Thomas Jefferson Chissom
Early law enforcement in Lafayette was mostly non-existent and the city quickly earned the reputation of a rough and tumble river port. Arrests for gambling and fighting were common. In 1853, the town of Lafayette was re-incorporated under the laws of the 2nd Indiana Constitution and an elected position of Town Marshall was created. Thomas Jefferson Chissom was the 1st Town Marshall and served 2 terms in that office prior to being elected as County Sheriff. During Chissom's term as County Sheriff 3 men convicted of murder were hanged on the court- house square following the much publicized trial. Today's Police Department can trace its beginning to a small police force established early in 1854 while Chissom was the City Marshall.
How the Police Department Evolved
Bob Kriebel, local historian, describes early law enforcement in Lafayette as a motley mix of elected law officers, and private merchant police with occasional aid from various local militia groups. Kriebel says, "In 1832 fear about the Black Hawk War on the Illinois frontier caused about 300 men from Lafayette and surrounding area to organize and call themselves the Lafayette Guards. A War of 1812 veteran who still owned a musket drilled them in some primitive way or other. An early volunteer leader of this movement, a genuine civic booster, was the merchant Thomas T. Benbridge. Later Benbridge helped organize a small merchant police team of a few men who patrolled the downtown business district overnight. There followed a little later a more formal City watch, and then a Town Marshall, followed by the paid city police force. The county sheriff and Fairfield township constable were also present as peacekeepers."
Prior to May 1854
Written documents pertaining to law enforcement in Lafayette prior to 1853 are non existent with the exception of sparse information that can be gleaned from local newspapers of the era. From that year forward a reasonable record of information is contained within the minutes of the Lafayette City Council and within the ordinances of the city. No official city records exist prior to 1853. Among the 1st business the City Council conducted in 1854 was the establishment of a paid "City watch" or Police Department. While it is impossible to determine precisely what sort of police protection the city had prior to May 1854, it seems implied within the record that the previous town government did have some sort of police presence. The department was at 1st operated under the direction of the City Marshall and the 1st Police Chief, Alfred Cook, was not appointed until 1867.
In 1893 the Police Department was once again reorganized under a new statute setting up a Metropolitan Board of Police Commissioners to run the department. This removed the administration of the department from the direct control of the Mayor and City Council. A police Superintendent was appointed by the Commissioners and paid $1,000 per year. In addition there were 2 Captains (1 for the day shift and 1 for the night shift), 2 mounted patrolmen and 16 patrolmen (foot patrol). Captains earned $60 per month while the mounted patrolmen earned $70 per month to compensate them for supplying, feeding and housing their own mounts.
Salary & Service Area
The Police Department has seen tremendous changes during the past century. In 1938 the total salary budget for a department of 35 officers and 1 civilian clerk was $65,490. By 2018 the department had grown to 148 officers and 42 civilian positions, the budget for LPD had grown to $11,400,000. During the past 30 years the area served by our department has grown from about 7 square miles to more than 14 square miles.
The Police Department now occupies its 4th home since the 1890's. We began the 20th century in a small office on the ground floor of the county courthouse. During the early 1940's the department moved, along with other city offices, to a building on the southeast corner of 6th and Columbia Street . In 1958 the city abandoned that location and built a new municipal building on the southwest corner of 6th and Columbia in which the Police Department occupied about 1/3 of the space. In 1994 that City Hall building was extensively remodeled and enlarged and the Police Department moved back in to the new facility after several months of operating from various rented spaces downtown. The newly remodeled facility more than doubled the space that had previously been allocated for police use in the building but department growth over the past 10 years has left the department in overcrowded work space again.
To the Future
Since the establishment of the 1st true Police Department in Lafayette about 150 years ago the city and the Police Department have grown together. Today we continue to honor our past as we look forward to our future, working to make Lafayette a safe home for a diversified population that anticipates a promising future for its children and grandchildren.