Pennsylvania’s coal fields, iron mills, and timber forests played a vital role in the Industrial Revolution. Pennsylvania changed in the late 1800s from a largely agricultural State into a complex industrial center.
By 1900, it found itself torn by bitter disputes between managers and the laborers they employed. Violence became common in the new communities that sprang up around the coal fields, iron mills, textile factories, and railroad yards.
By the turn of the century, it was evident that the town constables, sheriffs, and similar local officials, who had been adequate to keep the peace in more stable times, were unable to cope with the new populations and the violent labor troubles of the times.
To provide themselves protection that the Commonwealth did not provide, the coal and steel operators persuaded the State Legislature to authorize the creation of what became the infamous Coal and Iron Police. For one dollar each, the State sold to the mine and steel mill owners, commissions conferring police power upon whomever the owners selected.
Through these commissions, armies of guards were raised, ostensibly to protect private property, but actually used to enforce the wills of the owners. Often common gunmen, hoodlums, and adventurers were hired to fill these commissions and they served their own interests by causing the violence and terror that gave them office.
The turning point came in 1902 with what became known as The Great Anthracite Strike. It began May 15 and lasted until October 23. The violence disrupted the peace of seven counties and caused a nationwide coal shortage, driving up the price of anthracite coal.
The strike did not end until President Theodore Roosevelt intervened. During the strike’s aftermath, it was finally recognized that peace and order should be maintained by regularly appointed and responsible officers employed by the public. This led to the formation of the Pennsylvania State Police.
The Pennsylvania State Police was created as an executive department of State government by legislation, Senate Bill 278, signed into law by Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker on May 2, 1905.
The Department became the first uniformed police organization of its kind in the United States and a model for other state police agencies throughout the nation.
Opposition to the Department’s creation was strong and persistent. Because of the fear, mostly by organized labor that the State Police would be used as a private army, the original complement was limited by law to only 228 men. They were to patrol Pennsylvania’s entire 45,000 square miles.
The force was divided into four Troops:
The State Police soon proved its worth by controlling mob violence, patrolling farm sections, protecting wildlife, and tracking down criminals. From the outset, the Department established a reputation for fairness, thoroughness, and honesty
In 1907, the State Police Superintendent dictated that enlistment was open only to single men–an order that was to remain in effect for 56 years. Also, Troop Commanders were given authorization to establish and close Substations.
In 1911, the Superintendent established two-year enlistment periods. In 1913, the Superintendent established a “Mess Committee” at each Troop and mess facilities were maintained at each Troop Headquarters. By 1919, the demand for additional State Police units brought about the first increase in complement, authorizing a maximum force of 415 men. That same year saw the transfer of State Fire Marshal duties to the State Police.
The State Police was authorized to establish a fifth Troop on July 1, 1919. The Troop was designated Troop E and established in Lancaster. Also in February 1920, a State Police training school was established in Newville, Cumberland County. Also that year, the Superintendent created the Bureau of Criminal Identification and the Bureau of Fire Protection. In April, 70 motorcycles were purchased; 14 were assigned to each of the 5 Troops. Patrol zones were established and owners of telephones along the patrol zones were given steel discs or flags to indicate a telephone message (flag stop). Motorcycle patrols, seeing a flag stop displayed, would interrupt their patrol activity to telephone their Station for assignments. Troop Commanders monthly conferences were established that June.
On August 25, 1922, the Superintendent issued a Special Order bestowing upon the Deputy Superintendent the rank of Major. This was the initial use of that rank in the Department’s history.
The Newville Training School was closed on March 1, 1923. A temporary school was established at the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Reservation at Mt. Gretna near Colebrook, Lebanon County. Accommodations consisted of tents and military field equipment. The temporary school was closed in the summer of 1923.
The State Highway Patrol was created in 1923 within the Department of Highways to enforce the vehicle laws of Pennsylvania’s burgeoning highway system. That same year saw, the State Police install the nation’s first statewide police radio telegraph system. The system remained operational until 1947.
A State Police Training School was established in Hershey, Dauphin County, on Cocoa Avenue, in 1924. That training school would remain at that site until 1960. The State Highway Patrol secured the use of the Hershey Inn in Hershey, to train Highway Patrol recruits..
In 1926, the State Highway Patrol Training School was moved from the Hershey Inn to 19th and Swatara Streets, Harrisburg. The Highway Patrol at that time consisted of 46 Substations.
The State Police, in 1927, issued a regulation that prohibited any member from marrying without the Superintendent’s approval. That same year saw the State Police establish a public radio station in Harrisburg, WBAK. In 1929, the Superintendent issued a General Order requiring all members of the Department to memorize the State Police Call of Honor.
The Highway Patrol merged with the State Police on June 29, 1937. The new Department was called the Pennsylvania Motor Police. In addition, the new Department administrator would be known as the Commissioner. The new Commissioner appointed himself as Colonel and his Deputy Commissioner as a Lieutenant Colonel. This represented the first time these ranks were used.
In February 1938, the Commissioner ordered 267 passenger cars painted white with black hoods and “Pennsylvania Motor Police” lettering on the doors. These cars became known to the public as “ghost cars.”
In June 1939, legislation passed that added to the responsibility of the Pennsylvania Motor Police, the return of escaped convicts and parole violators. Other laws added the responsibility to the Motor Police for annual school bus inspection and inspection station supervision. During that same year, 150 men underwent training at Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation because the Hershey Training School was inadequate for the number of recruits.
The Commissioner created the Executive Service Section on February 5, 1942.
Act 52 of April 28, 1943, changed the name of the organization from the Pennsylvania Motor Police to the Pennsylvania State Police. The Department also became responsible for enforcing the Uniform Firearms Act that year.
In 1947, new laws authorized the State Police to assist the Department of Revenue in collecting the State’s cigarette tax and enforcing the Fuel Use Tax. The Department of Revenue provided the State Police with cruiser type motor launches to patrol the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers and Lake Erie. Four men were assigned to each detail. A 1949 law authorized the State Police to inspect dry cleaning and dying plants.
The State Police dissolved the terms “Private First Class” and “Private Second Class” in favor of “Private” in 1953. That rank continued until 1956 when “Trooper” replaced the term. During the mid 1950s, the Retired State Police Association was formed.
On July 10, 1957, Act 360 provided for a mandatory retirement at 60 years of age, exclusive of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner.
Chrome badges were replaced by gold badges in a leather case in 1959. Washable summer shirts were issued. Straw campaign hats were introduced for summer wear. New officers’ caps with a gold braid and the “scrambled eggs” were issued. New black and gold patches were also issued.
A new State Police Academy in Hershey opened on March 2, 1960. The Academy was officially dedicated on June 13, 1960. The Academy in Hershey is still in operation.
On October 1, 1963, married men were permitted to apply for the State Police. On October 5, 1967, a new law (Act 140) eliminated the two-year enlistment process and provided for one enlistment until discharged or retired. That same year saw the establishment of an 18-month probationary period for Cadets and Troopers.
In October 1, 1971, the first female applicant was accepted as a Cadet in the Pennsylvania State Police. The Academy class containing the first female Troopers graduated on July 7, 1972.
The State Police received responsibility for administering the statewide Uniform Crime Report on July 1, 1973. The following year the State Police received a new radio communications system.
In compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1969, a Consent Decree was entered into by the Department in 1974, with regard to hiring practices and promotional procedures. That same year saw the State Police Rodeo discontinued. The Rodeo had been a public relations aspect of the Department since 1934. In December of 1974, a new statewide radio system was formally dedicated.
A new State Police Department Headquarters building was dedicated on September 12, 1978. Department Headquarters no longer had to share its facilities with other State agencies.
Two UH-1B helicopters (Hueys), acquired through the Federal Military Surplus Property System from the Pennsylvania National Guard, were put into service in March 1979. Based at Harrisburg and Latrobe, the helicopters were to be used for disaster rescues and emergency medical transportation. Impetus for acquisition of the units was provided, in large part, by the loss of life in the 1977 Johnstown Flood.
The Department marked its 75th Anniversary with a memorial, honoring those persons killed in the line of duty, was dedicated at the Academy. The monument was paid for by contributions.
In June 1980, Department members were issued a new side arm, the .357 magnum Ruger, a stainless steel, four-inch barrel revolver. It was the first major change in State Police issued weaponry in its 75-year history.
The Pennsylvania State Police developed “Pennsylvania Crime Watch” in an effort to reduce and solve crime in December 1982. In July 1984, Pennsylvania was recognized by the National Crime Prevention Coalition as having the best State crime prevention program in the nation.
The Bureau of Professional Responsibility was created in 1985 to enforce the high standards of conduct among all State Police officers and employees.
Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers was created in the Bureau of Community Services in 1986. Crime Stoppers utilizes the news media and citizens to locate criminals who are sought by police. Rewards are offered for information that helps police locate the criminals.
Citing the need for the State Police to employ expertly trained officers versed in the most modern concepts available to manage potentially lethal incidents, the State Police announced the formation of a Special Emergency Response Team (S.E.R.T.). The team has members who are trained in tactical and negotiation responses. The first S.E.R.T. Team was organized in Eastern Pennsylvania in December 1986. A second S.E.R.T. Team was organized for Western Pennsylvania in June 1992.
The first group of Peer Contacts, part of the newly formed Member Assistance Program, completed their training in Hershey in September 1986. The training is designed to develop and refine the listening and helping skills of the peer contacts.
A new radio communication system was installed throughout the State replacing the Department’s four-channel mobile radios with a system that has 32 separate channels. For the first time, patrol cars have the ability to communicate with local police jurisdictions as 11 channels were allocated to local and municipal police organizations.
The responsibility for enforcement of Pennsylvania’s liquor laws was transferred to the Pennsylvania State Police in July 1987. A Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement was established as the Department welcomed 144 enforcement officers, 81 clerical personnel, and 2 attorneys who transferred from the Liquor Control Board.
On January 1, 1988, the Department unveiled the new uniform with a new shoulder patch and shirt. The patch, designed by a seven-member uniform committee, incorporates the keystone and the State’s coat of arms encircled by a star burst. The star burst was part of the Department’s first uniform designed by Major John C. Groome.
On January 8, 1988, the first three of fifteen Canine Drug Enforcement Teams completed their initial training period and became operational. The canines and their trainers respond to requests from State and local law enforcement agencies, schools, critical industries, and appropriate public sector agencies.
After a 50-year hiatus, the Department returned to patrolling the State’s highways on motorcycle. Twelve Harley Davidson motorcycles were assigned to Bethlehem, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh to respond to accidents along heavily traveled highways. The program is designed to help restore traffic flow on major, densely traveled highways where conventional vehicles cannot respond quickly. The motorcycles were dedicated in August 1989.
The State Police responded to reports of a major riot at the Camp Hill State Correctional Institution in October 1989. About 800 Troopers were on the scene during the peak of the riots with hundreds more en route to begin shift changes as the riots continued for a three-day period.
The Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) became operational in 1990. The project utilizes computer technology to read, match, compare, and store fingerprint images. Without AFIS, manual search of 1 million fingerprint cards on file would take about 65 years to complete. AFIS can accomplish the same task in about 30 minutes. The system is available to all law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania.
In August 1987, Deputy Commissioner Ronald Sharpe was appointed Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. Colonel Sharpe was the first African-American to be appointed to that position in the history of the Department.
In June 1992, two new Bureaus were created to better meet community needs and law enforcement challenges. The Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement provided a united and coordinated front in enforcing drug laws. The Bureau of Emergency and Special Operations consolidated the functions of the Aviation Division, the Executive Service Section, the Special Emergency Response Team, and the Canine Unit.
The first law enforcement DNA testing laboratory opened in Greensburg on September 22, 1992. DNA analysis can be 100 times more definitive in identifying a subject than traditional tests of blood or body fluids. DNA helps link suspects to crimes and helps exonerate individuals wrongly accused of serious crimes. Another DNA lab in Bethlehem opened in 1998.
The State Police unveiled its airborne thermal imaging system on November 15, 1993. The system bolsters State Police search, surveillance, apprehension, and rescue capabilities. The infrared sensors, which are mounted on the bottom of State Police helicopters, detect heat that is radiated from the outside surface of a person or object.
Officers view the heat-contrasted images on a video monitor in their aircraft. While the devices cannot see into or through structures, they are useful in helping officers spot subjects in all light conditions–especially at night.
In April 1993, Commissioner Glenn A. Walp established 34 full-time Community Services Officers throughout the State. The officers establish a working and open relationship with citizens, the local police, community organizations, municipal leaders and school officials; provide drug education and traffic safety programs for area citizens; assist in the development and maintenance of programs such as Neighborhood Crime Watch, Victim/Witness Assistance, Utility Watch, Hug-A-Bear, Gifts for Kids, Camp Cadet, and Crime Stoppers; act as the Troop public information specialist on major Troop-area State Police activities and emergencies.
By mid-1993, Pennsylvania's ever-expanding "Pike Watch" highway safety program was on the verge of being implemented nationwide by the American Trucking Association. Under the "Pike Watch Program," participating commercial truck drivers notify the nearest State Police patrol or Station on Citizen Band radios when they see incidents such as erratic driving, hit-and-run accidents, emergencies, stranded motorists, or any criminal activity. The drivers identify themselves as "Pike Watch participants" and provide a brief description of the incident and location and the State Police then dispatch the nearest available patrol. Since the program's inception in 1989, "Pike Watch" has evolved from an experimental highway safety program on a small 133-mile section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a statewide effort encompassing the entire length of the Turnpike and major interstates.
On July 31, 1993, the Pennsylvania State Police became the largest accredited police agency in the world. In order to gain accredited status from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, the Department had to comply with 733 professional police standards. The Department was reaccredited on August 1, 1998.
In 1993, the Department purchased 4,500 new semiautomatic weapons. It had been more than a decade since the last purchase of new weapons. The .40 caliber Beretta has more firepower and is expected to improve the safety and effectiveness of State Police officers.
Qualifying with the new Beretta.
In August of 1995, the Department formed a Ceremonial Unit to standardize the response and appearance of members at funerals and parades. The Ceremonial Unit consists of a Color Guard, Casket Team, and a Firing Detail. The Unit provides services at the funeral of a deceased active member or a deceased retired member. In addition, the Color Guard will respond to requests for appearances at parades and ceremonies.
On April 1, 1996, the Department sent 66 marked patrol units with mobile video/audio recording equipment (MVR) to the field.
In October 1997, 15 specially equipped, all-wheel-drive vans were distributed to the Troops. One Forensic Unit van was assigned to each Troop to be utilized by the Identification Unit when responding to crime and accident scenes. Each van is equipped with police lightbars, an elevated platform, roof-mounted spotlights, cell phone, storage compartments, and a folding ladder. The vans carry specialized investigative equipment, including cameras, metal detectors, forensic light sources, electrostatic dust print lifters, fingerprint processing equipment, and evidence vacuums.
On July 1, 1998, the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) was formed under the Bureau of Forensic and Criminal Identification to provide instant checks of criminal history, mental health history, certain juvenile offenses, and protection from abuse files on purchasers of firearms (handguns) and residents who request a license to carry a concealed weapon. PICS is a result of "The Special Session on Crime" and "Act 17 of 1995." On November 30, 1998, PICS was expanded to also include long gun checks (rifles and shotguns).
In 1999 the Headquarters of Troop H was moved from Department Headquarters, where it had been located since 1978, to a separate facility near Hershey. A State Police Citizens' Police Academy Program was implemented at the troop level as a 10-12 week course to educate the public about the activities and responsibilities of State Police.
State Police provided large security task forces for the National Governors' Association's 92nd Annual Business Meeting in State College from July 8-11, 2000, and the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia from July 29-Aug. 4, 2000.
The State Police Incident Information Management System enters the initial design phase in 2000. IIMS was conceived to automate a number of manual processes to make the Department's operations more efficient and provide increased trooper safety. Major components of the plan included the use of computers in patrol cars, consolidating and computerizing dispatching functions from 81 stations to five regional centers, and developing a records and evidence tracking management system.
A State Police task force assisted the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department with security during the Presidential Inauguration ceremonies on Jan. 19-20, 2001.
Act 100 of 2001 increased the State Police enlisted complement by the addition of 370 positions to 4,310, exclusive of the 235 members assigned to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. However, only 100 of the additional 370 authorized positions were funded initially. On March 7, 2001, the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System was activated. The Internet-based program enabled agencies to submit UCR or National Incident-Based Reporting System data on-line or by file upload.
A State Police Clandestine Laboratory Response Team was formed in 2001. The team, consisting of enlisted personnel and forensic scientists, respond to illegal methamphetamine production sites to contain and clean up the hazardous materials used to manufacture the drug.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, two hijacked jetliners hit the World Trade Center in New York and one struck the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C. A fourth hijacked plane (United Flight 93) crashed into a field near Shanksville in Somerset County. A total of 628 State Police members and civilian personnel provided crime scene security, assisted in recovery efforts, mapped the search area, provided aerial photographs and coordinated the efforts of responding agencies at the crash site of United Flight 93 from September 11-30. Immediately following the event, all members were placed on 12-hour shifts and increased statewide patrols were initiated.
As a result of the events of September 11, the Department and the Pennsylvania National Guard were ordered by the Governor to provide security at the commonwealth’s 28 airports and five nuclear power facilities. Security at the airports was provided from September 2001 to May 2002. Security at the nuclear facilities remained in effect for more than a year and a half.
Pennsylvania's Amber Plan, a system that uses emergency alerts by radio and television stations to notify the public about non-family abductions of children, was implemented by the Department in February 2002.
In 2002, the first Operation Nighthawk, a specialized two-day training and enforcement program aimed at reducing drinking and driving, was initiated by the State Police for patrol troopers and local police. It was conducted in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Driving Under the Influence Association.
The Department was accredited by the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission on July 15, 2002, after complying with 108 program standards.
In 2003, Core Purpose and Core Values statements replaced the Department's Vision proclamation originally established in 1991. The mission statement was changed to read: Police Service with Professionalism.
Core Purpose To seek justice, preserve peace, and improve the quality of life for all.
Core Values Honor, Service, Integrity, Respect, Trust, Courage, Duty
In 2003 the Pennsylvania State Police and New Jersey State Police signed an agreement with the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission to jointly patrol the bridges under the authority of the DRJTBC.
The Department's Problem Specific Policing (PSP) initiative was implemented May 1, 2003, as an incident analysis and police management tool. The program relies on collecting incident information to identify areas of need so a plan of action can be developed to concentrate existing resources to effect a positive change in the area targeted. Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs were instituted as a direct result of the PSP initiative, replacing Operations Centipede and Tag-D programs.
On August 27, 2003, the Department announced the creation of the Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center. PaCIC supplies law enforcement agencies with various intelligence needed for tactical and strategic planning in real time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Also in 2003, the State Police, along with 12 other states, join the U.S. Department of Justice MATRIX (Multi-state Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange), a project that allows for the exchange of sensitive criminal activity and terrorism information among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Act 180 of 2004 required each state, county and local law enforcement agency in Pennsylvania to report statistical information as to the number and nature of crimes in their jurisdiction to the State Police for incorporation in the annual Uniform Crime Reporting System. Prior to this, participation in the UCR was voluntary.
Also in 2004, State Police began training troopers for Operation SHIELD, which is designed to help troopers identify and interdict fugitives, weapons, contraband and terrorist movements on state highways.
On Jan. 1, 2005, the motor carrier enforcement activities of PennDOT were consolidated into the State Police. Former civilian PennDOT inspectors were transferred to the Department, along with a few administrative staff, to improve the effectiveness of the operations associated with the program.
A State Police task force assisted the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department with security during the Presidential Inauguration in January 2005.
The Department in 2005 joined the national Drug Evaluation and Classification program to train troopers and municipal police officers to become drug recognition experts, or DREs. The program is under the supervision of Tpr. David Andrascik, who completed the training in 2004. DREs are trained to determine if a driver is under influence of illegal drugs, prescription drugs, other substances, or suffering from a medical condition. The program was developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and approved by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
In January 2005 the Department unveiled its expanded Megan's Law Web site, providing information to the public on all registered sexual offenders in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania State Police marked its 100th Anniversary on May 2, 2005.
A prison escapee and suspect in the killing of a New York State Police trooper on Sept. 8, 2006, surrendered to members of the Pennsylvania State Police Troop E in northern Warren County following an extensive five-month manhunt. Ralph "Bucky" Phillips had been added to the FBI's "10 Most Wanted" list just a day before he was taken into custody. was sentenced to life in prison.
On a day that will be remembered as one of the most tragic in Pennsylvania history, the Pennsylvania State Police gained the respect and admiration of people around the world for their professional and compassionate response to the horrific shooting of 10 girls on Oct. 2, 2006, at an Amish school in Lancaster County. Members forced their way into the school just as Charles C. Roberts IV took his own life. Moments before, Roberts had shot the Amish children at point-blank range.
State Police in June 2007 unveiled a new Web site, www.patrooper.com to provide answers to frequently asked questions about the cadet recruitment process and the various careers available with State Police.
The Department on March 13, 2008, announced the opening of a high-tech firearms training facility on the grounds of the State Police Academy. The facility is to be used to train law enforcement officers to deal with volatile situations requiring the use of firearms.
In July 2008 the Department begins issuing Tasers to its members.
History of the Department since 2008 is a work in progress. Please check back at a later date.