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Origins of the Saint Paul Police Historical Society

by Kate Cavett, Oral Historian & Ed Steenberg, SPPD (Ret.)

In 1998, then Senior Commander Don Winger suggested a Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD) oral history project to oral historian, Kate Cavett, of HAND in HAND Productions, a small Saint Paul non-profit. This project was to record the stories—oral histories of those who have made life-long contributions to our unique department. It was decided that consummate storyteller retired Deputy Chief Jim Griffin would be the first person to have his oral history recorded. As you walk through the lobby of today’s police headquarters, stop and listen to excerpts from the Deputy Chief’s oral history at the audio kiosk below the Griffin plaque. Since then, six additional oral histories have been recorded and published with primary financial support coming from a Minnesota Historical Society grant. This oral history project is a collaboration between the SPPD and HAND in HAND Productions, with Cavett having the honor of being the oral historian.

In July of 2006 Cavett, asked a small group of current and retired officers to consult on the ongoing Saint Paul Police Oral History Project. Additional funds were being requested from the Minnesota Historical Society and she was preparing to conduct additional interviews.

At the first meeting in July these volunteers quickly recognized that the oral histories needed a secure place if they were to be preserved for the next generations. They explored ways to use the oral histories as an agency training tool, as well as for public consumption. The ideas began to flow to other needs in preserving the history of the department. One could say that “yesterday actually happened, but it only becomes history when it is documented.” Fortunately, departmental historians Fred Kaphingst (Ret.) and Kevin Reinke (Active) were part of that group. Over the years they have collected many artifacts and documents in an attempt to keep the memories alive.

Photo of Nate BombergThis original group determined that there was work to be done, added civilian and community members, and began meeting monthly. Meetings have been full of wonderful storytelling about characters that made a difference in the department. (Do you know who Nate Bomberg was? Who arrested T. Eugene Thompson? At what rank did Carolen Bailey retire? *) Through the stories, these retired and current employees and citizens embraced their commitment to PRESERVING AND PROMOTING THE HISTORY OF THE SAINT PAUL POLICE DEPARTMENT. The task force is expanding and invites anyone who is interested in departmental history and is willing to work towards that goal to join them in this effort.

Yes, there is a museum on the second floor of the headquarters building. It has some wonderful displays of history. However, it is in desperate need for updated signage, a security system, and manikins to display additional past uniforms. When members of the group met with the chief conservator of the Minnesota Historical Society, he pointed out that we have a lot of “stuff.” Until we have it organized and cataloged so it can be easily retrieved and is archaically preserved we don’t really have a history library.

Quickly this group of committed volunteers became known as the Saint Paul Police Historical Society and began working to enhance the museum and develop a history library. At this point the chief added his support to these important endeavors. Retired Commander Larry McDonald acquired window-film for the museum and front display cases to filter out ultraviolet rays that deteriorate cloth and pictures. Thanks to 3M for the product and installation. Additional funds were obtained from the Minnesota Historical Society for the oral history project. And a written history document was prepared, for use by the Citizens’ Academy and/or other in-house groups.

Our reality is that a storeroom at headquarters is where historian Reinke keeps items of historic significance. We want to turn this room, or some room, into a history library where documents and objects can be safely and archaically stored after being cataloged. At this point, we are a long way from that goal, and a museum of significance.

Thus, there is much work to be done to truly have a police historical association. But as with anything affiliated with the SPPD, we are going to do it right. Our intent is to follow Saint Paul Police tradition and build one of the best police historical societies and museums in the country. To do this we need the help of many more volunteers to catalog (as soon as we obtain a computer and appropriate software), to do tasks like putting shelves up, to acquire items of historic significance, and other opportunities to make a difference. And we need to raise funds to make necessary purchase.

Our dream is a significant museum built connected to headquarters, and a mobile museum to go to community events. Both will PRESERVE AND PROMOTE THE HISTORY OF THE SAINT PAUL POLICE DEPARTMENT.

The aforementioned comments were made ten years ago. Today the Saint Paul Police Historical Society is a free standing 501 (c)(3) non-profit Minnesota corporation.

* In answer to the earlier asked questions:

Saint Paul Police Historical Society:
A ride back into the Future

Photo of some of the founding members

Some of the founding members include:
Front: Ret. Forensic Artist Paul Johnson
Second: Ret. Commander Larry McDonald, Officer Tim Bradley, Oral Historian Kate Cavett
Back: Ret. Captain Will Jyrkas, Ret. Department Historian Fred Kaphingst, Officer Craig Nelson, Department Historian Sgt. Kevin Reinke, Ret. Sgt. Dave Hubenette, Ret. Deputy Chief Ed Steenberg, Ret. Sgt. Paul Paulos