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Important Dates in Law Enforcement History

Milestones in the History of the Profession

1600s

April 1635

The City of Boston establishes the first system of law enforcement in the 13 colonies. Called the "night watch," officers served part-time, without pay.


1700s

1712

The City of Boston hires the first full-time, paid law enforcement officers in the 13 colonies.

September 24, 1789

The United States Congress creates the first Federal law enforcement officer, the United States Marshal. Thirteen U.S. Marshals were appointed by President George Washington.

October 22, 1791

Sheriff Cornelius Hogeboom of Hudson, New York,  was shot as he attempted to serve a writ of ejectment becoming the first known law enforcement officer to be killed in the line of duty.


1800s

1835

Texas creates what was later to become the Texas Rangers, the oldest statewide law enforcement agency in America.

1858

Police departments in Boston and Chicago issue uniforms to their officers.

1863

The City of Boston becomes the first police department to issue pistols to their officers.

April 14, 1865

On the day he was shot by the assassin John Wilkes Booth, President Abraham Lincoln approves the formation of what is now the United States Secret Service.

April 12, 1870

Jacksonville, Florida, Officer William Johnson becomes the first African American police officer to be killed in the line of duty.

November 2, 1870

Thomas J. Smith, of Abilene, Kansas, becomes the first of more than 585 Police Chiefs to die in the line of duty.

April 1, 1878- April 28, 1881

Notorious outlaw Billy the Kid kills six law enforcement officers in New Mexico: Deputy James W. Bell, Sheriff William Brady, Deputy James Carlysle, Deputy George Hindman, Deputy Marshal Robert Olinger and Deputy Robert Beckwith.

October 26, 1881

Legendary Lawman Wyatt Earp, along with his brothers Virgil and Morgan and John Henry "Doc" Holliday, win the Wild West era's most famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

May 6, 1886

Eight Chicago, Illinois Police Officers were mortally wounded during a labor dispute that became known as the Haymarket Riot.: Mathias Degan, John Barrett, Timothy O'Sullivan, Timothy Flavin, Thomas Redden, Nels Hansen, George Miller, and Michael Sheehan.

December 15, 1890

Six officers with the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs are killed attempting to arrest the Sioux Indian leader, Sitting Bull: Sergeant James Little Eagle, Sergeant Charles Shavehead, Private Paul Akicitah, Officer John Armstrong, Officer David Hawkman and Lieutenant Henry Bullhead.

December 16, 1891

City Health Dept. Inspector Marie Owens is appointed to the Chicago Police Department as a police officer assigned to the Detective Bureau, becoming the nation’s earliest-known female sworn law enforcement officer.

1893

The first national police group is formed, the National Chiefs of Police Union, which would later become the International Association of Chiefs of Police. For the first time, police leaders met regularly to share ideas.

1895

Future President Theodore Roosevelt begins his three-year term of Police Commissioner in New York City.


1900s

1902

Fingerprinting is first used in the United States by law enforcement.

1910

The last year in United States history in which fewer than 100 police officers were killed in the line of duty. Ninety-four officers made the ultimate sacrifice in 1910.

1914

The Berkeley (CA) Police Department becomes the country's first agency to have all patrol officers using automobiles.

1916

Anna Hart, a jail matron for the Hamilton County (OH) Sheriff's Office, becomes the first female law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty.

1929

Federal Agent Eliot Ness begins his legendary law enforcement career and is picked to lead a group of agents nicknamed "The Untouchables" — Marty Lahart, Sam Seager, Barney Cloonan, Lyle Chapman, Tom Friel, Joe Leeson, Paul Robsky, Mike King, Bill Gardner, Al 'Wallpaper' Wolff and two other associates, Frank Basile and Jim Seeley.

October 3, 1929

Eight Correctional Officers are killed at the Colorado State Penitentiary — the most ever to die in one incident at a correctional institution: Raymond Brown, John Eeles, E G Erwin, J W McClelland, C Walter Rinker, Charles Shepherd, Robert Wiggins and Myron Goodwin.

1930

The single deadliest year in law enforcement history, with 297 officers killed.

January 2, 1932

Six lawmen were killed as they attempted to apprehend two suspects wanted in the murder of Greene County Marshal Mark Noe: Greene County Sheriff Marcell Hendrix, Deputy Ollie Crosswhite, Deputy Wiley Mashburn, Springfield Police Chief Detective Tony Oliver, Detective Sidney Meadows and Officer Charley Houser. This incident became known as the Young Brothers Massacre.

1932-1934

John Dillinger and his gang murdered ten law enforcement officers — more than any other outlaw. They were responsible for the deaths of Officer Howard Wagner, Trooper Eugene Teague, Sheriff Jesse Sarber, Sergeant William Shanley, Patrolman William O'Malley, Patrolman Martin O'Brien, Officer Francis Mulvihill, Chief Franklin Culp, Detective Henry Perrow and Undersheriff Charles Cavanagh.

November 22, 1963

Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit is shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald after Oswald assassinates President John F. Kennedy.

September 1968

Betty Blankenship and Elizabeth Robinson of the Indianapolis (IN) Police Department become the first female police officers in the United States to work as patrol officers on the street. The pair are transferred from administrative assignments after meeting with Chief of Police Winston Churchill and asking to be put on street patrols.

April 6, 1970

Four California Highway Patrolmen, James Pence, Roger Gore, Walt Frago and George Alleyn died in a 4 minute gun battle with two heavily-armed suspects. The Newhall Incident, as it became known, reverberated throughout the law enforcement community and led to major reforms in training procedures, firearms use, and arrest techniques.

September 1971

Seven Correctional Officers were killed during the riots at the Attica State Prison in upstate New York: William Quinn, Edward Cunningham, John D'Archangelo Jr, Richard Lewis, Carl Valone, Ronald Werner and Harrison Whalen.

1974

Police start wearing soft body armor to protect themselves against handgun assaults.

September 20, 1974

Officer Gail Cobb of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C., is shot and killed while attempting to apprehend a robbery suspect. Officer Cobb is the first of 55 African-American female officers to be killed in the line of duty.

October 19, 1984

President Ronald Reagan signs Public Law 98-534, authorizing the Law Enforcement Officers Fund to establish a Memorial in Washington, D.C. to honor law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

October 15, 1991

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is dedicated in Washington, D.C.

February 28, 1993

Four Special Agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) were killed attempting to execute a search warrant at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas: Todd McKeehan, Robert J Williams, Conway LeBleu, and Steven Willis.

September 13, 1994

Public Law 103-322 authorizing American Flag to be flown at half-staff on May 15, Peace Officers Memorial Day, was enacted into law.

April 19, 1995

Timothy McVeigh explodes a truck bomb that destroys the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The blast kills 168 people, including eight Federal law enforcement officers: Agents Cynthia Brown, Paul Broxterman, Paul Ice, Donald Leonard, Mickey Maroney, Kenneth McCullough, Claude Medearis and Alan Whicher.


2000s

November 9, 2000

President William Jefferson Clinton signs into law Public Law 106-492, authorizing the NLEOMF to build the National Law Enforcement Museum. The bill was sponsored by U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and U.S. Representative Joel Hefley (R-CO).

September 11, 2001

The deadliest day in law enforcement history occurred when 72 officers were killed while responding to the terrorist attacks on America.

2002

The Department of Homeland Security is formed to lead the unified national effort to secure America.

(Source: National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, Washington, D.C.)

 Updated April 14, 2014