Early Days of Railroad Policing to present
Maryland and South Carolina were the first states to build railroads in the early 1830’s. By 1835, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois were part of the 11 states with over 200 railroads and approximately 1000 miles of main line track. The railroads had over 9000 miles of main line by 1850, all in the eastern states. In 1851 the railroads crossed the Mississippi and began their expansion westward. By 1860 there were over 30,000 miles of railroad establishing boomtowns, settlers, and adventure seekers in their path.
With the creation of these railroad towns, crime tended to follow. There were no railroad police at that time, and usually no other forms of law enforcement. Vigilante groups were usually organized haphazardly to maintain law and order. These groups were not very productive causing the railroads to fall prey to criminals looking to steal luggage, freight, and livestock from the trains.
Chief Engineer Benjamin Latrobe of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad established one of the earliest known railroad police forces in 1849. With the assistance of Sheriff J. F. Martin of Acting Preston County (now West Virginia), they arrested the leaders of strikers who were assaulting other workers. This gave Latrobe the idea of creating his own railroad police force, one hired and paid entirely by the railroad. It was decided that these men would be deputized by Preston County so that all of their official acts would be covered under the shield of law.
Latrobe’s force would be made up of twelve men responsible for keeping workers in line while the railroads continued their expansion. Each man would be paid $1.25 a day with the instructions to “arrest persons engaged in riotous acts, dead or alive.”
Later that year, Latrobe’s police force led by John Watson saw their first real action at the Kingwood Tunnel construction site. They met over 200 rioting strikers who had shot at workers in the twin coal mine shafts. Watson and his men opened fire and charged the strikers, driving them away. Other teams of Watson’s men saw action against violent strikers in Cumberland, Maryland and Wheeling, West Virginia.
By 1853 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had a police force that numbered around 60 strong. Many of these men moved to western railroads as their jobs ended with the completion of construction of the railroad in this area. Some traveled to western states where their services were needed.
Most railroads prior to the Civil War still did not have their own police force or one experienced with undercover work and investigations. As losses mounted, railroads had a need to protect themselves against well-organized criminals. Contractors were hired to investigate the losses to freight and luggage that were mounting into the millions of dollars. One of these contractors and probably the most famous one was Allen Pinkerton. He used his men and women in many ways to solve thefts from the railroads. He placed them in undercover capacity as passengers watching for employees who were stealing and as conductors and other employees watching for those stealing from passengers or tramps. One such undercover agent used by Pinkerton was James McParland who worked as a conductor watching for pickpockets and thieves. He was later successfully used against the “Molly Maguires” who were burning bridges, destroying rail cars, and committing other railroad related crimes.
Allan Pinkerton was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of a police officer. He migrated to the United States in 1842 after working as a barrel maker for some years. While working in Illinois as a woodchopper, he assisted the local police department with apprehending a gang of counterfeiters. His thirst for law enforcement had begun and soon after was employed by the Kane County, Illinois Sheriff’s Office. Pinkerton later went to work for the Chicago Police Department becoming their very first Detective.
Only two years after making Detective, he quit the Chicago Police Department to sign a contract with the Rock Island, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroads (the latter to be incorporated into the Chicago & North Western Railroad), and the Illinois Central Railroads. This contract called for his company to exclusively work on railroad related crimes. He established his railroad investigative business under the name of the North Western Police Detective Agency later renamed Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency. This agency was the first of its kind with their agents having the power to arrest criminals anywhere in the country.
Pinkerton knew what type of people it took to be successful as an investigator and undercover agent. He hired former police officers and trained them in the art of detection. His agency specialized in protecting shipments of gold, tobacco, silk, and passengers. One of his first important investigations occurred in 1854 on a theft from a train between Montgomery, Alabama and Augusta, Georgia. Pinkerton received a letter from Edward S. Sanford, the vice president of Adams Express Company, relative to the loss of $10,000 from a locked money pouch. Based on the information that Pinkerton had received in this letter, he believed that the thief was Nathan Maroney, the manager of the company’s office in Montgomery, Alabama. Pinkerton advised Sanford to keep Maroney under surveillance before he struck again.
Sanford did not reply and did not heed Pinkerton’s warning. This led to Maroney again stealing money from the Adams Express Company before Pinkerton was hired to solve the case. The successful conclusion of this case was the turning point for Pinkerton’s career. It led to work in different areas and allowed him to use newly developed investigative techniques to solve many other large crimes.
As the Civil War came to an end, the railroads were used to lead the fast-paced economic growth throughout the country. They turned small towns into business hubs, some workers into wealthy entrepreneurs, and others into bandits. As the railroads continued to grow westward the American Outlaw began to rob and steal from passengers, freight cars, and express cars. In their daring robberies, these American Outlaws were well manned and well armed. They overpowered crews, dynamited bridges, tunnels, stations, tracks, and rail cars making away with thousands of dollars, jewelry and other freight. One of the most successful and easiest ways to stop a train, however, was simply to wave a red lantern in front of the train flagging it to a stop. During many of these robberies, there were shootouts where passengers and employees of the railroads were killed. This began the era of the outlaw, Jesse and Frank James, the Youngers, Reno and Dalton Brothers, Sam Bass, Belle Star, and others.
On October 6, 1866, the first known train robbery took place. Three masked bandits boarded an Ohio & Mississippi train after it departed Seymour, Indiana. John and Simeon Reno and Franklin Sparks knocked the guard unconscious before pushing two safes containing a total $45,000 out of the moving train and making their escape.
Allan Pinkerton was immediately called to investigate this robbery. His knowledge of the territory was instrumental in solving this case. He knew that nothing happened around Seymour without the knowledge or approval of the Reno Brothers. Pinkerton immediately used undercover agents on this case. Dick Winscott, one of Pinkerton’s best agents, was working as a bartender where the Reno brothers did their drinking and gambling. One evening when John Reno and Sparks were drinking, Winscott talked them into getting their picture taken by a photographer who had just happened to walk into the bar. They agreed to this by having the photographer, one of Pinkerton’s other agents, take their picture. This picture was then sent immediately to Pinkerton’s office and was used to successfully identify them as the robbers of the train.
Other bandits began to imitate this crime but this would be the last time that Allan Pinkerton would ride after outlaws. His two sons, William and Robert, would take his place and would be ones to chase the James-Younger gangs, the most famous outlaws in the nineteenth century in America.
During outlaw era of the 1860’s, the railroads realized the need for their own police departments. It was usually the division superintendents or the operating managers who did the hiring and firing of the police department. These were not the times for timid men; railroad police were big, strong and aggressive men who could defend themselves. Many railroad agents would engage in gun battles with the outlaws with some losing their life trying to protect railroad employees, passengers and goods.
The railroads also realized that they needed to protect the employees and freight in the rail yards from the less sophisticated thief. To combat this problem, they began to hire the watchman; these were at times employees from other crafts who were unsuitable for the jobs that they held. There was no training for these men. They were handed a gun, badge and a club and told to go out and protect the railroad property and employees. The railroad watchman was not of the quality of men and women that Allan Pinkerton hired for railroad investigation. As railroads police agencies were in their infant stages, they still called on Allan Pinkerton and his sons to handle many of their investigations. Two of Pinkerton’s undercover agents used to chase members of the James Gang, the Younger Brothers, and the Wild Bunch, were Charles Siringo and James McParland. The Pinkerton’s and other railroad police were somewhat successful in catching many of the gang members and chasing others out of the country. However, Pinkerton agents John Whicher, Louis Lull, and John Boyle, would die in shoot-outs with these groups
The James-Younger gang is credited with committing seven train robberies in their time. The gang usually averaged about 12 men with Frank James, Jesse James, and Cole Younger being their leaders. History has it that at least 41 men rode with the gang during their notorious days. They are credited with the following train robberies:
-July 21, 1873, Adair, Iowa, Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, $6000
-January 31, 1874, Gad’s Hill, Mo., Iron Mountain Railroad, $12,000
-December 8, 1874, Muncie, Ks., Kansas Pacific Railroad, $55,000
-July 7, 1876, Rockey Cut, Mo, Missouri Pacific Railroad, $15,000
-October 8, 1879, Glendale, Mo., Chicago and Alton Railroad, $40,000
-July 15, 1881, Winston, Mo., Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad, $2,000
-September 7, 1881, Glendale, Mo., Chicago and Alton Railroad, $15,000
The James-Younger Gang is credited with killing the following Pinkerton men and railroad trainmen:
-Edwin/Edward Daniels, a Pinkerton Agent, who was shot and killed trying to apprehend the Youngers.
-Captain Louis J. Lull, A Pinkerton Agent from Chicago, who was shot and killed trying to apprehend the Youngers.
-Jack Ladd, believed to be a Pinkerton Spy, commonly believed to be a revenge killing for the January Pinkerton bombing on the James farm.
-John Rafferty, an engineer at the Adair robbery, who was crushed as the engine overturned.
-William Westfall, conductor on a train at Winston, Mo., reportedly the conductor who brought the Pinkertons to the James farm on January 25, 2875.
-John W. Whicher, a Pinkerton Detective killed in 1874.
As the railroads continued their westward movement, they preceded many territories decades before they became states. They entered no ones law enforcement jurisdictional responsibility. Often the railroad secret services (railroad police) were the only law enforcement in the region to defend the railroads against outlaws, Indians, and other criminal element that preyed on the railroads. The Union Pacific, Denver and Rio Grande, Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, and the St. Louis and San Francisco railroads all had railroad special agents working in the plains territories and far west by the 1870’s.
It is during this period that two titles for the railroad police were established. The title, “Detective” was commonly used for railroad police in the east and the title “Special Agent” was used for railroad police in the west. These terms are still used today in modern railroad policing. Eastern railroads used mostly uniformed officers to prevent crime and disorder. Their rank structure was similar to that of municipal police departments. Western railroads were more likely to work with Sheriff’s and U.S. Marshall’s, so they developed organizations that rarely relied on uniform patrol. Their work was more likely to be investigative type of work and primarily used plainclothes police.
This period brought about two well-known railroad policeman, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. Masterson was the Sheriff of Dodge City in 1878 when a feud between the Denver Rio Grande Railroad and the Santa Fe Railroad ensued. William Barstow Strong, who was the Vice President and General Manager of the Santa Fe Railroad hired 100 well armed men to protect his railroad; however, needed a leader for this group. He hired Bat Masterson for this duty. Masterson stayed on until the conflict was settled in court and is considered the first Chief of Police for the Santa Fe Railroad.
Masterson and Earp along with others were hired for special assignments much like local police officers are hired today for special events.
Between 1896 and 1901, the Wild Bunch is credited with robbing four trains, one being known as the “Great Train Robbery”. On June 2, 1899, the Wild Bunch flagged down a Union Pacific Limited train near Wilcox, Wyoming and used dynamite to blast the doors open to the express car. They made off with $30,000; however, most of the money was also blasted by the dynamite and were floating in the wind. Their next robbery, in Tipton, Wyoming, was also a Union Pacific train. Their last was in Malta Montana where they robbed a Great Northern train escaping with $45,000.
These were not the only gangs to rob from the trains. The Union Pacific encountered such bandits as “Gentlemen” Bill Carlisle, the Jones Brothers, Charlie Manning, and George “Big Nose” Parrott. The Missouri Pacific fell prey to such treacherous villains as Sam Bass, Bill Doolin, and Rube Burrow.
Further south, the Missouri Kansas and Texas (KATY) line was robbed by the likes of Nathaniel “Texas Jack” Reed, Al Spencer, Thomas Turlington, and the Starr Gang. The Dalton Gang, however, proved to be the most troublesome for KATY Superintendent J.J. Frey.
After hearing that the Dalton Gang planned to rob a KATY train on July 14, 1892 at Pryor, Oklahoma, Captain Jack Kinney, Chief of Detectives for the KATY Railroad, Charles La Flore, Chief of the Indian Police, along with other heavily armed guards were placed on the train at Muskogee, OK. The Katy Flyer arrived in Pryor but no Daltons showed up. The train continued to Adair with the law enforcement officers laughing and joking about what would have happed in Pryor if the Dalton’s had come. Shortly after arriving in Adair, gunfire erupted wounding Captain Jack and Chief LaFlore along with several others. The Dalton gang made a clean getaway with $27,000 from the express car.
Captain Jack later became Chief of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (KATY) Railroad and the first President of the International Chief’s of Police in 1896.
Another Railroad Special Agent to chase the outlaws was Union Pacific Chief Special Agent Bill Canada. He was appointed Chief of the Secret Services on June 1, 1891 by Union Pacific President E.H. Harriman and responsible for overseeing the police operations for all roads composing the Union Pacific. Canada under the direction of General Manager E. Dickinson organized the Union Pacific Bandit Hunters to stop the holdups of the trains that included murders of employees, passengers, and law enforcement officers.
Chief Canada recruited only the best horsemen and shooters. They were armed with the newest weapons and fastest horses. The Bandit Hunters were stationed out of the Cheyenne Headquarters but were usually found on a train that consisted of a sleeping car, a dining car, and a specially constructed baggage car to house their horses. This team had a telegrapher assigned to them and an engine ready to take them at top speed to the site of any train robbery. Canada’s team would track the bandits sometimes over hundreds of miles. His team was very successful and Canada was on the scene of many of these arrests with some ending in shootouts. When Canada retired in 1914, only two of the outlaws were still alive. One of them, Ben Kilpatrick, spent 10 years in Leavenworth penitentiary after recovering from a dozen bullet wounds received during a shootout with the Bandit Hunters.
Kilpatrick joined Harvey Logan (alias Kid Curry) in South America after his release from jail. Curry was wanted for robbing a Union Pacific train and killing two deputies. These men were heard to say that when Bill Canada retired, they would come home.
The Missouri Pacific Railroad used Furlong’s Secret Police to develop operatives similar to those of Allan Pinkerton. Chief Special Agent Thomas Furlong oversaw these men. The efforts of Furlong’s Secret Police, Canada’s Bandit Hunters and Pinkerton National Detective Agency ended the era of the train robbers; the outlaws were killed, in jail, or retired from their criminal careers.
For example, Butch and Sundance were tired of being chased by the Bandit Hunters so they robbed a Great Northern train for travel money and high-tailed it to South America.
The James-Younger and Dalton Gangs were not so fortunate. The three Younger brothers spent time in the Minnesota State Penitentiary following their historic attempted robbery of the Northfield Bank. Jesse James was assassinated and Frank James surrendered to Governor Crittenden, was later tried and acquitted of all charges.
On the way home from the Adair robbery, the Daltons stopped in Coffeyville for a little extra money. They robbed the Coffeyville Bank, however, died in a hail of gunfire as they tried to make their escape.
During the period of the outlaw, many lives were lost between the outlaws, railroads, and passengers. Community people respected some of these men and others were looked down upon as cold-blooded murders. But when each of them died, their legends lived on.
Pinkerton and his operatives were responsible for catching or killing many of these outlaws. By the time that he died in 1884, he had established the finest Detective Agency in the world. J. Edgar Hoover thought so much of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency that he emulated it and started the FBI. Some of Pinkerton’s ideas used by Hoover were: Centralized Criminal Records and his collection of criminal photographs later known as mug shots.
The railroads learned much from Pinkerton. Investigative techniques and undercover operatives being two of the most widely used to apprehend criminals and solve cases. Even in these early days of railroad policing, men were able to make careers for themselves and their families. They had to overcome many obstacles; no training, no authority off of railroad property unless appointed deputy sheriff, and their salaries were very low.
These men were able to overcome these obstacles and became the pioneers of our profession. They worked long hours without much backup during some rough times in our history. They protected the railroads, employees, and passengers by investigating crimes and handling bad situations alone. These men became the beginning of our history as railroad police officers.
Several railroad special agents who add to the history of the railroad police are A&P Railroad Deputies Carl Holton and Fred Fernofff and Northern Pacific Railroad Deputy TM Brown.
In March of 1889, outlaws in the Diablo Canyon, Arizona robbed the Atlantic and Pacific #2 train. Railroad Deputies Carl Holton and Fred Fernoff joined the Sheriff O’Neils posse that later engaged the outlaws in a gunfight at Wah Weep Canyon in Utah. During this battle, the Sheriff became pinned under his horse making him an easy target for the outlaws. Railroad Deputy Holton risked his own life to run to O’Neil and pull him to safety.
In October 1902, Under Sheriff R.J. Dee along with Northern Pacific Railroad Deputy T.M. Brown joined forces to search for robbers who held up a North Coast Limited train and killed the engineer. Deputies from Granite County, Montana and investigator Joel S. Hindman with Northern Pacific Railroad joined the posse. The outlaws were not found and the case remained unsolved.
Railroad Investigator Hindman was not one to let a case like this go unresolved. He worked hard as an investigator and worked even harder at developing his relationships with other law enforcement agencies. In June of this same year, this work paid off. Hindmann, Spokane County Sheriff William Doust and two Spokane County Detectives raided a hotel room and made the arrest on the outlaws who had robbed the North Coast Limited train. This arrest led to the conviction of the outlaws and established Hindman’s reputation as a professional Railroad Police investigator.
In 1861, the State of Nevada enacted legislation recognizing Railroad Police, however, that credit is usually given to the state of Pennsylvania that enacted the Railroad Police Act of 1865. This Act recognized the railroad police and authorized the Governor of the State to grant police power to any individual for whom the employing railroad petitioned. Because of the uniqueness and importance as apparently the first provision of this particular nature, the Act is quoted in full:
Appointment of railroad police- Any corporation owning, or using a railroad, in this state, may apply to the governor to commission such persons as the said corporation may designate, to act as policemen for said corporation.
Commission to be issued by the governor- the governor, upon such application, may appoint such persons, or so many of them as he may deem proper, to be such policemen, and shall issue to such person or persons, so appointed, a commission to act as such policemen.
Powers of police- Every policeman so appointed, shall, before entering upon the duties of his office, take and subscribe the oath required by the seventh article of the constitution, before the recorder of any county through which the railroad, for which such policeman is appointed, shall be located; which oath, after being duly recorded by such recorder, shall be filed in the office of the secretary of state, and a certified copy of such oath, made by the recorder of the proper county, shall be recorded, with the commission, in every county through or into which the railroad for which such policeman is appointed may run, and in which it is intended the said policeman shall act; and such policem[e]n, so appointed, shall severely possess and exercise all the powers of policem[e]n of the city of Philadelphia, in the several counties in which they shall be so authorized to act as aforesaid; and the keepers of jails, or lockups, or station houses, in any of said counties are required to receive all person arrested by such policemen, for the commission of any offense against the laws of this commonwealth, upon or along said railroads, or the premises of any such corporation, to be dealt with according to law.
Shield to be worn- Such railroad police shall, when on duty, severally wear a metallic shield, with the words, “railway police,” and the name of the corporation for which appointed, inscribed thereon, and said shield shall always be worn in plain view, except when employed as detectives.
Compensation- The compensation of such police shall be paid by the companies, for which the policemen are respectively appointed, as may be agreed upon between them.
Modes of dispensing with services of police-Whenever any corporation shall no longer require the services of any policeman, so appointed, as aforesaid, they may file a notice to that effect, under their corporate seal, attested by their secretary, in the several offices where the commission of such policeman has been recorded, which shall be noted by the several recorders upon the margin of the record, where such commission is recorded, and thereupon, the power of such policeman shall cease and be determined.
This was the first such step at officially recognizing the railroad police as a police organization and one that needs the powers of arrest to protect the railroads against criminals. During the many years that followed this document was used as an example for many states, counties and municipalities to empower its’ railroad police.
As many railroads had their own railroad police agencies, many still had none. In some instances, railroad trainmen were called upon to protect their own trains. These trainmen, who usually had no authority, fought tramps and vagrants who rode their trains, stole from the freight cars, and from passengers. Some trainmen occasionally conducted their own investigations and some used surveillance to detect the criminal.
In 1875, hogs were being stolen from the Chicago and North Western Railroad as they were being shipped to stockyards in Chicago from Clinton, Iowa. A conscientious brakeman on the Galena Division decided that he needed to do something to stop the thefts. He met with his General Manager and asked for the authority to try to catch the hog thieves. The GM told the brakeman that he was now a “Policeman” and had his permission to try to solve this crime. The brakeman built a small cage inside of one of the hog cars and hid himself in the cage and among the hogs. He stayed in this car while the train stopped for water and coal outside of Sterling, Illinois. During this stop the doors to the hog car opened and the thieves began to drive the hogs out. The brakeman jumped from the cage, surprising and capturing those responsible for the thefts.
On May 19, 1913, a newer version of the Pennsylvania statute was passed; it read, “It shall be the duty of any conductor, in charge of any passenger train on a steam service railroad, to arrest on view any person so conducting himself in a disorderly manner in such train, and to deliver such person into the custody of any constable or any police officer in the county, who shall forthwith deliver such person to the keeper of the proper jail or prison or lockup to await a hearing, as aforesaid.”
Because there was still few railroad police and many of the routes that the railroads transverse had no law enforcement, this act gave the conductor of the trains temporary police powers to protect passengers, employees, and railroad freight
The Mid Twentieth Century
In the early and mid 1940’s, during and immediately following World War II – the hey day of railroading in North America, there were approximately 9,000 railroad police officers in the U.S. and Canada. These agents represented as many as 400 individual railroads with about 225,000 miles of mainline track. Property protection had always been a focus of railroad police, and during the war, these agencies helped protect government shipments that were headed overseas.
By the mid-1940’s passenger rail was the main mode of transit across the United States and ridership numbered in the millions annually. During this time the railroad police officer not only had to worry about cargo, but also for the safety of passengers, both on and off the train. Railroad police officers were often stationed in busy railroad depots where they kept an eye out for pickpockets, muggers, and other criminals that would prey off the unsuspecting railroad.
As our society has changed, so have the nations railroads, and so has railroad police service. Railroad policing has developed into a unique, highly specialized branch of policing.
With the development of the interstate highway system in the 1950’s, rail passenger ridership diminished. Federal regulations of the American railroads in 1980, and the resulting mergers and acquisitions resulted in fewer and larger companies, a trend that continues today.
Corporate streamlining has resulted in more efficient rail operations, which has led to the downsizing of the employee population of railway companies, thus reducing the number of railroad police.
Technology and engineering has also been a powerful contributor to the downsizing of the nation’s rail police force. For example, smaller more powerful locomotives pull trains over tracks of continuous welded rail: trains make few stops and travel at higher speeds. Since trains stop less frequently and for a shorter amount of time, the opportunity to burglarize railcars has been greatly diminished.
High value freight is fully enclosed in specially designed railcars: Rail Police use modern technology to better secure and protect freight in transit. As a result, today there are fewer than 2300 railway police officers in North America of which only approximately 1000 of them are in the US.
There are two types of railroad special agents; those working for freight lines and those working passenger terminals such as AMTRAK and other commuter lines. Both of which have the same goals of passenger, cargo, and resource protection. Depending on the rail carrier, the special agent must be flexible enough to work both environments.
Today’s Special Agent
Since the late 1800’s, the role of the railroad police has been to protect the railroad’s resources, passengers, and cargo from vandalism, theft, and robbery. Today, the role of the railroad police officer has not changed much.
Since WWII railroad police numbers have drastically shrunk from 9000 in North America just after the war to somewhere around 1200 in the United States today. The great majority of these men and women work for five railroads: Amtrak, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and the Union Pacific.
In virtually every state, railroad police go through the same training and standards as any other police, sheriff’s deputy, or state police officer. Although paid by the railroad companies themselves, railroad police officers have the authority to conduct investigations and make arrest for crimes committed against the railroad. Some agencies, such as AMTRAK police also attend the Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy as part of their training.
Although hiring standards vary from railroad to railroad, most railroad police officers must already be certified in the state in which they are employed to work, pass a physical fitness standard, and have a college degree or a minimal amount of college hours. Once employed by the railroad, the officers will usually undergo several weeks of training above and beyond what they have already learned through a police academy.
The duties of today’s railroad police officer often involves routine uniform or plain clothes patrol of rail yards, depots, and railroad property either by foot or car, conducting complex investigations involving cargo theft, vandalism, theft of equipment, arson, train/vehicle collisions, and even investigate assault and murders that may spill over onto railroad property. Due to such a wide variety of cases that a railroad police officer may have to handle, being flexible and having knowledge of some of the most advanced law enforcement techniques is essential.
During patrols, officers are usually looking for persons trespassing on railroad property. Although some trespassers are looking for a chance to commit a crime, for the most part, these trespassers are pedestrians taking shortcuts along the tracks or across the rail yard, not realizing how dangerous the railroad tracks and yards can be.
To help reduce these incidents, railroad police often go to schools and civic organizations to take a proactive approach to reducing trespasser incidents by educating citizens about the dangers of trespassing.
Unfortunately, the other classifications of trespassers are sneaking into rail yards with the intention to steal merchandise, or hop a freight train to get out of town after committing a crime. While most are petty thieves, some are organized criminals that steal high value merchandise from trains, sometimes using very sophisticated methods to commit their crimes, such as; counter surveillance against railroad police, portable radios and cell phones to communicate, and rental or stolen vehicles to load the stolen merchandise.
When such a complex criminal operation occurs, railroad police agencies often utilize the latest surveillance technology and investigative techniques to catch the criminals. Special burglary teams use night vision scopes, thermal imagers devices, K-9 teams, and other equipment that affords them the best opportunity to resolve the problem.
Like other sizable law enforcement agencies, the railroad police also utilize special units to handle a variety of emergency situations. This includes the formation S.W.A.T. teams, Special Operations Response Teams, anti-terrorism units, executive protection officers, hazardous materials agents, and even officers trained in medical and firefighting techniques.
As you can see the modern day railroad police officer/special agent is more than just the hired gun from a hundred years ago. Their experience, training, and tactics make the modern day railroad police some of the most capable law enforcement officers in the country.
Railroad Police Authority
In Canada, federal and provincial law regulates railroad police. In the United States, the appointment, commissioning and regulations of the rail police is primarily a state mandate, however; Federal Law allows Railroad Police Officers to enforce the laws of other states as found under the following provision:
Section 1704 of the Crime Control Act of 1990, effective March 14, 1994, provides that:
“A railroad police officer who is certified or commissioned as a police officer under the laws of any state shall, in accordance with the regulations issued by the Secretary of Transportation, be authorized to enforce the laws of any jurisdiction in which the rail carrier owns property.”
TITLE 49 Code of Federal Regulations CH.207.5:
(a) A railroad police officer who is designated by a railroad and commissioned under the laws of any state is authorized to enforce the laws (as specified in paragraph (b) of this section)
(b) Under the authority of paragraph (a) of this section, a railroad police officer may enforce only relevant laws for the protection of-
(1) The railroad’s employees, passengers, or patrons;
(2) The railroad’s property or property entrusted to the railroad for transportation purposes;
(3) The intrastate, interstate, or foreign movement of cargo in the railroad’s possession or in possession of another railroad or non-rail carrier when on the railroad property; and
(4) The railroad movement of personnel, equipment, and materials vital to the national defense.
(c) The authority exercised under this part by an officer for whom the railroad has provided notice in accordance with Sec. 207.4 shall be the same as that of a railroad police officer commissioned under the laws of that state.
(d) The railroad police officer’s law enforcement powers shall apply only on railroad property, except that an officer may pursue off railroad property a person suspected of violating the law on railroad property, and an officer may engage off railroad property in law enforcement activities, including without limitation, investigations and arrest, if permissible under state law.
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS MAIL GUARDS
From the book, The Illustrated Directory of the United States Marine Corps
U.S. Mail Robberies
The president had barely settled into his easy chair at the White House when the nation became engulfed in a crime wave capped by armed robberies of the U.S. Mail. Edwin Denby, the only former Marine ever to become Secretary of the Navy called upon 53 officers and 2200 enlisted men of the Marine Corps to keep watch on post offices, railway mail cars, and postal trucks across the country.
After the Marines reached their designated posts, mail robberies came to an abrupt halt. During the four months the Marines stood watch, not a single piece of mail was stolen. Five years later, when mail theft resumed, the Marines returned and put a sudden stop to the robberies.
“You must be brave, as you always are. You must be constantly alert. You must, when on guard duty, keep your weapons in hand and, attacked, shoot and shoot to kill. There is no compromise in this battle with the bandits.” To The Men of the Mail Guard, Edwin Denby, 11 November 1921.
Annual Reports of the Navy Department: Report of the Secretary of the Navy
by United States. Navy Dept
Page 51 – At this writing there are 82 officers and 2083 enlisted men of the Marine Corps
on mail-guard duty. Brig. Gen. Logan Feland, United States Marine Corps, …
Marines as Mail Guards: A Story Of the Roaring ’20s
By: Bob Campbell
The history of the United States Marines is nothing if not colorful. From the Mexican War to the Battle of France to the Chosin Reservoir, Marines have earned respect as fighting men. At times the mere presence of Marines has been enough to bring the peace.
One of the more interesting but less well known actions Marines participated in happened in America at a time when there was no FBI and prior to the firm establishment of armed postal inspectors. During the Roaring ’20s violent crime was commonplace. Among the institutions hardest hit was the post office. According to the Postmaster General, from April 9, 1920 to April 9, 1921 there were 36 major mail robberies that netted armed perpetrators no less than $6,300,000.
The first response was to arm all outside postal employees. A common arm used in this detail was the Smith and Wesson Model 1917 .45-caliber revolver. These handguns were readily available as surplus from the recent Great War. Guns and ammunition were transferred from the War Department to the post office. The 1917 revolver, a substitute standard handgun of the U.S. Army, was used not only by the U.S. Postal Service but by the United States Border Patrol. In some cases it was issued directly to bank tellers.
Despite the arming of post office employees, $300,000 dollars was stolen from April to October 1921, during which postal employees and a few robbers were slain. The Postmaster General appealed to the president. A special request was delivered to the Secretary of the Navy. Almost immediately, Marines were detailed to the post office to guard trains, trucks, main buildings and isolated transfer stations.
The Marine action was no token show. Nor was it a small scale operation. The Marines were serious, heavily armed, and in a high state of readiness. The original contingent consisted of 53 officers and 2,200 enlisted men dispatched throughout the country. Post office robberies stopped immediately. No one wished to face armed, ready Marines. The first Marine guard action ended in March 1922.
The nation was divided for this purpose into two zones, eastern and western. Dividing lines were clearly marked. Williston, N.D., Green River, Wyo., Denver, Colo., El Paso, Texas and Albuquerque, N.M., were cities considered borders of the Western Mail Guard. Eastern units came from the Expeditionary Force. This crack unit was stationed at Quantico, but two companies were seconded for the mail assignment from Parris Island. Brigadier General Logan Feland commanded the Eastern Zone, which was divided into three areas. The First Regiment covered New York, the Tenth Regiment, Chicago, and the Southern Area was headquartered in Atlanta.
Experience gained in this exercise served veteran Marines well in 1926, when events again called for serious action when a mailtruck driver was brutally murdered in Elizabeth, N.J. President Calvin Coolidge issued an executive order calling for Marines to once again ride the rails and protect the post office. General Smedley Butler, a respected combat Marine, Congressional Medal of Honor holder, and veteran of World War I and various South American guerrilla wars, commanded the Western Mail Guards. Primarily he utilized the 4th Marines, which he spread through 11 states and part of Texas. These Marines soon became familiar sights on mail trucks and trains in the West. Obviously, they were a sobering influence on the criminal element. During the tenure of the Marines as mail guards only one robbery attempt was made — on an empty, unguarded train!
The presence of high-profile Marine guards allowed the post office to operate normally. By January 1927, Marines began to return to their home bases. While the mail guards were welcomed by the population, they had seen no action. By Feb. 18, 1927 all Marines were off guard duty. Many were soon on the way to protect American interests in China and Nicaragua.
In the years between Marine guard actions, the post office hired civilian guards, but no guards were ever as effective at dissuading robbers as the Marines. In comparison to most police agencies the Marines were exceptionally well trained. (Police agencies of the day expected peace officers to come to the job trained!) Just as important, there were no federal police agencies in those days. No one had authority to pursue felons outside of a limited jurisdiction. The Marines were another matter. Most police agencies used the .38 revolver and perhaps a shotgun. My research shows the Marines wisely relied mainly upon two of the finest short-range weapons of all time. The main weapon was the 12-gauge shotgun. These guns were short-barrel Winchester 97s, the estimable “trench guns” of World War I fame, proven in Europe and South America. The other weapon relied upon was the Colt Government Model .45 automatic, a weapon that needs little introduction. This pistol had been widely used in Mexico and Europe with excellent effect. No other pistol combined such excellent stopping power, complete reliability and excellent hit probability in trained hands.
General Logan Feland issued a circular letter on Dec. 13, 1921 that carried instructions for conduct by all Marines on guard duty. The instructions were detailed, including guidelines for passing through Canada. The official title of the detachment was, “US Marines Corps Guard Company, Washington, DC.”
Tactical instructions were explicit. Railroad flares were kept for emergency signaling if the train were attacked. If attacked, all interior lights were to be put out, by gunfire if necessary. Shotguns were to be carried with a full magazine and chamber empty. The Colt .45 was to be carried properly, cocked and locked (hammer back, safety on) with a loaded chamber. The commandant ordered that the military flap holster would be worn with the flap folded back so as not to interfere with a rapid draw from the holster. If not carrying other arms, it was recommended guards keep their hand on the Colt .45 at all times.
The Marines have a long history worthy of praise. This small episode was simply business as usual for them, but it is worth a little attention. Without a shot fired, Marines brought the peace. If we need the Marines again, they are always ready!
Copyright Bob Campbell
Military Trader, December 2001 Issue
Reprinted by Permission
Submitted to our website by Matt C. Nation
His grandfather, James Oliver Nation, was one of the marines assigned to this duty.
Documents Establishing the United States Railroad Police (Cir. 1918).
Submitted by Chip Greiner