OPD History of Events

Oelwein Police Department


(click here to see history of department's Chief of Police)


1888 The City of Oelwein was incorporated as an official city in the State of Iowa.


1890 On May 8 the first jail was constructed in Oelwein to incarcerate law violators. This jail was located in the southeast 10 block of South Frederick Avenue, in the center of the block on the east side of the roadway. The first jail was called a “Calaboose”.


1894 The City Council of Oelwein hired six (6) special police officers. These men were not full time police officers however, they did have police powers. They were paid $20.00 per month


1901 On October 21st Oelwein adopted a city ordinance directing the Oelwein Marshal and his Assistant Marshal to enforce laws and keep the peace in Oelwein. Oelwein ordinance number 25. The Marshal was not a police department at this point, but merely a keeper of the peace. Read the Original Ordinance.


1903 The Oelwein Police Department was established as a law enforcement agency for the City of Oelwein.


1903 The first police officer, referred to as a ‘Marshal’ was hired full time in Oelwein as well as one Deputy Marshall. The first police officer of Oelwein was Thomas Riley. Mr. Riley served from 1903 to 1907 and was appointed as Chief of Police in 1906.


1906 Thomas Riley became Chief of Police and the department increased to three (3) police officers. There was no official training required to become a Chief of Police at that time, and officers were not required to receive or pass any training to become a law enforcement officers. A blue uniform, badge, and gun (which the officers furnished themselves), was the dress of the new department.


1933 On September 29th Oelwein had its first bank robbery at the First National Bank, located at Frederick Avenue and Charles Street at 2:53 pm, only seven minutes until closing time. One bank employee, Charlie Chambers, was shot in the right shoulder as a shot echoed through the bank. The robbery alarm was sounded as the gang riddled the sides of the buildings on the southwest and southeast sides of Frederick Avenue and Charles Street with automatic machine gun fire as they left the bank. A second person, Ernie Klatt, was shot in the abdomen while he was standing on the sidewalk across from the bank as the robbers left. The gang members rode on the running boards of the get-away car, automatic machine guns in hand, as they left north bound on North Frederick Avenue. There were some injuries in this incident but no one was killed as a result of the automatic machine gun fire. The three bank robbers were identified as Clair Gibson, Ira Gibson and Earl Baker. Earl Baker had been murdered by Clair and Ira before the gang was eventually arrested in Sioux Falls, South Dakota after more than twenty bank robberies had been committed by the thugs.


1934 Oelwein Police officers stopped and arrested some men with a load of liquor in their car and charged them with illegal transportation of liquor and bootlegging. Liquor was illegal due to prohibition at this period of time. The car that was illegally transporting alcohol was seized by the City of Oelwein and was turned into the first Oelwein Police squad car. Police officers used their personal car or walked on foot before squad cars were made available to them by the City. Chief Benjamin Doty was the Chief of Police that acquired the first police car in Oelwein.


1948 In March Oelwein Police Department installed its first police radio broadcast equipment. Before police radio equipment, a red light was installed at various intersections and on top of a centrally located building and when the telephone operator would get a call for help, the red light was turned on. The police officer on patrol would watch for the light and call the telephone office when the light went on and then receive the police call for service. Police response was very poor with the red-light system.


1949 In the spring parking meters were installed in the business district to enforce parking ordinance and to control merchants and shoppers that would park in front of stores. Parking enforcement officers (meter maids) would watch for expired meters and ticket cars.


1968 On May 15th twin F-5 tornados hit Oelwein. City Hall and the Police and Fire Departments were destroyed at 4:58 pm. Public Safety personnel were responsible for keeping the city safe from looters and establish public order. Iowa State Patrol and County Sheriff Officers assisted along with the Iowa National Guard in the protection of Oelwein under the command of the Mayor and the Oelwein Chief of Police. One person was killed in Oelwein and many injured with millions of dollars of property damage.


1969 Oelwein Police Officers take training and become Oelwein's only ambulance service. Ambulances had been operated by funeral homes up to this year. First aid training was all that was required for training.


1975 On March 31st a major arson fire destroyed several downtown businesses in the 10 block of South Frederick. Police investigated the arson crime, evacuated apartments in the area, and maintained order during the incident. Police and Fire department officials, along with the Iowa Fire Marshall, completed its investigation with the arrest of three juvenile boys.


1979 On March 12th convicted murderer, Gary Frazer, was captured in Oelwein during a major man hunt involving forty-five (45) officers from Oelwein and area law enforcement agencies. Frazer had been convicted of the murder of Sheila Foley, age 16, of Hazleton, and escaped from Fort Madison State Penitentiary in a garbage truck. Assistant Chief of Police Duane Brandt captured Frazer at 1st Street and 5th Avenue NE, while Frazer was hiding on the front porch of a house at that location. A high-speed chase in a stolen Lee County pickup truck preceded the capture.


1979 In August eight inches of rain fell in approximately two (2) hours during a major thunderstorm. The viaduct in the 300 block of West Charles was roof high with water. Water lapped on the front steps of the City Hall building and ran through the Fire Department where the trucks park. Cars floated down streets with one sinking in Otter Creek near City Hall and blocked the creek which aided in the flood. Police, Sheriff, and Iowa State Patrol officers maintained order and assisted the evacuation of flood victims with emergency medical and fire rescue activities.


1985 July 1st Oelwein Police purchase moving radar for traffic speed enforcement. Oelwein Police have had traffic radar for several years but with the new equipment, officers may be moving in patrol cars and check the speed of vehicles the officer is meeting. The new equipment was purchased in an attempt to prevent accidents and save lives.


1987 On January 1st Oelwein Police goes online with an in-house computer system. The new computer system will house all calls for service, adult and juvenile criminal history information, offenses and incident name information. All records up to this point have been kept by conventional manual entry methods. With the new system, crime analysis and uniform crime reporting will be made much easier and quicker. The Oelwein Police receive approximately 7,500 calls for police service annually.


1989 On July 1st Oelwein Police purchase new semi-automatic hand guns. Up to this date the department had not owned any hand guns. Officers were required to purchase their own weapons.


1990 On July 25th the Des Moines Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) brought approximately twenty thousand (20,000) visitors to Oelwein. There were twenty temporary police officers hired in addition to the departments present 10 full time and 5 auxiliary officers which totaled thirty-five (35) total officers for the event. There were five personal injury accidents, two arrested for intoxication, one for possession of marijuana, one for drunk driving, and one for assault. There were approximately twenty thefts reported on the date of this event with most of those being bicycles. All but two of the stolen bicycles recovered by police and returned to the owner(s). There were approximately 60 kegs of beer served in a beer garden in the South parking lot with live music at that location as well as in the 10 block of South Frederick. Visitors stayed with Oelwein citizens and camped in City Park, Wings Park, Platt Park, and the Oelwein Community School facility on the east side of Oelwein.


1990 On July 28th Oelwein Police became the 149th Department in the United States to receive an Accredited status. The commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. of Fairfax, VA authorized the department to become accredited at the Pittsburgh, PA meeting of the commission. The Accredited status of the department is one to be very proud of with the department addressing 908 total standards and being in compliance with 516 mandatory standards and 233 other than mandatory standards with a total of 749 standards in compliance. The project was completed with the commission giving approval to the departments policies, rules, and regulations. This project started in 1986 with the department, to date, being the smallest in the United States and the second department in the State of Iowa to become accredited. Accreditation provides a community with a professional police organization with tried and tested rules and regulations, provides the citizens with a better police service and provides a better moral within the department.


1991 In July the Drug Task Force was developed by four law enforcement agencies. Oelwein Police entered into an agreement with Independence Police, Buchanan Co Sheriff and Benton Co Sheriff and started a task force to investigate, locate and arrest drug trafficking offenders in the areas that entered into the agreement. The drug task force was called RAID (Rural Area Interdiction Detail). The primary function of RAID is to seek out drug dealers and present evidence to the court and send drug dealers to prison.


1992 On May 16th Oelwein Police Canine went on duty for the first time on this date. Police dog “Boss” was officially put on the street for police service with the Mayor swearing him in at a City Council meeting and issuing him his badge which will be worn on his duty collar. The canine and handler received training at Drexler Police Dogs at Elkhart, Indiana, which was three weeks in length. The training that the canine received was in the areas of officer protection, building search and tracking, and drug and narcotic detection. The dog was born and raised in West Germany. The department outfitted a police patrol car for canine with a bail out system that automatically opens the back door if the handler needs the dog out of the car. The initial cost of this project was approximately $11,000 that was donated from private citizens. No tax dollars were used in this project. The City Council prepared and passed ordinance preventing the tampering and aggressive abuse of a police canine.


1993 On April 1st Oelwein Police Safety Communications, the dispatch center for police, fire and ambulance, received equipment for enhanced 911 telephone. The telephone number, “911” can be dialed anywhere in Oelwein and on a computer screen at Oelwein Center will advise where the call is being generated from, who owns that number and what the number is where the call is coming from. This equipment installation was in conjunction with all of Fayette County implementing 911 telephone service. This emergency telephone system was paid for by charging each telephone number a monthly $1.00 service charge for 911. 


1993 On November 1st Oelwein Police Safety Communications, the dispatch center for police, fire, and ambulance installed a new, dual chair, communications console. This equipment housed all radio, emergency and routine telephone equipment, and recording equipment. Police radio channels of police operations, backup police operations, Cedar Falls LEA, Gunder LEA, Mutual Aid, Point to Point, Police information are operated from the new console. Fire radio channels of Fayette County / Oelwein Fire and Iowa State Fire channels are operated from this console with the ability to encode individual pagers and group pages. City of Oelwein Public Works channel is also operated from the new console. The console has automatic playback ability for radio and telephone services. The console is operated off of computers that were constructed inside the console. This $95,000 project was paid for GO bonds.


1993 DARE: Oelwein Police presented drug abuse resistance education at Oelwein Middle School and Sacred Heart School. This cooperative effort between the Police Department and the Oelwein Schools and Sacred Heart School is a positive effort to educate the youth of Oelwein and the community to prevent drug abuse and misuse and teach young people ways to deal with and prevent violence. DARE continued to be presented in the schools at least through the end of the century.


1994 Oelwein Police hosted training for law enforcement officers from more than 35 different police agencies around Iowa during 1994. Training was provided to police in narcotics detection and interdiction, crime scene investigation with evidence detection and handling, bomb and explosive criminal investigation, and public safety communications. Officers and communications operators attending seminars in Oelwein received instruction from many highly qualified and experienced instructors.


1995 In January Oelwein Police hosted training for 10 area law enforcement officers where they instructed supervisory staff on Critical Incident Negotiations. These officers would be used before a special weapons team would be deployed to negotiate the release of a hostage or the surrender of a barricaded suspect.


1995 Also in January Oelwein Police have placed roof top emergency lighting on part of the police cars. For approximately six years all Oelwein Police cars were semi-marked with no roof top red lights. The red lights were put back onto the patrol cars so the motoring public could better see an emergency vehicle and to prevent accidents.


1997 Oelwein Police participated in the Iowa strategic traffic enforcement program (STEP) which was sponsored by the Governors Highway Safety Council. Police officers provided enhanced patrol and looked for many traffic violations. Seat belt surveys indicated that seat belt law compliance ranged from 70-80 percent compliance. Oelwein is a safe place to drive with a relatively low rate of accidents. Oelwein police pro-actively look for traffic violations with an emphasis on people that are driving suspended, revoked, or barred and also people driving drunk.


1997 On June 1st Oelwein Police replaced a police canine with a black Labrador dog that was trained in searching for people and locating illegal drugs. The police dog was assigned to and lived with the handler and rode patrol with him at work. The canine was used during many vehicle stops and search warrants to cars and buildings for the detection of controlled substances. The police canine was named “Brady”.


1998 The Oelwein Police Department respond to and investigated approximately 10,000 calls for service and patrol approximately 125,000 miles while protecting and serving the citizens of Oelwein.


1999 On May 16th during the evening hours approximately seven (7) inches of rain fell in Oelwein during 90 minutes. This torrential downpour of rain caused Otter Creek to raise and cause flooding of homes and businesses in the area of the creek. City Hall was again flooded. The large quantity of water seriously injured the dam at City Park, which normally holds water in the lake. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) responded to Oelwein and assisted with information and financially.


1999 On July 1st Oelwein Police photography entered into the computer age with all photographs taken by the police with digital cameras. The photographs are downloaded onto computer and stored on the in-house computer system. The digital photography replaced the 35-millimeter photography that police had used for the past 50 years. Oelwein police scanned all jail mug shot pictures and placed all the digitized photographs on a compact disc and the thousands of photographs were all stored on one CD.


1999 In September Oelwein police department, in coordination with Oelwein Community School District and other public safety agencies, developed a policy to handle ‘catastrophic criminal incidents". The preparation for an incident or incidents where one or more persons use deadly force and violence in a school, business, or public building where multiple injuries and fatalities occur. The policy is one that officials felt needed to be in place and all hope it is never enacted or initiated.


1999 On December 5th two Oelwein police officers were chosen by the Drug Enforcement Administration for specialized training at Quantico, Va. at the FBI academy for ‘clandestine laboratory’ for clandestine drug manufacturing laboratories. The training certified the officers to adequately and effectively collect evidence and decontaminate an area where illegal drugs have been manufactured.


2002 Oelwein Police initiate changes in patrol car colors. In recent history all police cars were white with blue stripes. New police cars are blue with white and yellow stripes.


2003 Recent innovations in police car top lights are LCD lighting. Oelwein Police begin fitting cars with LCD tops lights. Many times brighter than standard top lights, the LCD lights are not as taxing on police car batteries.


2006 The Oelwein Police Department and the Fayette County Sheriff's Department were the first departments in Iowa to equip officers with body-worn cameras.


2011 Oelwein Police start changing the patrol car colors to black and white.


2013 On August 23rd the city breaks ground for a new Oelwein Police Facility.


2014 On Monday, April 14th, the move into the newly constructed Oelwein Police Facility, located at 501 Rock Island Road, began. By the end of the week, everything was moved over and operational.