101 4th Street SE
Rochester, Mn 55904 (Map)
Law Enforcement response
Mon-Fri 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
Dial 911 For Emergencies
Narcotics Tip Line
(This is a voicemail only line to leave tips or information)
Entering the 20th Century
The Rochester Police Department saw many changes between 1900-1950. By 1905, Rochester had grown to a population of 7,233.
The office of City Marshal was an elected position until 1906, whereupon the position became Chief of Police and was filled by mayoral appointment. During the ensuing 25 years, the position of Chief of Police was used as a political reward by newly elected mayors. This system, which was common during the time, continued until the spring of 1931.
In 1906, the mayor was authorized to appoint one chief and three officers; by 1930, the authorized strength had grown to one chief and fifteen officers.
On April 6, 1931, the first Civil Service Commission was appointed. The following week, members Ralph Graen, Albert Lobb and Corwin Stoppel presented their recommendations for salaries and strength of the police department: 1 Chief of Police ($1800 Annual Salary); 2 Police Captains ($1800 Annual Salary); 13 Patrol Officers ($1500 - $1680 Annual Salary); 1 Jail Guard ($840 Annual Salary).
Five special patrolmen were appointed while regular patrol officers took Civil Service examinations in May. Chief of Police Saholt and several officers refused to take the Civil Service examination; they initiated an unsuccessful lawsuit to retain their positions. In June 1931, seven patrol officers were removed from the Department by Civil Service rules, and the first two new officers were hired under the new system.
A number of other organizational changes were made in the Rochester Police Department during the first half of this century. In 1917, the first "policewoman" was hired as a social welfare worker. The position was not brought in under Civil Service, however, and was abolished by the mayor in 1932. Also in 1932, the first Detective Bureau was set up, with two patrol officers as acting detectives. During 1937, our first detectives were appointed, and the Department opened its Juvenile Division.
Our first vehicle, a motorcycle, was purchased in 1920, and a second motorcycle with a sidecar was purchased in 1922. Prior to that, prisoners were transported via taxicab. Taxicabs were also used to respond to police calls. When a call came into the station, the officer there would contact Yellow Cab and give them the address. The cab driver would pick up an officer off the street or at the station and respond to the call. The police chief's personal car was used as needed; his car was stolen one spring and not recovered until fall, which left the department without any car for several months.
During the early 1920's, officers worked twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week, and there was no rotating of shifts. The station had one phone and one red light downtown to signal for a call. Officers called the station desk every half-hour from whatever business establishment they were near that had a telephone. In 1925, Mayor John T. Lemmon put the entire department in regulation uniforms. Before that time, officer's working days wore uniforms and officers working nights wore plainclothes.
The Olmsted County Bank and Trust Company was robbed in 1926. There were several people involved in the robbery, and two officers were shot and wounded. The shoe of another officer was hit by a ricocheted bullet, but he was not injured. The entire department was put on duty, and the Rangers (voluntary police) and militia were also called out. There were no police cars yet, so several Yellow Cabs were called into service; officers also used private citizens' cars during the ensuing investigation. Only one of the robbers was caught, and he was convicted and served time for this crime.
The local tradition of police escorts for funeral processions began in 1926 with Officer George Rohde on the department motorcycle. This has proved to be a popular practice with Rochester's citizens and continues today with marked police squad cars providing escorts.
The single red signal light downtown was turned off forever in 1927 when the Gamewell Desk System of communication was installed. This consisted of 14 call boxes located throughout the central area of Rochester. Bells and red lights located above the call boxes were controlled at the station desk. The red lights were used to signal officers in vehicles to return to the station; the bells signaled the foot patrol officer in the area to call the station from the call box.
Our first automobile, a Whippet sedan, was purchased for the Police Department in 1929. Much of the police activity during this period revolved around Prohibition and attempting to enforce the liquor laws. The new automobile made liquor raids easier, though obviously no more successful in deterring violations.
During the construction of a new City Hall in 1931, the Police Department was temporarily located at 322 First Avenue SW. (The Brown Hotel was later built on that site; it has since been demolished.) There was one large room which was divided in half by a partition. In the back area was a cell block and an area for "lodgers" to sleep. When the new building was completed, there was a separate room for "lodgers" or transients, and during the depression, sometimes thirty men slept there.
Louis J. Claude was the first chief appointed under Civil Service. He served from June 1932, until his death in March of 1939. During the summer of 1936, Chief Claude was sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, DC, for training.
Officers continued working two shifts until mid-1934. At that time, shifts were shortened to eight hours, and a third shift was added to the schedule. Department strength was increased by five patrol officers and one captain. Officers worked 48 hours each week.
Radios were installed in the cars in 1936, but foot patrol officers continued to use the callbox system until the early 1960's. 1939 marked the beginning of the Rochester Police Relief Association which was initiated to provide benefits for retired officers and their dependents.
When Chief Claude died unexpectedly in 1939, Captain Harry N. Tompkins was made acting chief. After examinations were held the following month, Tompkins was appointed Chief of Police. He served in that capacity until his death in 1945. At that time, Captain Arnold Nelson was appointed acting chief. Because several eligible officers were serving in the armed forces, it was decided to hold examinations for the position of Police Chief after they returned from the war. Nelson headed the Department until 1949.