Red Deer’s Police Department, 1911. (Red Deer Archives P4390)

Red Deer’s Police Department, 1911. (Red Deer Archives P4390)

Michael Dawe: Overseeing unruly constables was a tough job for Red Deer’s police chief

There has been considerable discussion recently whether Red Deer should create a city police department, replacing the long-standing contract with the RCMP to provide municipal policing services.

What is often forgotten is that for many years, Red Deer had its own police department.

Its origins went back to 1901, when Red Deer was incorporated as a town. However, for the first decade, it was a very small operation, with only basic equipment.

The situation changed with the big boom that commenced in 1909. Red Deer’s population more than doubled in less than four years.

With the community growing rapidly, the crime rate rose dramatically.

There were only 35 criminal cases in 1910. That jumped to nearly 250 in 1912.

The most serious incident occurred in June 1911, when a drifter shot and nearly killed the police chief during a botched armed robbery.

The police struggled to keep up with the escalation of crime. Additional constables were hired. However, with the low rate of unemployment in the community, it was a challenge to find good men. Those who were hired often lacked proper training.

Discipline in the police department was an ongoing issue. Town council had planned on coming down severely on the police chief for the difficulties with his constables. However, after he very nearly lost his life in the line of duty, it became impossible for them to rebuke the community’s hero.

Fortunately, the chief recovered from his wounds, but the problems with the constables continued. The department hit a real low point on Feb. 2, 1912, when two constables were fired for pulling their revolvers on each other during an argument in a bar.

Several of the better constables quit their jobs, including Deputy Chief Charles Anderson. The town council held special meetings to discuss the escalating public complaints.

Matters came to a head in early May 1913. There was a late-night brawl in a local restaurant. One man was severely injured during his arrest.

Council decided that enough was enough. The councillors forced the police chief’s resignation. He then moved to B.C., where he got a position with the B.C. Provincial Police.

Anderson returned to Red Deer from Calgary and became the new police chief. He got much better control over the department, in part by letting some of the constables go.

He still faced many severe problems. When the great boom finally broke, council laid off some of the constables for budgetary reasons.

With the outbreak of the First World War, other members of the department quit to enlist. Recruitment of replacements was difficult with so many young men continuing to join the military.

In June 1916, Police Chief Anderson himself joined the 187 Battalion and went overseas. However, council decided to appoint only acting police chiefs from within the department until Anderson returned home.

Meanwhile, the local crime rate plunged, particularly after the imposition of Prohibition against the sale and consumption of alcohol. The Red Deer Police also benefited from the establishment of a local detachment of the Alberta Provincial Police after the creation of the latter force in 1917.

The provincial police handled the more serious criminal cases, as well as most of the breaches of the Prohibition laws.

In January 1918, the annual city police report stated that there had been only two arrests made in the preceding year. One involved an inebriated person who was removed from the CPR train. The other was an assault case.

After the war ended, Anderson returned home and was quickly reappointed police chief. Always a popular person, he was warmly greeted by the community. Unfortunately, his health was poor due to his war service.

He slowly recovered. However, the challenges he faced as chief of police were daunting. The economy was shattered by the war.

The City of Red Deer veered towards bankruptcy. Social problems rose in the community. It was a difficult time to be in charge of a police department.

To be continued next week

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

Just Posted

Red life-ring with splash
Started from the bottom: How a family business started and grew in central Alberta

By Carina Moran We started our business in the basement of our… Continue reading

Shiree Appleman
Innisfail RCMP looking for missing woman

Innisfail RCMP is asking the public to help locate a woman who… Continue reading

Rotary Club of Red Deer logo.
Red Deer Rotary Club hosting tree planting event later this month

The Rotary Club of Red Deer will host a tree-planting event later… Continue reading

New admissions have been suspended for Engineering Technology diplomas (Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical) and the Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Developmentally disabled impacted: Red Deer College suspends program

Transitional Vocational Program comes to an end

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

WAYNE, Alta. — Built during the First World War, it survived the… Continue reading

A letter from a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is shown in an undated handout photo. A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery of whether a letter in a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 was indeed from a young victim of Titanic shipwreck or simply a hoax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, N. Beaudry, UQAR *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

MONTREAL — Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to… Continue reading

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication between the federal Transport Department and the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding passenger refunds throws into question the independence of the CTA, an arm’s-length body. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Emails reveal close communication between government, transport regulator on refunds

OTTAWA — Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication… Continue reading

Pharmacist Barbara Violo shows off a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Toronto on Friday, March 12, 2021. Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions from anyone concerned about second doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca or any other COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Family doctors say they can answer vaccine questions, after Trudeau recommends them

Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions… Continue reading

The Olympic rings float in the water at sunset in the Odaiba section of Tokyo, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. A new Leger poll suggests Canadians are divided over plans to send athletes from Canada to the upcoming Olympic games in Tokyo as Japan grapples with climbing COVID-19 cases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eugene Hoshiko
Canadians divided on sending Team Canada athletes to the Tokyo Olympic Games: poll

OTTAWA — A new poll by Leger and the Association of Canadian… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Insert your name here

Back in the Paleolithic Era when a McDonald’s cheeseburger was 29 cents… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
Job search: Write a request that will get accepted

Last Thursday, when I logged into LinkedIn, I had nine connection requests… Continue reading

T-shirt with vaccine shot. (Contributed photo)
Letter: Hand out T-shirts with vaccine shots

I made myself a graphic T-shirt recently after getting my vaccine shot.… Continue reading

Most Read