Police Chief Barry Weber's demeanor was reflective as he discussed how much the Wauwatosa Police Department has changed over the years — even since he was hired as chief more than a quarter-century ago.
Weber, who was hired in 1990, is the longest-running chief the Wauwatosa Police Department has seen since its inception in April 1916. He is the city's seventh police chief, according to the department's historical records.
Of the 92 police officers employed by the department, Weber said he has hired all but one. During his time in law enforcement, the department has seen significant changes; from the advent of technology that allowed patrol officers to file reports using a computer instead of scrawling them by hand to the creation of a 'sensitivity room' where crime victims can speak with police in a safe, private environment.
Next month, the Wauwatosa Police Department will celebrate its 100th anniversary through open houses where past and present employees and the public can learn more about the department and its beginnings.
To commemorate the department's centenarian status, a new patch and badge have been designed for officers to voluntarily purchase and wear on the uniforms or hold onto as keepsakes.
The patch, worn on the left arm, is dark blue with 'centennial anniversary' embroidered along the bottom. The years 1916 and 2016 are stitched on the top. A royal blue triangle, outlined in gold and with a seal in the center sits in the middle of the patch.
The commemorative badge is a hybrid of badges from years past. There's a star in the center and an eagle at the top has a ribbon that reads '100th Anniversary' clutched in its beak. A badge is always worn, pinned to the uniform, over the heart, said Lt. Paul Leist, a leading force in designing the new uniform features.
The badge design was revised about 20 times with the department's vendor before one was chosen, Leist said.
Over the years, the police department has compiled large binders of information that depict historical events or changes — whether big or small.
Sgt. Brad Beckman, who has worked to gather and sort through much of the historical memorabilia, said the old information is a good indicator of what types of crime were prevalent years ago.
Beckman said he came across a news article from decades ago that showed youth had stolen a car, a crime still familiar in Wauwatosa. The sergeant added police proceedings have, of course, changed over the years, too — especially in training. Where years ago, officers were trained on the job, today's new recruits are subjected to 17 weeks in a police academy, a full year of field training and a probationary period.
Officers today are not only equipped with a desire to serve, but often have a bachelor's degree, too. The latter was not always the case when Leist first entered the force, he said.
Reflecting on change
It was study of contrasts when Weber held a piece of paper dating back to April 18, 1916, when the city of Wauwatosa signed into the law the creation of its first police department.
Back then, there were about 4,000 people living in the city, according to police records. The first police chief, George Baltes, and his two officers, Fred Sporleder and Charles Stamm, would give their phone number to residents, who were instructed to call them directly in case of an emergency. The city's first law enforcement personnel often worked upward of 70 hours per week, Leist said.
The city's first police chief was paid $1,020 per year and officers earned around $700, he said.
And Wauwatosa's first police station, said Leist, was located at 1430 Underwood Avenue in the Village of Wauwatosa; the police department was on the second floor and city hall was on the first.
The current police department, located at 1700 N. 116th St., is a testament to the past. Weber walked through the building's 'history hallway' which is coated with relics like newspaper clippings, previous badges and old photographs. Each is displayed in special glass casing that prevents damage from fluorescent lighting, Weber said.
The history gives officers a sense of belonging, said Weber, and it tells are personnel there were people who served the community before them and there will be more who come after them. The organization is formed and bonded by tradition and a strong sense of core values and ethics, he said.
Despite his decades of community service, Weber said he's not ready to pass the torch just yet.
The chief said when he does retire, he plans to leave the department in good standing for whoever is next in line.
'It's a wonderful organization,' he said.
HOW TO HELP
The Wauwatosa Police Department is seeking the public's help in collecting more memorabilia, specifically items from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. If any community member wishes to loan the department a historical item, contact Sgt. Brad Beckman at (414) 471-8430.