City Marshall John Loganseated at his desk in the Marshall's
Office at the rear of the first City Hall
Law enforcement in Lakeland officially dates to the city's incorporation in 1885. It was in that year that the city elected its first City Marshall, George F. Newell. The part time nature of the position was reflected in the fact that the Marshall also served as the town tax collector. It was eight more years before the Marshall acquired a deputy.
The city government was reorganized in 1914 and an official police department was created, with one R. L. Marshall as the city's first police chief. The still relatively informal nature of the department became evident when the city neglected to provide any patrol cars for its newly created police force. As a result, officers found themselves taking a taxi or hitchhiking to calls beyond walking distance. The police department did not acquire its first vehicles until the early 1920's.
Even with vehicles, however, communication remained a problem as the cars were not equipped with radios. Chief "Uncle" Dan Wilson solved this problem by having crews at the Lake Mirror power plant blast the plant whistle during the day and blink the street lights several times at night when the patrol cars were wanted at the police station. It was not until 1934 that police cars were equipped with one way radios and 1938 before there was two way communication between police cars and dispatchers. The first bicycle patrol began in the downtown area in 1954, with battery powered "handie-talkies" for communication carried in baskets attached to the handlebars.
It was also in 1954 that the first African-American officers were hired by the department. Samuel King and Samuel Williams joined the force in January and were joined in March by Edgar Pickett, Jr. It was not until nine years later in 1963 that the department hired its first female police officer, Leila Plaire, who had joined the department as a meter maid in 1956.
After sharing quarters for many years with the fire department, the police finally moved into their own quarters when a new police station opened on Lake Wire in 1963. The new headquarters provided the department with much needed space and was considered one of the most advanced police facilities in the state at the time.
The department established its award winning K-9 unit in 1980. The first K-9 officer was a German Shepherd named "Sarge" and his handler was Officer Ron Bowling. The K-9 unit has become an integral part of the department and one of its more visible symbols.
The Lakeland Police Department continued to grow with the city and, within twenty years, had outgrown its state of the art facility on Lake Wire. So crowded had the headquarters become, that the Criminal Investigation Division had to move to separate quarters in 1989. Ground was broken for a new police station on Massachusetts Avenue in 1991 and the department moved into its new (and current quarters) in 1993.
The Lakeland Police Department continues to grow and develop with the city. It will welcome Lisa Womack as its new Chief in March 2011. The accompanying photos in this exhibit show that the department's "commitment to excellence" is long term and dates to the city's founding.