Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Thin Blue Line: Tulsa Police Department

Symbol of the Thin Blue Line
Public Domain, WClarke, Wikipedia

By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez

Thank you for joining us this month as we continue our series about first responders in our great state, Oklahoma.

First allow us to say: we wish to pay our respects to the brave men and women of our military, and let them know our thoughts and prayers are with them, particularly those currently on deployment outside our country and away from their families.

However, we also wish to add our gratitude to those that serve outside of our military forces as well. Also called the Thin Blue Line, this group of dedicated public servants serve to keep us, our families, and our property safe. Our hats are off to you, and our gratitude for all you do.

Over the last few months, we have been delving into the history of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and of the Oklahoma City Police Departments. This month we begin looking at the history of the Tulsa Police Department.

Historically speaking, Tulsa, or Tulasi in the native tongue, is one of the oldest towns in current day Oklahoma. Tulasi in Creek means “old town”. Interestingly enough, it is also the root name of Tallahassee, Florida. It was settled by a collection of Muscogee (Creek) and Lochapoka (Turtle) clans during the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The tribes had been moved into the area by the U.S. Cavalry.

The Creek, in particular, started forming towns in the area to include current day Bixby, Jenks, Bartlesville, and Muskogee. At the time of settlement, it was up to the business owners to police their own goods. It was after the War Between the States, during the reconstruction period, that the different towns started incorporating police into their management.

This, added with the US Cavalry’s re-establishment in Fort Gibson, was the beginnings of the Tulsa Police. They officially became a police force with Statehood in 1907, but their beginnings were considerably more humble than the official line states.

With the eventual decline of the Reservation System here in Oklahoma, it was left up to the tribes to provide their own security. They were able to call in the Army, when the need arose. However, the tribes seeking their independence were loathe to ever do so.

Even so, when the tribal police was established in the 1880’s, they were organized along the same lines as the Cavalry, and along tribal custom as well. The term “Police Chief” is a literal term, as at the time, the head of the security force was one of the chiefs of the tribe.

The Tulsa police department was still organized primarily by the tribe. The Railroad companies started bringing in Railroad detectives to help protect their interests. When the police department became official in 1907, the force was comprised of older officers from the tribal force, several railroad detectives, and veterans of the US Army.

When the eastern part of Oklahoma was opened for white settlement in the 1890’s, Tulsa started seeing an increase in diverse economy and population growth. In 1901, oil was discovered in Glenn Pool. It was over the next 2 decades, that Tulsa became known as the oil capitol of America.

Unfortunately, little is known about the police department’s involvement in the 1921 race riots in Tulsa. There are stories that the police took part in it, in however an unofficial capacity they had been acting in at the time. During the Race Riots, the Greenwood area was mostly burned down, including what was known as the “Black Wall Street”.

After the oil boom ended in the 1920’s, and with the introduction of prohibition, the area gained considerable notoriety in the underground Jazz culture. After the oil boom fizzled out, Tulsa became known for aviation. Tulsa PD struggled to match the demand and increased their size from ninety officers to over one hundred fifty.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Tulsa started absorbing the smaller towns into the whole. With the increase of physical size, Tulsa PD also absorbed the individual police departments for each of the suburbs as well.

Currently Tulsa PD employs over seven hundred officers, and a corps of reserves as well. They are the second largest police force in the state.

Thank you for joining us this month as we delved into the history of the Tulsa Police Department. We hope you enjoyed reading about this great institution, and join us next month, as we continue to explore the history of the Thin Blue Line here in Oklahoma, and its effects on our great state’s history.

Born and raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, Alanna Radle Rodriguez is the great-great granddaughter of one of the first pioneers to settle in Indian Territory. Judge was born and raised in Little Axe, Oklahoma, the son of A.F. Veterans. Judge and Alanna love the history of the state and relish in volunteering at the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse in Edmond. Her first published story, part of a collaborative novella titled Legacy Letters, came out September 2016. Alanna and Judge live with her parents in the Edmond area. They are currently collaborating on a historical fiction series that takes place in pre-statehood Oklahoma.


  1. Interesting history there. Does the police department nowadays acknowledge their ties with the tribes?

    1. Thanks, Connie. As far as we can tell, not really. But I'm sure there are historians out there that know more about that area. If there is a historian who does, please pipe in.