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Clearwater Police History

Police Chiefs since 1916
Officers Killed in the Line of Duty

Clearwater began in 1841 with the establishment of a military outpost - Fort Harrison - during the Seminole Indian Wars. After the fighting ended, settlers moved into the area to take advantage of land grants from the federal government, and by 1859 their numbers justified opening a post office. The small farming community, then known as Clear Water Harbor, was incorporated 1891, and in 1912, when Pinellas County was formed out of what was then part of Hillsborough County, Clearwater became the county seat by virtue of building a new courthouse before its larger rival, St. Petersburg.

1940 CPD Officers
CPD Officers and Staff at N. Garden Ave. Headquarters, circa 1940

Chief Joe Russell
Chief Joe Russell
City's First Police Chief

The first record found of the police department was when Joseph L. Russell was appointed Chief of Police on June 12, 1916. At that time the city had about 2,200 residents and only a small handful of police officers. The city continued to grow steadily in the years following World War I and through the boom years of the 1920s, but slowed during the Great Depression of the 1930s. By the end of World War II, the population was 17,000 and the department had 21 officers.

But real growth began in the Post War years, as air conditioning and other amenities, as well as a booming economy made life in Florida more attractive. The Philadelphia Phillies have held their spring training there since 1946, and millions of visitors have flocked to top-rated Gulf beaches. In the following half-century, Clearwater expanded to become a city of more than 100,000 permanent residents, with an additional 30,000 seasonal residents and tourists.

Today the Clearwater Police Department is the third largest law enforcement agency in Pinellas County, with 234 sworn personnel, more than 137 civilian positions, and an annual budget of nearly $37 million. For more than a decade, the department has been a national leader in the implementation of community policing and in the adaptation of computer technology to police work. It has also been in the forefront in addressing social problems such as drunk driving, homelessness, and declining neighborhoods, and it has been named one of the nation's safest cities.

If you have historical information, photos, or items about the Clearwater Police Department, we would like to hear from you. Contact us at police@myclearwater.com.

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Page last updated Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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