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In the early days of the twentieth century the automobile was in its infancy. With this new invention, criminals soon took advantage of the power and speed of the “horseless carriage” as a means of quick escape after committing their crimes. Once they crossed county lines, the local sheriff had no jurisdiction in the neighboring counties, thus criminal apprehension was extremely difficult. Additionally, in those early days, drivers’ licenses weren’t required and no safety equipment was required to be on vehicles such as lights, brakes, horns, etc. As a result, there were high numbers of motor vehicle crashes that resulted in numerous injuries and fatalities along Hoosier roadways.
Eventually cars were required to have safety equipment but the local sheriffs still had no jurisdiction or authority to stop violators once they crossed the county line. On July 15, 1921 the Indiana legislature created the Indiana Motor Vehicle Police. The Motor Vehicle Police became the first law enforcement agency in the state to have statewide jurisdiction to enforce traffic laws. Originally there were 16 members of the Motor Vehicle Police tasked with enforcing motor vehicle laws across the state. Unfortunately, those 16 officers had only “limited” authority. They were only authorized to enforce the “rules of the road” and motor vehicle laws. Unless a car was stolen, improperly registered, or a driver was in violation of a traffic law, the Motor Vehicle Police had no other law enforcement authority.
As the 1920’s progressed, crime began to increase. With prohibition, the gangsters of the period, and the onset of the Great Depression, the need for a statewide “full service” law enforcement agency was ever increasing. Finally by 1927 the first steps toward creating the much needed full service statewide police agency began to occur. In 1927 an act of legislation created a group of three “bureaus.” One bureau reported and recorded crashes, one conducted criminal investigations, and the third was the Bureau of Criminal Identification and served as a clearinghouse for fingerprint identification which was becoming a widely accepted method of establishing the identity of individuals.
In 1932 the citizens of Indiana elected Paul V. McNutt, a Democrat, as Governor. Governor McNutt immediately began to overhaul state government. Through the Executive Reorganization Act of 1933, the governor took 167 state agencies and put them into eight new departments. In addition, he consolidated the law enforcement bureaus into one agency with broad law enforcement authority thus forming the Indiana State Police Bureau.
*NOTE-The source of the above historical information: Gangsters, Gunfire, and Political Intrigue: The History of the Indiana State Police by Marilyn Olsen.