Always on duty

·7 min read

Jan. 24—Back in the day before patrol cars and police radios, it took some inventiveness to get a cop when you needed one.

In the early 1900s, for example, there were few phones in Albuquerque, but there was one in the White Elephant Saloon, located at what is now the southeast corner of Central and Second.

In those days, if someone, a police department official or a private citizen, needed to contact an officer on night patrol, he'd call the saloon. The bartender would take a meat cleaver, go outside and bang on a metal lamp post, making a jarring noise that would alert an officer to check in at the saloon to find out who needed what, how bad and where.

That's one of the fascinating facts you'll discover while touring the Albuquerque Police Department Museum under the guidance of volunteers such as Robert Teel or APD members such as Lt. Paul J. Haugh.

Teel is quick to point out that APD, which dates back to 1880, moved on as quickly as it could from the raucous meat cleaver/lamp post alarm system. He said that approach was replaced by activating a blinking red light on top of a pole to summon officers. Sort of like Albuquerque's own version of the Bat-Signal.

Two chiefs

The museum is located in a comparatively small space on the back side of the APD building at 400 Roma NW. It was founded in 2008, but is just now reopening after being closed two years due to the coronavirus pandemic. The museum is dedicated to Paul Shaver, APD's longest-serving police chief. Shaver joined APD in the 1930s and was chief from 1948 to 1971. He died in 2005.

Shaver was named APD chief of detectives in 1945 and in 1948, he took an exam for the chief of police job.

"He passed with flying colors," Teel said. "Shaver created (APD's) juvenile division, pawn shop detail, community relations division, records unit, the Police Academy, and he had a pistol range constructed. Rapport between police and the community was improved because of him."

Shaver's dress APD uniform is displayed on a mannequin in the museum. There's also a museum display case containing journals — filled with hand-written notes and newspaper clippings — that Shaver kept during his years as chief. You've got to believe there's some captivating reading there.

Another prominent Albuquerque police chief was Patrick O'Grady, who joined APD in 1908 and served as chief from 1925 to 1945, the year he died. One of the most noticeable exhibits in the museum is a huge reproduction of a black-and-white photo taken of 18 members of APD, circa 1930. Chief O'Grady is in the front row, fourth from left. He would have been about 55 then, and he looks official and capable.

O'Grady was born in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day in 1875, but emigrated to the United States, settling first in Chicago. O'Grady moved to Albuquerque in 1906 and worked as a gateman at a lumber company before joining APD two years later and being assigned to night patrol in Albuquerque's business district. He would have been one of the officers responding to the racket of that meat cleaver/lamp post routine.

In his 2006 book "Albuquerque Remembered," the late Albuquerque newspaperman and history writer Howard Bryan notes that O'Grady was a tough but beloved police officer who knew almost everyone in Albuquerque and always wore a green tie with his uniform on St. Patrick's Day. O'Grady's uniform is sported by one of the museum's mannequins, but it does not have a green tie. Maybe on St. Patrick's Day.

Calling all cars

Another museum photo shows a female Police Academy graduating class in 1966. In the '60s, female police officers wore skirts, and requirements for service as a female officer were that she be between the ages of 21 and 34, at least 5 feet, 3 inches tall and able to take 80 words a minute shorthand and type 40 words a minute.

"They got a badge, a sidearm and were sent off to do clerical work," Teel said. All that changed when women went on patrol duty years later.

Patrol methods have evolved considerably since policemen on foot responded to clanging noises and blinking red lights. One photo, date uncertain, shows a smiling police officer with a two-humped camel.

Teel said that apparently APD attempted at some point to replace mounted horse patrols with mounted camel patrols.

"Camels did not require horseshoes and had more endurance than horses," Teel said. "They could withstand heat better."

For some reason, the camel experiment did not take hold.

Teel said the fastest and easiest way for police to get around is by motorcycle, and there are exhibits in the museum that delve into APD's cycle history, which started in the 1920s when the department got a Harley-Davidson. The museum boasts a three-wheel Harley used for parking-ticket enforcement and accident investigations, as well as a sleek Kawasaki, the make of cycle APD switched to in 1978. Today, the department uses BMW motorcycles.

"BMWs come straight from Germany, fully loaded for police duty," Teel said.

APD added eyes in the sky in 1969 when it acquired a Cessna 172 Skyhawk fixed-wing aircraft. On display in the museum is a searchlight that was fitted to the Skyhawk. The plane had a two-man crew, the pilot and an observer who faced backward and operated the searchlight.

But radio cars are what most people think about when they envision police on patrol. In 1933, APD had two Model A cars equipped with one-way radios. Headquarters could contact officers in the cars, but the patrolmen could not respond by radio.

"Officers had to carry pocketfuls of dimes because they had to check in (by pay phone) every hour," Teel said. "Sometimes they would use phones at businesses or residences."

Two-way radios were installed in APD cars in the 1940s.

Bombs, billy clubs and bullets

APD's bomb squad started with two officers in 1971. Back then, terrorists were not a problem. Haugh said the department's bomb squad was developed to assist people who found aerial bombs while excavating their property, especially on the city's West Side. During the World War II era, military pilots trained by making bombing runs on a range west of Albuquerque.

One of the museum's most intriguing exhibits includes an early bomb-disposal robot that looks like a lawn mower with a bad attitude. The contraption is armed with a shotgun that could be used to detonate suspected bombs when people were out of harm's way.

The museum has several displays of more conventional weapons, including billy clubs, brass knuckles, switchblade knives and homemade hatchets.

And guns, of course, everything from a .455 Webley British Bulldog five-shot revolver to a Glock 17 9mm semi-automatic to a 12 gauge shotgun capable of firing buckshot or bean bags.

In a 1959 photo of a police briefing in the basement of the main police station at that time, you can see that the wall behind the attentive officers is pocked with bullet holes. It turns out that basement room was once used as a firing range.

In memory

One wall in the museum is dedicated to the 15 members of APD who have died in the line of duty between 1886 and 2015. Of those 15, 11 died of gunshot wounds. The first two were Town Marshal Robert "Bob" McGuire and Assistant Marshal E.D. Henry. They died as a result of a Nov. 20, 1886, gunfight with outlaws John "Kid" Johnson and Charlie Ross at a one-room adobe house in Martineztown. Henry was killed during the gunfight and McGuire died of his wounds six days later. According to Don Bullis, Rio Rancho author of books about New Mexico history, the two outlaws, due to escape and other circumstances, were never tried for killing the marshals.

The APD Museum is a tribute to the many ways police work has changed since the late 19th century. But the museum's memorial wall is a reminder that the one constant is the danger faced by the men and women who do the job.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Albuquerque Police Department Museum, a collection of memorabilia and photos dating back to the late 1800s.

WHERE: APD main building, 400 Roma NW.

WHEN: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

ADMISSION: Free.

HOW: To schedule a tour of the museum, contact Stephanie Griego at stgriego@cabq.gov. Tours must be scheduled at least one day in advance.