April 1929 – Nov. 1931
  14. Pelham D. Glassford  – Nov. 1931 – Oct. 1932
  15. Ernest W. Brown  – Oct. 1932 – Nov. 1941
  16. Edward J. Kelly  – Nov. 1941 – Feb. 1946
  17. Harvey G. Callahan – Feb. 1946 – June 1947
  18. Robert J. Barrett  – July 1947 – Nov. 1951
  19. Robert V. Murray  – Dec. 1951 – Dec. 1964
  20. John B. Layton  – Dec. 1964 – July 1969
  21. Jerry V. Wilson  – Aug. 1969 – Sept. 1974
  22. Maurice J. Cullinane  – Dec. 1974 – Jan. 1978
  23. Burtell M. Jefferson  – Jan. 1978 – June 1981
  24. Maurice T. Turner, Jr.  – July 1981 – July 1989
  25. Issac Fulwood  – July 1989 – Sept. 1992
  26. Fred Thomas  – Dec. 1992 – July 1995
  27. Fred Thomas  – Dec. 1992 – July 1995
  28. Sonya Proctor (Interim)  – Nov. 1997 – April 1998
  29. Charles H. Ramsey  – April 1998 – Dec. 2006
  30. Cathy L. Lanier  – Jan. 2007 – Sept. 2016
  31. Peter Newsham – September 2016 – Dec. 2020
  32. Robert J. Contee III – Jan 2021 –