October 12, 2008 in Features

The first police force

‘Life Behind the Badge’ reveals stories, legends from the founding members of the Spokane Police Department
Staff writer
 
Christopher Anderson photo

Susan S. Walker, secretary/treasurer of the Spokane Law Enforcement Museum, holds a new book detailing the history of the Spokane Police Department. The book, “Life Behind the Badge,” was written by Suzanne and Tony Bamonte, with help from the SPD History Book Committee.
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Spokane Police Officer Alfred Waterbury was just doing his duty.

But that duty, as duty sometimes does, led to his death.

It was on the evening of Oct. 27, 1909, when Officer Waterbury – part of an undercover team investigating a series of robberies – confronted a man near the intersection of Ninth Avenue and Adams Street.

According to police, the man facing Waterbury pulled a gun and fired. A round tore through the officer’s bladder and intestines.

Though he pulled his own .41-caliber Colt revolver and fired back, Waterbury missed. He died of his wounds early the next morning.

No one has ever been convicted of the crime.

Some 90 years later, as Sue Walker tells it, Waterbury’s great-granddaughter, Joy Tuff, was touring the collection of materials that one day will go into the Spokane Law Enforcement Museum, when she encountered her great-grandfather’s name on a monument.

“She came down here and walked the hallways,” said Walker, the museum’s secretary/treasurer, “and I will never forget her touching her great-grandfather’s name – his was one of the first names on that monument – and saying, ‘They have not forgotten.’

“It just really did a number on me,” Walker said.

Walker, the wife of retired SPD officer Bob Walker, told this story while sitting in her smallish office, which is on the ground floor of the Public Safety Building. Sitting nearby were stacks of boxes, each holding copies of the newly published history of the Spokane Police Department, “Life Behind the Badge: The Spokane Police Department’s Founding Years, 1881-1903.”

Tuff had connected with Walker through chance. Interested in discovering more about her great-grandfather’s death, Tuff had called the Spokane Police Department. Tuff’s message was sent to Walker, who knew the facts of the case.

And why was that? Because Walker oversees the 12-person committee that is responsible for doing the legwork that resulted in “Life Behind the Badge.”

“(M)y goal from the very beginning – and I was the chairman – was to create a committee of people who were as dedicated and committed to the type of book I wanted to see done,” Walker said. This involved, she stressed, “doing enough research to correct so many myths that had been written, so many errors that had been written and do a really good job of getting pictures.”

The 162-page book ended up being written by two well-known Spokane publisher/historians, Suzanne and Tony Bamonte, authors of such books as “Spokane’s Legendary Davenport Hotel” and “Manito Park: A Reflection of Spokane’s Past.” But the committee as a whole contributed the stories and photos, scouring original sources at such places as the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane Public Library’s Northwest Room and the Washington State Archives at Eastern Washington University.

Work on the book began in earnest, Walker says, about five years ago. It had started as an attempt to duplicate an in-house “yearbook” that had been printed in 1976.

“But what started out to be a yearbook just turned into something a lot bigger and started a life all its own,” Walker said.

It was committee member Duane Broyles, president of the Fairmount Memorial Association, who proposed that the project be expanded.

“He said, ‘You know what? We ought to do a Time-Life-type series,’ ” Walker said.

The first volume ends in 1903, and other planned volumes may cover up to 20-odd years each.

“Each volume will be about the same size,” Walker said. “And maybe the history or something will lend itself to a theme, like the ‘Founding Years.’ So it may go into four or five volumes.”

One thing Walker stresses is the book’s accuracy.

“We’ve got original documents to back up everything that we’ve written,” she said.

Those documents, Walker says, have cleared up several historical arguments. One involves the actual date of the SPD’s creation, which some sources claim to be 1884.

“We have all agreed that 1881 was the year the police department was founded,” Walker said. “We have done our research enough to prove to the police family that this was really when it was done.”

Another involves claims of former Police Chief Joe Warren that he was the city’s first chief.

“Well, he really wasn’t,” Walker said. “He was a police chief a couple of different times, but … it’s all locked into the history as far as when the city was incorporated.”

The book, too, reveals past situations that seemed to have slipped into the shadows of history.

Ever hear, for example, of “The Police Muddle” of 1895? It was caused when the City Council forced then-Police Chief Peter Mertz out of office. The council then offered the job of acting chief to Capt. James Coverly, which led to problems when Mayor Horatio N. Belt hired Officer William McKernan for the same position.

As the Bamontes wrote in the book, “As a result, there were, simultaneously, two acting chiefs and a force divided between their respective commands. It was a time of great confusion. Worse yet, the effects of overt political agendas undermined the efficiency of Mertz’s well-run department.”

Proceeds from the sale of the book will help sponsor future editions, which Walker hopes to one day sell out of the law enforcement museum, which is set to be in an existing building at 1201 W. First Ave.

Whatever the future of the project, though, Walker thinks the first volume offers something of value both to the police department and to those interested in the facts of Spokane history.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of doing thorough research, and I’m so proud of the committee for doing this,” she said. … It’s a definite team effort.”

She’s seen the benefits first hand through the reactions of Tuff.

“I rode this emotional roller coaster with her that day,” Walker said. “She was so touched. And I thought, ‘How rewarding to be involved in something where you can connect families and you don’t forget these people.’ ”

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