PIQUA — Officers of the Piqua Police Department are sporting new badges these days. The badges, acquired through a generous donation from the Miami County Foundation, are worn proudly by officers to commemorate the 150th anniversary of being a formal police department within the city.
Detective Phil Crusey serves as department historian and his research has been a labor of love. Crusey’s quest for historical information was made possible in large part due to help from Sharon Watson of the Piqua Public Library and a former Piqua Police Department employee, and the late Clarence Ford, a retired Piqua police sergeant.
“Without those two, we would not have a comprehensive history as we do now,” said Crusey. “They worked to put together our collection to make it what is is now.”
The roots of law enforcement in Piqua go back to 1835, when Robert Shannon was appointed city marshal. The first regular police force was appointed in May of 1868 after an attempted murder of a local doctor and his wife. The police force, which consisted of six night officers, was supervised by a police board. The city still had a city marshal.
In 1900, the six police officers were also appointed as deputy marshals and they continued to serve as such until 1903 when the state of Ohio enacted a new municipal code that stated that all cities with a population of more that 5,000, must have a police force headed by a chief of police with appointments made by the Civil Service Commission.
The new Piqua Police Department was then born. Its first mode of transportation, a pair of bicycles with “Piqua Police Department” painted on them in gold paint. According to department historical records, both bicycles were stolen and never recovered soon after entering service. The bicycles were replaced with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Overseeing these early years was Chief Frank Gehle. The new chief was reported to be a colorful character who had worked as a circus roustabout and semi-professional wrestler. Gehle also worked as a boxing instructor. One of his students is said to have been future President of the United States Teddy Roosevelt.
It was Gehle who introduced the automobile and motorcycle, then recent inventions, to the Piqua police force. He is also credited with acquiring automatic weapons, a modern jail facility, and a fingerprint identification system to Piqua.
Gehle served as police chief until 1936.
Crusey pointed out that in a well-known photograph of President Roosevelt speaking near the current Fort Piqua Plaza, Chief Gehle can be seen near his old boxing student, keeping vigilant watch over the president of the United States.
(Information for this story was compiled, in part, from “A Brief History of the Piqua Police Department” by Detective Phillip Crusey.)