July 24, 2004
A uniformed police officer pictured in a circa 1940s photograph had the Tempe Police Department stumped.
Bill "Buck" Rogers, who has been working with fellow employees and officers to compile a comprehensive history of the department, said the patch on the unidentified officer’s right sleeve was the source of the mystery.
Rogers has been able to trace four official department patches since the 1960s, but he had never seen the patch before.
That was until someone was finally able to identify the mystery officer on Wednesday as Rosco Bangle, a member of the brief Tempe Merchant Police Association, essentially a private police force during the 1940s.
"It threw us for a loop when we found it," said Rogers, a retired officer who works in the licensing department. "It’s kind of a puzzle to us."
Bangle is part of more than 100 years of Tempe law enforcement history that Rogers is researching with help from assistant chief Laura Forbes and civilian employees Roger Ferguson and Joanne Archibald. The team has been going through old photographs, newspaper articles and official records dating back to the 1800s. Much of the history is based on the historical research of a retired Phoenix police officer.
The project has been under way for at least two years, and when the work is done, Rogers said they one day hope to reproduce the history in book form.
"We’re a relatively new police department and nobody’s really thought of this," said Rogers, who has been with the department for 34 years. "It’d be nice to know everything that happened here."
The first recorded lawman in Tempe was George Compton, elected town marshal on Jan. 14, 1895. Besides being the city’s top lawman responsible for deputizing other agents if needed, Compton was also supervisor of streets, collector of taxes and licenses, and the town water master, Rogers said.
Things kind of continued that way until a night patrolman’s position was added around 1920.
Then by city decree in 1949, the town marshal’s title changed to police chief for the department. Tempe basically went from a one-man force to three officers by 1930, to the 329 sworn officers and 182 civilians employed by the agency today, Rogers said.
With the identification of Bangle as the officer in the photograph, the mystery of the patch becomes clearer. Rogers said Bangle was a part of another lesser known fact about the Tempe Police Department’s history. About the time of World War II, various Tempe businesses may have formed something described as the Merchant Police, a private security group possibly tasked with combating thefts and burglaries.
"We’ve actually traced the policing history (of Tempe) back to the 1800s,"
Rogers said. "It’s the last piece of the departmental puzzle."