History of the Elgin Police Department

The department is always looking to expand its historical collection. If you have Elgin police artifacts or photos that you are willing to donate, please contact Community Outreach Specialist Christy Schmidt at 847-289-2588.

Elgin was founded in 1835 and quickly became a bustling community. Having been settled by James T. Gifford in the preceding April, Elgin was now ready for its first law enforcement officer. On July 1, 1836, an election was held and Samuel J. Kimball was named Elgin’s first constable. The primary responsibility of law enforcement in Elgin rested with the county sheriff, but constables were required to assist the county deputies when necessary. While the duties of Elgin’s first constable bore little resemblance to what we view today as traditional policing, Kimball’s position did include some law and order responsibilities. This marked the beginning of a long and proud tradition of law enforcement in Elgin.

Elgin became an incorporated city in 1854 and installed its first police marshal, George W. Renwick. The role of our first marshals was pretty much limited to the enforcement of liquor ordinances and dealing with the occasional intoxicated individual. Over the years, the title of the head law enforcement officer changed from “marshal” to “chief,” and although the role has expanded, one duty has remained consistent; to ensure law and order for the citizens of Elgin.

Much has changed for police officers in Elgin over the years. One such change is in the uniform worn by our officers. Until the turn of the century, there was little uniformity to what Elgin’s police officers wore. This changed in May 1902, when Chief Louis Freeman set down rules as to what uniforms the officers would wear. Prior to this, police officers wore a simple plain blue uniform with brass buttons and a badge. Under Chief Freeman, the members of the Department would be distinguished by their rank and years of service. The basic uniform of today’s officer has undergone many changes, but it also bears many similarities. New officers are still issued navy blue uniforms and badges, but the equipment list has grown significantly. 

As mentioned, the type of equipment carried by the police department’s officers has undergone many changes. The first equipment purchased by the city specifically for law enforcement was on July 7, 1863, when the city council approved the purchase of three sets of handcuffs. On August 12, 1876, the council authorized the purchase of “balls and chains,” for which Marshal John Powers was said to be actively looking for someone to wear. In 1894, the Elgin Police Department’s equipment inventory included twenty police stars, sixteen whistles, and five Colt revolvers.  In addition to the complete uniform, today’s Elgin police officers receive a sidearm, handcuffs, baton, taser, pepper spray, radio, flashlight, body armor, duty belt, and a laundry list of additional items needed to meet the challenges of police work today.

The days of police officers “walking the beat” are largely over as the use of vehicles was adopted and steadily increased over the years. In 1891, the Elgin Police Department debuted its first vehicle: a horse-drawn patrol wagon.  At the time, the Elgin Daily News boasted that the wagon would make easy work “of hauling drunks to the city bastille.” In 1912, the department acquired its first motorized vehicle (a motorcycle), and three years later, our first automobile entered service. Over time, the paint schemes of these vehicles changed and our squads have been painted black, white, pea green, light blue, and the current black and white. Today, the Elgin Police Department's fleet consists of a variety of modes of transportation including cars, transport vans, sport utility vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, bicycles, and an armored vehicle.