1950 - 1970
Written by Retired Lieutenant Daniel Marcou
George Long, Chief Herman Rick’s successor, would attempt to utilize the Wisconsin State Patrol Academy on many occasions to train his officers in areas such as Traffic Law Enforcement, Accident Investigation, General Law, and other areas of specialized training. Officers would stay, while being trained, in army barracks under Spartan-like conditions. The training was high quality, and it improved the quality of law enforcement in La Crosse. Chief Long also arranged for training sessions in La Crosse for his officers.
The biggest headline during the Long administration was the disappearance of 15-year-old Central High School sophomore, Evenlyn Hartley. At the time of her disappearance, Evelyn was babysitting at a home at 2415 Hoeschler Drive in La Crosse. The crime was reported by her father who had gone to the home when his daughter had failed to answer the phone when he called to check on her. Investigating Police Officers found signs of entry into the home, and blood was found outside the home. The bloodhounds of George Brooks (a noted local tracker) followed a scent to a nearby street and then lost it. Two-thousand local residents assisted the Police in searching the La Crosse area, but even after this and an intensive investigation, Evelyn Hartley was not found.
Impatient with the lack of progress in the case, La Crosse County hired a Special Investigator by the name of A.M. Josephson to handle the Hartley case exclusively. Josephson followed many dead-ends and drew many unsubstantiated theories, but he could not crack the case. The La Crosse Police Department still keeps this case open and has followed up leads repeatedly, even as recently as 1989. There is still no answer to the question, “Whatever happened to Evelyn Hartley?”
In 1954, the La Crosse Police Department bought the first radar units to be utilized in enforcement of speed laws. The 50s saw a great increase in aggressive traffic enforcement in an attempt to curb the rising rate of traffic fatalities. La Crosse gained statewide attention for its efforts, which were successful. In 1956, La Crosse celebrated its 857th day in a row without a fatal traffic accident. This was a phenomenal feat. Though somehow they had hoped that maybe, just maybe, it would go on forever, they knew it would not. On April 30, 1956, two young La Crosse boys died on the Mississippi River Bridge in a traffic accident.
On March 6, 1959, La Crosse was buried by a record snowfall of 22 inches. All schools were closed and police records showed that for the first time since Paul Mahoney had driven his 1903 Cadillac up Rose Street, there was no traffic moving in La Crosse. Inspired by this snowfall and the difficulty in removed it from the streets, the Common Council passed the Alternate Side Parking Ordinance on June 1, 1959.
In 1956, the City Council asked the Department to begin a Juvenile Bureau in La Crosse, and, by the end of the 50s, Lt. Vern Weber was in charge of a fully operational Juvenile Bureau.
The 60s would be a difficult decade for the La Crosse Police Department. In 1961, the first Oktoberfest was held. The objectives for this Chamber of Commerce festival were listed as follows:
- Promote local pride.
- Obtain national publicity.
- Promote tourism.
- Involve citizens.
- Break even financially and remain non-profit.
Approximately 35,000 attended the first Oktoberfest, which was highlighted by a Miss Majorette of Wisconsin Contest, a Farm Fair, and a Bow Hunters Shoot. The Oktoberfest would grow in years to come. Louis Armstrong would perform in 1964.
In 1965, the local headline of the year was the devastating flood. Police Officers worked 12-hour shifts with days off cancelled. The Causeway, Lang Drive, and much of the Northside were underwater. It would have been worse if not for the thousands of youth volunteers who sandbagged and performed other services. The river crested at 17 feet.
In 1966, the waters receded and Oktoberfest featured the Glenn Miller Orchestra. About 250,000 people watched the Maple Leaf Parade. It was also the first year the La Crosse Police Department experienced an Oktoberfest riot. There were 181 arrests as a result of the disturbance. It was also this year that Chief George Long would retire and Chief Ron Wold would take the reins.
In 1967, La Crosse had its first Police Basic Training Class for recruits. It was held at the La Crosse Center Airport range facility built in the 1950s by La Crosse Police Officers on their own time with materials donated by the City Council. Also this year, Oktoberfest was changed with an emphasis taken off alcohol consumption in an effort to regain its original “family fest” concept. There was no beer tent, and instead of tapping a golden keg, a milk and cheese wagon was utilized. This noble effort was a failure. From 1967, the news media would engage in the yearly ritual of tallying the Oktoberfest arrest count.
In 1968, the long-used police call boxes were taken out of service. These call boxes were equipped with a flashing light and a phone so that when a beat officer observed the light, he could call Central Station to receive the call that was waiting for him. These were made obsolete by the purchase of enough walk units (portable radios) to equip each man on patrol.
In 1968 and 1969, the Vietnam War was in full swing. The Department began to receive some quality personnel with military and Vietnam experience. La Crosse was also seeing some demonstrations against the war which were small in number and peaceful.