HISTORY OF PHOENIX POLICE MOTOR’S (Part One)
WHO WAS THE FIRST MOTOR OFFICER?
By Edward Reynolds
I was recently asked to write a story about Phoenix Police Motorcycle Officers. I immediately began to gather background information and stories I have gathered from the ARPO (Association of Retired Phoenix Officers) web site, and even some old internet articles about Indian and Harley Davidson Police motorcycles, when I discovered a mystery that definitely needs solving. Let me explain.
While spending endless hours scanning photos last year at the Phoenix Police Museum I came across several 1973 photo’s of former Chief of Police Larry Wetzel recognizing Harrison M. Williams (as) being the very first Phoenix Police Motorcycle Officer. In 1973 Harrison was 80 years old when he told his story to Arizona Republic reporter Melody Cornett. Harrison told her that he joined the Phoenix Police Department in 1911 when he was only 18 years old. Harrison lied about his age(,) saying he was 21 or at least everyone assumed he was 21, which was the minimum required age for a Police Officer back then. He said that when other
Officer’s were walking, riding bicycles, or horse drawn carriages, Harrison patrolled the streets on his M&M belt driven cycle.
There were no paved streets in Phoenix back then and Harrison had to ride cautiously on the sometimes very muddy streets. Harrison used to tell his grandchildren a somewhat “tall tale” about how one day he was walking down the board covered walkway on a rainy day when he reached down to pick up a man’s Stetson hat. He was surprised to see a man’s head underneath the hat, and below that his body and the (h)orse that was still under him.
Phoenix Police Chief A.J. Moore was running the show back then when he invited Harrison to join the Police department and bring his cycle with him. He was issued a standard .45 caliber Colt revolver(.) and with no training whatsoever(,) he was put to work for one hundred dollars a month, a healthy salary back in those rough days. Harrison described the downtown area back then as having a saloon in every other building. Downtown Phoenix was surrounded by farmland and (d)airies.
Sometime around 1914 or 1915 the new County Sheriff offered Harrison a twenty five dollar a month raise to lateral over, which he quickly (accepted). He was given his choice of a new motorcycle, so he chose an Indian chain driven cycle which he ended up driving all over the State of Arizona in his duties as a Deputy Sheriff.
Like everyone else who read this story, I had no problem accepting the fact that Harrison had to be the first Phoenix Motorcycle Officer. As I continued my research for this article, Kathy Bell at the Police Museum, located an article written by Kenneth Arline for a Phoenix Police Newsletter. This story is titled, “Phoenix First Motorcycle Cop”. Ken Arline identifies Jerry “Missouri” Thompson as the very first Phoenix Motorcycle Officer. According to Arline’s research, “Missouri” Thompson was hired in 1910 to enforce Phoenix(‘s) new Ordinance number 406 which places a speed limit of 10 mph on all downtown city streets, and 12 mph elsewhere. A couple of days before enforcement began Phoenix newspapers began advising residents that enforcement of ordinance 406 would begin soon with an attached warning:
“ The motorcycle cop will follow after automobiles and watch the speedometer (on the cycle). When he finds the indicator creeping up to 15 or 20 mph he will shoot ahead and stop the car, take the names of the occupants and politely ask them to appear at the Police station at the earliest possible time.” Mr. Arline’s research identified the first ticket as being written to Frank Viault and Marcus May for speeding in an automobile and to a young man named Spencer for speeding on a motorcycle. They each paid their fifteen dollar fine.
S.J. Tribolet of Tribolets Cold Storage was the first to fight a speeding ticket in court. Officer Thompson testified before Judge Frank Thomas that he was 10 feet behind Tribolet when he clocked him doing 20 mph on Second Street, from Taylor to Monroe Street in downtown Phoenix. Officer Thompson also testified that when Tribolet slowed down at Monroe Street, he passed a hay wagon and caused a man on his bicycle to jump off the bicycle to avoid being struck by the car. Tribolet denied speeding and accused the Officer of inexperience in his duties of “catchin fellers”. Judge Thomas found Mr. Tribolet guilty and fined him fifteen dollars.
One of the first to beat a speeding ticket was Louis Sands of Glendale. He admitted doing 18 mph on Grand avenue, as he was on his way to an emergency at his farm where an employee had died.
Mr. M.W. King was the first person to go to jail in lieu of paying the fifteen dollar fine for speeding.
Apparently speeding in the downtown area was a big issue back then as the newspaper frequently reported stories about merchants and pedestrians complaining about the 10 mph speed limit, which was constantly being violated by almost every delivery wagon in town.
I have also located newspaper articles written about Officer Nick Papo who is identified by his family as having been the first Phoenix Motor Officer. I am told that he was seen in a 1914 photograph on his Phoenix Police Motorcycle. (I haven’t found that one yet)(,) His Obituary in the newspaper also identified him as being the first. More research needs to be done on Nick. As I continued my research(,) I came upon other old photos of the Phoenix Police Department Officers and Motorcycles Officers.
So the mystery remains, what else might I find? Will the real First Phoenix Police Motor Officer please stand. I’m betting on good ole “Missouri” Thompson, but who knows what else might be out there that I haven’t stumbled upon yet. As I continue to search through the thousands of photos in the Museum files, not a day goes by that something really interesting pops out at me. I will continue this story as I move along through “Motor” history. I just finished scanning all the photos on file for Phoenix “Most Famous Motor”, “Ernie Littlefield”. Or was he the most famous? The Museum has a photo of Ernie standing on his Motorcycle with his arms outstretched. But I remember a story told to me by Glenn Martin, a 1940’s and 50’s Motor(.) who did a handstand on the handlebars of his Motor while driving the city streets. (More on that in future articles)(.) I can’t wait for the Stories that await me. If you have any please email them to me at email@example.com and I will consider them for future chapters on the “History of Phoenix Police Motor’s”.
Ed, I put the changes in Parenthesis. Mike
Information and Photos provided by the Phoenix Police Museum with the cooperation of the Phoenix, AZ Police Department