Cleveland Police Training: 1914-1954

The first official Cleveland Police training school was established in 1914 by Safety Director Alfred A. Benesch.  Dubbed Benesch University by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Director described the school: “…the system of instruction of patrolmen will not be called a university, nor a college, nor a school – simply a lecture course presenting ideals.  The students would be required to study criminal law and to perform service in a number of city departments to gain general experience.  They would receive instruction in sociology and would assist in the work near schoolhouses and other special police services performed by members of the regular force.”

With support from the Civil Service Commission, the Director searched for a home for the school and by 1915 the 8th Precinct located at 2885 Detroit was selected.  In his 1915 Annual Report to the Mayor, Police Chief William S. Rowe reported:

“Our regular school of instructions for officers and patrolmen has been continued. Under a Cadet System which was inaugurated during the year by the appointment of a number of cadets, a training school for police service was conducted for a number of weeks under the supervision of one of our captains.

They were given instructions pertaining to the rules and regulations, important duties of patrolmen, making reports, laws and ordinances, lectures in court procedure, the requirements of necessary evidence, drills, first aid to the injured, etc., which will beyond a question of doubt better fit them for the proper performance of their duties.”

In May of 1918, after a shoot-out with a suspect, two Officers were sent to the school to conduct target practice.  Both had emptied their revolvers, but the suspect was not hit and escaped.

8th Precinct in 1940 photo
Police Training School Classroom in the 8th Precinct

The first thorough study of the criminal-justice system of a major American city occurred in Cleveland in 1921. The study’s report addressed Cleveland police training .  “The department is to be commended for its full-time training course of eight weeks for recruits.  A Lieutenant of police, enthusiastic and ambitious for its successful promotion, is to be found in immediate charge.  One reason for the school’s firmly established position is to be found in Chief Smith’s healthy interest in its welfare.  To him is due the credit for its original establishment a few years ago – a noteworthy achievement in the department’s history.”

Cleveland College

Training continued at the 8th Precinct until 1931 when it was moved to Cleveland College located at 167 Public Square.  Cleveland College was founded in 1925 by Western Reserve University and Case School of Applied Science to provide education for adult learners. The College provided both degree and non-degree programs in credit and non-credit classes. College Director A. Caswell Ellis predicted “…that increased discipline, the application of science to police problems, particularly crime detection, and greater care in selecting applicants for police forces would lift the policeman to the level he said was already held by doctors, lawyers, teachers, and soldiers.” 

After being named Safety Director, Eliot Ness called for the immediate formation of a new training school patterned after the federal training school in Washington, DC.  Lieutenant Patrick Lenahan was sent to the National Police Academy and after completing the 12-week course, was charged with creating the curriculum for Cleveland’s new police school.

In October of 1936, the training school was opened at 1283 Riverbed Road, the former quarters of the Cleveland tug George A. Wallace.  Fire Chief James E. Granger approved the academy being housed in an unused portion of Fire Boat Engine Company No. 15’s House.  The first class began training in August of 1937.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, 08/28/1937
Dewey Mitchell instructs the tactics of Ju-Jitsu

1283 Riverbed Road – 1939,
Courtesy of the Western Reserve Fire Museum
1937 Police School Class

One example of the training techniques used at that time is the following, a step-by-step guide on how to conduct a stop of multiple suspects in a moving vehicle, then conduct a search of the suspects and finally how to place them in custody.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer described a “Murder Room” to be used for training the Rookies and Detectives.  “Included in the physical equipment of the building is a ‘murder room’ with a department store dummy as the corpse, in which the power of observation of embryo detectives will be trained and tested.”

Pictured below are actual photographs of the “Murder Room” and a group of cadets learning how to search the crime scene.

The first class of cadets graduated from the Riverbed Academy on 08/12/1937.

Cleveland Plain Dealer 8/12/1937

First Academy Class
Louis Machovec 282, Davis Beasley 43, John Kieran 113, Thomas Quigley 340, James Dodge 50, Alfred Weber 378, Milo Sebek 343, Ernest Hauschild 73, Theodore Napper 302, Dewey Mitchell Instructor, Lieutenant Patrick Lenahan, Richard Wagner 369, James Limber 245, Joseph Strauss 347, Jerome Joyce 98, Robert Feingold 65, Stephen Kranek 151, John Stropko 353, Richard Ford 66, George Svehla 364, Edward 258, John Papp 324, Thomas White 385,

The Police Academy Rules and Curriculum, circa 1940

The Police Academy Staff, circa 1940
The Police Academy Staff, circa 1940

Hitchcock Hall at Western Reserve University
11015 Euclid Avenue

As the building on Riverbed Road fell into disrepair, several locations were considered as a new home for the Cleveland Police School.  In May of 1954, the City of Cleveland entered into a one-year lease with Western Reserve University testing their facilities for a new academy.  The school moved to Hitchcock Hall, 11015 Euclid Avenue, “…with the police rookies joining the legions of cap-and-gowners” on the campus.

Written by Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum volunteer Commander Robert Cermak, Ret.