Chronology of the Baltimore Police Department (1845–2007) —by Scott Berzofsky and Ashley Hufnagel

Chronology of the Baltimore Police Department (1845–2007) —by Scott Berzofsky and Ashley Hufnagel

1845 the state legislature founds the current Baltimore Police Department “to provide for a better security for life and property in the City of Baltimore.” Three hundred and fifty patrolmen are distributed among the four police districts. The patrolmen wear uniforms and carried batons.

1861 At the beginning of the US Civil War, the federal government takes over the police department, and the US Army runs it until it until it is turned back over to the legislature in 1862.

1885 A callbox system is established to provide a means of communications between officers on the street and the station house. The first patrol wagon goes into service in this year too.

1896 Introduction of the “Bertillon” system of anthropometry, which uses skull, height, limb length, scar, tattoo, and “personality” data to identify criminals, especially repeat offenders. (It is eventually supplanted by fingerprinting.)

1908 The Traffic Division is established.

1913 The Police Academy opens.

1933 Police radio communications are introduced.

1937 Violet Hill Whyte becomes the BPD’s first African American officer, a policewoman on a “beat.”

1950 The Police Laboratory Division opens.

1956 The deployment of the first “K9” (canine) unit.

1961 The merger of the Park Police with the regular force.

1966 The BPD is integrated. Prior to 1966, African American officers were limited to foot patrols, as they were barred from the use of squad cars and often assigned to undercover positions in predominantly African American police districts.

1970 The formation of the Helicopter Unit, also known as “foxtrot.”

1974 1,300 unionized Baltimore police officers go on a five-day strike along with other public sector workers organized by the Association of Federal, State, Community, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union. This is the first police strike in a major city in the United States since that in Boston strike in 1919. (See “The 1974 sanitation workers’ and police officers’ strike” in this issue.)

1984 Bishop L. Robinson is named as Baltimore’s first African American Police Commissioner.

1985 Computerized booking procedures and 911 emergency systems are introduced.

1996 The first closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras are installed in the downtown business district as well as other high crime neighborhoods.

1999 Mayor Martin O’Malley adopts the “zero tolerance” policing strategy developed by the Giuliani administration in New York. Zero tolerance is based on aggressively enforcing “quality of life” offences such as loitering and public intoxication.

2000 The BPD’s introduces the CitiStat system. CitiStat is based on the CompStat program pioneered by the New York Police Department. It utilizes computer pin mapping and weekly accountability sessions to monitor problems in the city.

2002 Baltimore launches the “BELIEVE” advertising campaign, as part of a series of efforts to reduce drug trafficking in the city.

2004 Police Commissioner Ed Norris pleads guilty to making illegal personal expenditures from the BPD’s supplemental account.

2005 The FBI arrests of officers William A. King and Antonio L. Murray on federal drug conspiracy charges.

Community Safe Zones are implemented in the Western District, a strategy where external traffic in a 10-square-block area is directed away from the neighborhood. Through the use of checkpoints and barricades, individuals without lawful business in the neighborhood are prevented from entering.

The BPD releases a DVD called “Keep Talking” as part of a campaign to counter the infamous “Stop Snitching” DVD, which promoted witness intimidation. (See “Stop snitching” in this issue.)

2006 Suspensions and arrests of Southwestern District flex squad officers for the alleged rape of a 22-year-old woman they had taken into custody for illegal possession of narcotics.

2007 Mayor Sheila Dixon announces her intentions to move away from the zero tolerance policies of the O’Malley administration by implementing a “community policing” approach which would rely more heavily on foot patrols.

The handcuffing and arrest of 7-yr-old Gerard Mungo Jr. for riding a dirt bike on the sidewalk captures national headlines and prompts community outrage. Mayor Sheila Dixon apologizes for the arrest, while police Commissioner Leonard Hamm promises to have an internal investigation.

Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm resigns as his department fights an escalating homicide rate that threatens to top 300 murders for the first time in seven years.


History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1797–1997, Turner Publishing Co, Paducah, KY (1997) (limited edition, available at Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore County library)

Baltimore Police Department (

Wikipedia (

“Baltimore BELIEVE Progress Report: Phase I” (

Recent articles in the Baltimore Sun newspaper.