Officer Shoots at Domestic Suspect

Almost all veteran officers speak fondly of the good old days when citizens were very supportive and one was less lenient with suspects. There has always been a perception that officers in past years were much more aggressive when dealing with suspects than they are today. Certainly officers could use their firearms with little restrictions, compared to today. This did not mean that command officers were not concerned with citizen complaints, however.

Some complaints were scrutinized more than others as Officer Charles Sharpe found out in the early 1950's.

Officer Sharpe was walking his beat along Main Street when he observed a couple fighting. As he was approaching the couple, they entered their vehicle and drove off. Being new to the force, Officer Sharpe phoned Sgt. Olson to ask him what type of force he could use in situations such as the one that he had just observed. Sgt. Olson told him he could not use any force at all, as the incident was a private family matter.

Unknown to Officer Sharpe, the female had exited the vehicle and walked to the police station, to talk with an officer about the dispute. The husband had driven back to Main Street to look for his wife, when he was spotted by Officer Sharpe. Clearly not remembering his conversation with Sgt. Olson, or deciding that advice was incorrect, Officer Sharpe ordered the driver to stop his vehicle. The driver did not stop and Officer Sharpe then drew his service revolver and fired two shots at the vehicle. One of the shots hit a hubcap and the other went errant. The driver then decided to stop his vehicle and accompanied Officer Sharpe to the police station.

Sharpe reported the incident to Lt. Krasny, who conducted an investigation which was forwarded to Chief Enkemann. Chief Enkemann suspended Officer Sharpe for disobeying his superior officer, as he was told not to make any arrest but had fired two shots at the car.

The newspaper received an anonymous tip about the incident and as today, a reporter would come to the police department and read the days police reports. This particular report did not make its way to the reporters' bin, as was the norm for all of the reports. Editors at the newspaper questioned Chief Enkemann about the incident and he admitted that it had happened. He denied that any effort had been made to “hush up” the incident, but did say the report had not been filed in its usual place.

Needless to say this “misfiling” of the report did not go over too well in the local press. Otis Hardy, the news director of a local radio station and Peter Denzer, also a news director of a radio station, protested to city council about the incident. They stated that the “police department has been exercising censorship adverse to the public interest. It is our contention that the police department's function is to enforce the law-period. It is our function, and not theirs, to decide what is news and what is not.”

They agreed to meet with the police commission to discuss means of improving press relations with the department.

This incident led to a revised training program for recruit officers. This program called for three weeks of classroom training, followed by a week of training at the pistol range. Prior to this, new officers were given two weeks of training before they went on patrol.

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Officers at this time were not required to go to a police academy and depended on their departments for all of their training. From the day a citizen was hired by the department, to the day he was sworn in was less than a month.

Officers still had no problems using their handguns when confronted by nuisance animals however. On April 21, 1954, Lt. Hank Murray was summoned to the Dental School in reference to some pigeons that had entered the building. He quickly shot the offending birds, right in the Dental School, during the early afternoon. Lt. Murray was quite famous for his skills in killing pigeons. He was often called upon to dispatch the birds at the County Courthouse. Once he shot 95 pigeons in one hour. For some reason, I don't feel these actions would be the preferred method for taking care of the problem today!