In 1800 law enforcement in Tuscaloosa was handled by Military Rule, with Major Thomas Hunter being the first Army officer responsible for establishing law and order. After the Town of Tuscaloosa was chartered in 1819 the responsibility for law enforcement fell to the County Sheriff John Hodge.
In 1836 the first step toward creating a separate Tuscaloosa Police Department occurred when the position of Town Marshal was created. Originally an elected position it became more of an appointed position over the next several years and was swapped about informally with some years with no Marshal on record, either due to lack of funding or lack of necessity.
In 1838, the Marshal got some assistance through a City Ordinance establishing the Town Patrol. It required all persons living in the City of Tuscaloosa to register with the town Marshal for the purpose of serving on the town patrol. The Mayor would select 6 names from the list to serve each week and the selected citizens would have to patrol for four nights during that week.
The Marshal’s duties were expanded to include street repair and ringing the town bell each night at 9 p.m. The Marshal was paid $430 quarterly for his duties.
1843 City Guards.
Due to the ineffectiveness of the town patrol another city ordinance was passed in 1843 establishing the City Guards, which were two paid patrol officers, earning $15 a month to patrol at night augmenting the town patrol.
The position was paid although still appointed monthly. For paying the mayor $2 you could be excused from serving on the City Guard for a year.
The Tuscaloosa Police Department was established in 1896 when Mayor William Jemison changed Town Marshal, Anthony Gill’s titled to Chief of Police and hired 3 full time officers who were permitted to wear uniforms. Records show that in 1900 the Tuscaloosa Police Department consisted of Chief of Police Anthony Gill, Officers H. F. Burks, J. A. Ryan and A. L. Christian. The town of Tuscaloosa had grown to over 5,000 residents.
With Tuscaloosa growing in size, the newly formed Tuscaloosa Police Department had to grow and change with the needs of this growing city. In 1910, TPD established a mounted patrol. In 1917, a Ford was purchased for TPD for $390.30, becoming our first patrol car. The first motorcycle was added in 1920. TPD officers were being paid $60 per month, and were each given a house phone at the City’s expense. The Chief of Police was paid $75 a month.
Chief H.D. Billingsley
The budget for the department in 1931 was $26,687. Many advancements were made during Chief Billingsley’s tenure. Among the most notable advancements was; That a City jail was built around this time to help house arrestees.
The first TPD Communications Division was established improving how calls were handled.
The first radio system for the department was added in 1934. It would only transmit one way. During this period an officer would have to find a phone and call HQ if an arrest was made. One officer had the habit of handcuffing the prisoner to a telephone pole and calling HQ to tell them where the patrol car could pick the prisoner up at. In 1945 the radio system was upgraded to allow for two-way transmissions.
The first traffic light was installed at 15th Street and Hackberry Lane in 1945. It would be followed with the first parking meter in 1947. A total of 750 meters were installed.
The establishment of a Detective Bureau, that later became the Criminal Investigation Division. Chief Billingsley also took advantage of federal training and networking and sent the Captain of Detectives to the FBI National Academy to train. Since that time numerous command staff members have attended and graduated the FBINA, including Chief Steve Anderson as well as three other current command staff members.
The training of officers at TPD became of utmost importance in the late 50s, and that trend continues today.
Chief W.C. Tompkins
Chief Tompkins stressed public service, starting many traditional courtesy details performed today by TPD, such as funeral escorts and school crossing guards. (TPD discontinued funeral escorts after the accidental death of Officer Trevor Phillips in 2011.)
Chief Tompkins hired TPD’s first female employee, Frances Logan, as traffic clerk. He also hired female school crossing guards and meter maids.
Chief W.M. "Bill" Marable
Chief Marable took over in 1962, when events such as the Vietnam war, Civil Rights efforts, anti-war protests, etc. was making policing in the 60s challenging. Chief Marable helped secure the first polygraph machine for TPD, as well as training a certified operator for it.
Chief Marable also designed the TPD patch that is still worn on the uniform to this day, as well as standardizing the look of patrol cars. He replaced the badges worn with high quality badges and updated the uniforms to a more modern look for the time, complete with air force style hats that are still being issued.
The Air Support to Routine Operations (ASTRO) Division was created in 1971, when TPD was able to purchase a Bell helicopter for air observation. TPD established the Narcotics Division in 1972. It would later evolve into a regional task force and is now known as the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force.
Probably the most significant achievement of Chief Marable’s career was the hiring of the first minority police officers (1965/1966), the first female police officers (1974) as well as the hiring of the first minority female police officers (1976). The first two minority female police officers hired both retired as captains (Charlene Wilkinson and Loretta Lowery).
Chief Winston Morris
An avid flyer, Chief Morris expanded the role, size and responsibility of the Air unit. He also created the Crime Prevention Division, which is still in service today.
Chief Morris also began a police liaison program within local middle and high schools to help curtail juvenile delinquency and to increase the safety on campus of the students and faculty. Today the TPD School Resource Officers (SRO) are a modern version of that program.
Chief Jerry Fuller
Chief Fuller worked to get funding for the new police department, which was completed after his resignation. He is also credited with helping to lay the groundwork to form the Police Athletic League.
Chief Fuller is credited with assigning police officers to local government housing projects as Tuscaloosa’s first Community Service Officers.
Chief Ken Swindle
Chief Swindle was the longest serving police chief at TPD since Chief Billingsley. Chief Swindle gained national attention as an assistant chief with his handling of the hostage crisis at the West End Christian School in 1988. The suspect, James L. Harvey, took captive nearly 60 people, mostly children, inside the West End Christian School. Chief Swindle orchestrated a videotape made by Alabama Governor Guy Hunt in which the Governor said Harvey would be granted a pardon and immunity. However, the promise was considered to have been written under duress, and thus carried no legal weight and was part of a ruse into getting him to surrender. After giving up his weapons, two pistols and a rifle, to authorities and preparing to lead the child hostages outside for what he believed would be a news conference, Harvey was wrestled to the ground by Chief Swindle and arrested.
Under Chief Swindle, the new police headquarters was finished, and a host of programs and innovations were started.
The PAL Program was fully implemented by Chief Swindle and became an important asset in the war against juvenile delinquency. Chief Swindle tackled the issues of gaps in law enforcement technology and pay/benefits for officers and worked with the mayor and council on getting grants and increases in pay for the officers.
Traditional police methods were outdated. Chief Swindle embraced the COPS (Community Oriented Police) principal in re-structuring how TPD proactively engages the community.
Chief Swindle also helped establish the Neighborhood Watch program through TPD, as well as helping create and support Crime Stoppers. Later in Chief Swindle’s career the first Mobile Data Units were purchased and installed in the patrol units. These MDUs allow the officers to see pending calls, search subjects and perform other type of database searches while in the field.
Chief Steven Anderson
Chief Anderson was another first for TPD, as the first minority police chief in our history. Trying to fill the shoes of the long serving and popular Chief Swindle would have been daunting for anyone, but Chief Anderson didn’t waste any time in making his mark in TPD history. Some of his accomplishments to date, among others, include:
- Leading the department during the April 16, 2011 tornado response and recovery
- Establishment of the Juvenile curfew
- Establishment of COMPSTAT (Comparative Statistical Analysis) meetings with all divisions twice a month to study crime and statistical data.
- Establishment and full implementation of the East Precinct, West Precinct and Central/Downtown Precincts
- Implementation of TASERS and Body worn cameras
- Implementation of Patrol Rifle Program
- Expansion of 10-33 program/disaster response capabilities
- Implementation of the Citizens Academy
- From 2009 through 2016 TPD has reduced burglaries in the City by 48%
In keeping with the core values of Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox regarding transparency, Chief Anderson also had the department publish its first Annual Report early in 2017, making is accessible through a variety of venues.
The Annual Report, similar to those published and compiled by other police agencies, is a review of criminal statistics and accomplishments regarding TPD for the most recent year.