Monday, October 10, 2016

Police Collection

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

This past Wednesday, the Elmira Police Department agreed to loan us their entire history collection for use in our upcoming exhibit Crime and Punishment. Their only stipulation was that we catalog it for them since they weren’t entirely sure what was in it. I haven’t had too much time to really dig in, but so far the collection seems to have a whole lot of photographs of department personnel and offices; five years’ worth of correspondence from the 1940s; various handbooks and training manuals; badges and obsolete equipment; and miscellaneous stuff. 
Here are, in no particular order, five of the coolest things I’ve discovered so far.

Department daybooks, 1890s-1900s

Police daybook, 1898
The books include a daily account of which officers were on duty for each shift and anything of note they encountered during the course of their patrols. Reading through, this includes fires, burglaries, prostitutes, drunks, unlocked doors, stray animals, and a burst water pipe among other things.

Riot gear, ca. 1980s
The gear includes a helmet with face shield and a bullet-proof vest.  The vest worn by one of the SWAT officers during the Jones Court shoot out on January 8, 1984 where Sergeant John Hawley was killed.

SWAT gear

DARE stuff
There’s a box’s worth of material associated with department’s DARE program including photo albums, scrapbooks, press clippings, and informational brochures.  My favorite part though are the literal slide shows still on their slide carousel with the scripts attached. It’s like a flashback to middle school health class.

Evidence from murder cases

I was really surprised to open a box and find photographs of the autopsies of Police Chief John Finnell and Detective Sergeant Charles Gradwell who were both murdered on March 23, 1915 (see "Elmira's Most Wanted" for details).  The pictures are not for the faint of heart, let me tell you. In another box I also found blood samples and bullet fragments from a 1958 murder case. Here’s hoping they don’t need that for a trial any time soon.

I sure hope no one needs this random bag of evidence.  Be glad I didn't post the autopsy photos.  Yeash!

Retired officers’ questionnaires
Last, but certainly not least, is a binder full of questionnaires filled out by retired officers, most of whom served between 1950 and 2005. In it, officers talk about their training and some of their more memorable moments on the job. Some of their stories are hilarious and some are rather harrowing, but all of them are pretty cool.

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