Snapshots: Col. Barstow’s Private Police Force, 1910


May 26, 1910– Caption from this Sun-Recorder photo: “Across from the Cathedral of St. Vitus on Lorimar Avenue, Col. Harrison Barstow demonstrates one of the new mechanical call boxes installed for his new police force, to begin operations Monday.”

Colonel Harrison Barstow was a wealthy man who had distinguished himself in the Spanish-American War. Upon returning home, he became very involved in reform efforts, especially disgusted with the amount of graft and corruption in the City’s police department at the time. Unable to enact change- and finding a loophole in the city charter regarding law enforcement officers- he spent almost all of his family’s fortune in building up a separate police force, supposedly incorruptable.

Two years later, the experiment failed, due to widespread charges of graft and corruption, violent fighting between his police force and the City’s ranks of official law enforcement officers and confusion as to the private officers’ exact status, leading to many arrests and convictions being overturned. Many of the call boxes (including the one pictured here) remained in place, inactive, until at least the mid-1950s.

The whole episode led to a tightening of rules at both the civic and state level regarding exactly who was allowed to enforce the City’s laws. To this day, private security firms are subject to much stricter oversight here than in other municipalities.
– RJ White

[Original] CC BY-NC 2.0

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