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Preserving the History of the Grand Rapids Police Department | Community Spirit

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Preserving the History of the Grand Rapids Police Department
Preserving the History of the Grand Rapids Police Department

“The legacy of the police force is important to police officers today.”  That’s what Sgt. Larry Poleski says as he carefully unwraps a leather bound book dating from the 1890s headed for the Grand Rapids Archives.  The book is titled “The Bertillion System of Identification” a form of identifying suspects prior to fingerprinting, which was based on physical measurements.  Little do Grand Rapidians know, but there are over 3,000 pictures being compiled and eventually digitized for posterity in the Grand Rapids Archives, of the old Museum. 

The collection was started over 30 years ago by former captain Robert Rowe.  Poleski has been charged with helping gather and even display some items from the storied history of The Grand Rapids Police Department with the help of city Archivist Bill Cunningham.  “I enjoy doing this, I was a history major” says Poleski.  There aren’t only photos either; items range from badges, radios, billy clubs, saps (leather covered lead sticks), shoulder patches, hand cuffs and photos. . . lots of photos.  “Some of these photos have never been seen” says Cunningham, who is aiming to have the bulk of the archiving and preserving done by the end of summer and available for the public to see at the archives by appointment.  The bulk of the pieces are at the old public museum but the Grand Rapids Police headquarters has a few items on display as well in a case donated by the museum.  What are some things being collected and on display?  A mug shot of John Dillinger’s “machine gunner” John Hamilton, a mug shot book from 1930 which includes all arrests made from 1928-30.  The book weighs 50 pounds.  There are shields from when the GRPD wore “Bobby Hats” dating from 1890, and more.  If you have old pictures of the GRPD you’d like to donate, you can contact Sgt. Larry Poleski, 1 Monroe Center, Grand Rapids Michigan.

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