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Mobridge Police Department

History of the Mobridge Police Department... 

Early Law Enforcement

Calls for help usually ring out in any new community. And the response inevitably is organization for protection against the disaster which fire and crime threaten. Sometimes, however, this shaping-up occurs simultaneously with "locking the barn after the horse is stolen."

Mobridge's "horses" were not actually "stolen" before police and fire protection were inaugurated - although, let us say "the joint had been cased" ...with a sizable monthly railroad payroll holding out alluring enticements, and lots of grass and lots of frame building just waiting to be touched off by a spark.

Mobridge was not much different in law enforcement problems from any other frontier settlement when the town sprang up around 1906. And its marshals and constables, who enforced the early-day laws, gradually evolved into today's police force.

Bert Dekker was one of the earliest known peace officers in Mobridge, teamed up with A. E. Flick, who was a justice of the peace. The first person ever arrested in the new town in 1907 was a cowboy who rode his horse into one of the four "blind pigs" (a term used in the early 1900s for a bar or lounge) that were operating in Mobridge before the sale of liquor became legal.

The cowpoke was fined five dollars, with Dekker, the arresting officer, and Flick, the J.P., splitting the fine, as was customary in frontier towns. That partnership between law and order, typified by the justice and the cop, helped maintain decorum in a community which tended toward disregard for the law.

Each blind pig had an orchestra playing every night, including Sundays, while most of them had gambling halls in the rear - with dice, roulette, poker and Black Jack tables. On pay days, the town swarmed with workers out to live it up and those were the only days when the lone policeman would be busy.

"Burglars battered up the door of Comstock's warehouse last evening in an attempt to gain entrance, but failed," reported the Mobridge News on July 29, 1910. "If such things are going to become common, someone will have to begin to agitate things so we will have a night police."

Whether or not this comment served as the impetus, a "night watchman" empowered with police functions thereupon went on duty.

"Revenuers" - Mobridge-style - are these representatives of law and order, around 1917. The kegs seen in the foreground of the picture to the left had been seized as evidence in an illegal liquor trafficking deal, and their contents poured off forthwith. The only upshot of that deed was that the case was thrown out of court for lack of evidence. Seen in the photo, left to right, are Chief of Police Dan House, Captain Guy P. Squires, Chaplin of Camp Pontis (and guiding light behind the establishment of the "Mobridge Purity League"), Judge J. G. Vawter, and Police & Fire Commissioner Orson Clark.

Heads of the Police Department

The first actual Town Marshal was A. W. Rowlee, who served in 1907. Jake Busta succeeded him as the first Chief of Police in 1908, when Mobridge was organized as a town.

Chief Busta dressed in a trim blue uniform to show he held authority in the booming town.

Other men who headed the Mobridge Police Department were John Tracy (1909-1910), E. E. Leech (1911), William O'Connor (1912-1914), L. H. Devine (1915-1916), Dan House (1917), Phil DuFran (?), Al Anderson (?), Frank Cory (?), John Rogers (1929-1930), John Byrne (1931-1932), A. S. Hagen (1933-1934), George Erbe (1935-1937), Harold Johnson (1938), J. L. Caldwell (1939-1944), R. L. Horn (1945), L. A. Barnes (1946), John "Jack" Hand (1947-1959), Ed Herman (1960-1963), Philip Erdahl (1964), Kenneth Hlavinka (1965-1968), James Spiry (1969-1970), Dennis Biegler (1971), Kenneth Hlavinka (1972), James Spiry (1973-1975), Roy Taylor (1976-1977), Tim Kwasnieski (1978), William "Brooks" Johnson (1979-2004), Michael E. Nehls (2004-2012), Justin Jungwirth (2012-Current).

J. H. (Jack) Hand was intimately connected with both the police department and fire department. He served for many years as both the Fire Chief (1919) and the Chief of Police (1947).

Times Change

A May 19, 1911 news item records that the policeman's salary was being raised to $65 a month. Police officers in 1956 were paid $256 a month.

A 1961 community survey reported that the Mobridge Police Department consisted of six full-time police officers. The employees included one chief, one sergeant, four patrolmen and one matron on call. Clean, modern jail facilities were provided with four cells having the capacity of 28 prisoners - 24 men and 4 women.

On May 14, 1967, Mobridge's first Civil Defense Auxiliary Police class graduated in special ceremonies in the City Auditorium. Badges were presented to the officers by Police Chief Paul Hlavinka.





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