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Saint Paul Police Oral Histories

Oral Historian Kate Cavett of HAND in HAND Productions began the Saint Paul Police Oral History Project by interviewing retired Deputy Chief James S. Griffin in 1998. He was chosen as the first interview because he was an outstanding storyteller, in addition to being the first Black American to achieve high rank in the department. Because of this project, his voice is preserved in an audio kiosk in the lobby of the new police headquarters named for him.

Since the completion of the Griffin Oral History over forty other oral histories have been completed in either print or audiobook format. The Saint Paul Police Oral history Project was completed in 2016.

Design of the Saint Paul Police Oral History Project

The Saint Paul Police Oral History Project is conducted and produced by Hand in Hand Productions, a Minnesota non-profit corporation.

Kate Cavett acting as project manager and oral historian for this project. Cavett graduated from a 1997 and 2007 SPPD Citizen's Academy. She has completed over a dozen ride-a-longs, and volunteered as a citizen in the police selection committee. She volunteers her time as treasurer the Saint Paul Police Historical Society. Beside the police interviews Cavett has a long strong history of successful producing over 200 oral history projects; including Winning a Minnesota Book Award for the oral history book Voices of Rondo: Oral Histories of Saint Paul's Historic Black Community.

The long term goals of the Saint Paul Police oral history project are to collect at least 53 oral histories that reflect various experiences within the history of policing in Saint Paul. The oral history interviews will draw from the following categories:

  1. History oral histories: The oldest officers available to be interviewed are now in their late 80s, coming into the Bureau of Police after WWII in 1947. We are exploring how returning military men influenced the department after fully coming out of the scandals of the late 1930s with serious corruption from the gangsters influence. A goal is to explore and preserve changes in the department from personal perspectives for the past 60 years.
  2. Chief's oral histories: Since the chiefs' styles make an impression on the force, our goal is to produce oral histories as far back as there are memories. We have oral histories for chiefs from 1955-2010 — our 34th-39th Chiefs. We were able to interview Chief Proetz (1955-1961) just months before he died. Chiefs McAuliffe and Rowan are deceased, but there are officers around with memories of their chiefdoms, so we were able to create reflective oral histories on them. Chief Finney's and Chief Harrington's oral histories are restricted due to their ongoing professional lives.
  3. Female officer's oral histories: The first woman who finished the same academy as male officers was Debbie Montgomery in 1975, retiring in 2004 as a senior commander. We also have an outstanding oral history of our last Police Woman hired in 1961, Carolen Bailey. Women did not begin to be inducted in any number as recruits until 1977. In 2009 SPPD has 107 sworn female officers, 18% of the 595 sworn officers in the department. This is down from 35% female officers in 1996. Our goal is to explore and preserve the joys of being a police officer for females and to understand the dreadful challenges they still face as female officers.
  4. Extraordinary police experiences shared in oral histories: Daily officers have to face the challenge of losing their life, or taking a life. Some do the dangerous work being undercover. Others do the unusual work finding ways to help the victims of crimes. The goal of these oral histories is to explore the emotions one experiences when they take a life, how they deal with the lonely work undercover, where officers find creative ideas, how they recognize the difference and balance their emotions of compassion for victims and the disgust of criminal thinking, and how they balance work and family life.
  5. Memorial oral histories: Saint Paul Police have lost 32 men in the line of duty. Included in that number are Officer James Sackett, who was murdered in 1971, and Sgt. Jerry Vick was murdered in 2005. Reflective oral histories have been created with fellow officers sharing their memories of these officers who made the ultimate sacrifice. This was created oral histories are especially important to the children, wives, parents and families of the fallen officer.

Oral Historian Cavett's definition of Oral History

Oral histories are personal memories shared from the perspective of the narrator. By means of recorded interviews oral history documents collect spoken memories and personal commentaries of historical significance. These interviews are transcribed verbatim and minimally edited for accessibility. Greatest appreciation is gained when one can read an oral history aloud.

Oral histories do not follow the standard language usage of the written word. Transcribed interviews are not edited to meet traditional writing standards; they are edited only for clarity and understanding. The hope of oral history is to capture the flavor of the narrator's speech and convey the narrator's feelings through the tenor and tempo of speech patterns.

An oral history is more than a family tree with names of ancestors and their birth and death dates. Oral history is recorded personal memory, and that is its value. What it offers complements other forms of historical text, and does not always require historical collaboration. Oral history recognizes that memories often become polished as they sift through time, taking on new meanings and potentially reshaping the events they relate.

Memories shared in an oral histories create a picture of the narrator's life — the culture, food, eccentricities, opinions, thoughts, idiosyncrasies, joys, sorrows, passions — the rich substance that gives color and texture to this individual life.

Oral History Books Available Here

The following are a large sample of Saint Paul Police complete oral histories print documents. Some of the oral histories are restricted and not available to the public for a certain number of years or until after the officer's death. We also will not publish on the internet oral histories of officers who are still on active duty.