Ottawa’s Police History

Over the years, a number of police agencies have operated in the National Capital Region. From the Bytown Association for the Preservation of the Public Peace (formed during the unofficial incorporation of Bytown in 1847), to various municipal police forces, as well as provincial and federal police agencies, the Ottawa area has a rich policing tradition.

Policing in Ottawa has continued to evolve to meet the needs of the community. When the town of Bytown incorporated and adopted the name of Ottawa in 1855, Chief Roderick Ross became the first Chief Constable. With as few as seventeen special constables in the early days reporting to Chief Ross, these police watchmen as they were known, kept law and order in a very rough lumber town.  Life as an officer was not easy and their duties consisted of preserving the peace, preventing robberies and other crimes, apprehending offenders, enforce all laws and By Laws, and to collect and provide evidence for the prosecution of offenders.  Much of their work involved disturbances related to liquor consumption in a very rough lumber town. Rather than earn a salary, the officers were paid $1 for every culprit they brought in.

In these early days, it was not uncommon for political masters to influence police action.  This did not increase their effectiveness, and was contrary to Sir Robert Peel’s 9 principles of policing used in the British policing system since 1829, from which most western democratic nations’ policing have since been modeled from.

In 1863, the Board of Commission of Police was formed in Ottawa to oversee and control the activity of the police so as to alleviate the issue of overt or perceived political influence on the city’s police.  In this same year, a new Chief of Police was appointed along with ten constables under his command.  While they carried batons, they were not yet in authorized uniform, except for the Chief. While still paid on a fee system through the amount of apprehensions made and services provided, this changed in 1865 when a fully salaried and uniformed police force came into being, reporting to the Chief.  In 1867, Smith & Wesson revolvers were ordered for issue to all constables. Their uniforms resembled that of the “Bobbies” in Britain, with a high collared dark, single breasted tunic, blue trousers with a red stripe, and a badged custodian helmet.  The same year the first 2 storey police station with cells was built on the east side of Elgin Street between Albert and Queen Streets.  Constables patrolled the streets on foot, and it was not until 1893 that the first Police Patrol Vehicle, a horse-drawn “paddy” wagon was introduced, followed by bicycles for patrol in 1896, and a mounted branch in 1905 patrolling on horseback.  It was around the turn of the century that the uniform helmet transitioned to the peaked forage cap similarly used today.

The city grew, as did the neighbouring municipalities and townships, with some amalgamating into the city of Ottawa. The police force also grew and in 1907, sixty six officers were policing a city population of over 76,000.

The first Police Woman ever hired by the Ottawa Police Service was Flora Ann Campbell on December 31, 1913.  While unarmed, with no uniform, she seldom made arrests, but her previous experience as a Probation Officer and Superintendent of the Women’s Hostel were invaluable in dealing with accused women on charge before the courts.  She worked with these accused and helping them find gainful employment, and in conflict resolution prior to entering the courtroom.  She also investigated cases of child neglect and abuse.

In 1912, the first police car was introduced along with a motorized “paddy” wagon, replacing the previous horse-drawn version. These were Model “T” Fords.  Over the next century, the police car was modernized to include radios for communication and further modifications to the current day, making it an efficient “office” for each constable.

In 1915, the Board of Police Commissioners legislated that no member of the Police Force could continue serving beyond the age of 59 years of age.  In those early days, members were eligible to receive a monthly pension equaling half of their pay rate, once they had attained 25 years of service.  It wasn’t until 1965, that the current O.M.E.R.S. pension plan kicked in for those hired in or after that year.  In 1913, the annual salary of a 1stclass constable was approximately $1,000.  A code of conduct for officers, supervised by the Chief of Police, was also instituted.

In 1916, several motorcycles were purchased for traffic related duties, as cars began to replace horses for general transportation by the population.  In addition, officers began to investigate collisions as well, in the early days often occurring between cars and spooked horses or horse-drawn carriages.

In the early half of the 20thcentury the Ottawa Police grew beyond 100 members, and with the evolution of the city, specialized sections were formed in multiple areas.  With this, the police rank structure, recruitment, training, and discipline regulations also evolved to increase the professionalism of the Service. More small police stations were also added across the growing city.

Along with the other modernizations, the advent of the telephone expanded significantly in the early part of the 20thcentury, and many households had these by the 1930’s.  With this, the police monitored their lines 24 hours per day for those calling for assistance, and began to hire female members as switchboard operators, which was the beginnings of the current Communications Centre.  Beginning in 1935, radios began being installed in police cars.

In terms of crime during this period, there were several thousand arrests taking place annually prior to World War 2, and most were for what were considered victimless crimes, such as drunkenness, gambling, and prostitution.  Also around this time however, more serious crimes started to become more prevalent, including robberies and commercial break-ins.  Auto theft crime also rose into the 1950’s, as well as more violent crimes with the use of firearms in robberies and other crimes.  At this time the amount of vehicle traffic on the city’s roads also resulted in the growth of the Traffic Section, and a distinct increase in the issuing of traffic violations notices.

In 1951, with the requirement for police member representation in matters of discipline and advocating for benefits and salary, the Ottawa Police Association was born.  Initially serving 100% of the serving sworn element of police officers, it eventually grew in 1966 to include representation for all civilian members of the Force.

In the latter half of the 20thcentury, technological advances forced the Ottawa Police to modernize in many ways. The police mandate and responsibilities had grown significantly, which also required trainings standards to be increased for officers.  In 1945, the Ottawa Police School was opened to help train officers in all aspects of policing.  Previously police recruits had only received on the job training through coach officers who taught them while they worked.  The Ottawa Police School operated and trained many officers from across eastern Ontario in police work, and built a solid reputation for this. Eventually the Ontario Police College in Aylmer, Ontario was created and in 1959 took over all recruit training for municipal and provincial police across Ontario.  Some of these agencies did also retain their own training schools in addition to the College, and Ottawa Police were included in this group, but eventually transitioned all new officers through the Ontario Police College for all recruit training.

Neighbouring municipalities to Ottawa had grown as well, as did their own police forces towards the end of the 20thcentury, as the population grew towards 1 million people.  The Eastview Police, whose jurisdiction included the former city of Vanier was created in 1913.  From the 1957 formation of the Gloucester-Nepean Police Department, which eventually split into 2 distinct police agencies in 1964 (the Gloucester Police Force and the Nepean Police Force), there was a natural thought by many towards one single police service for all, including the newly named Vanier Police.  This also included the areas policed by the Ontario Provincial Police in close vicinity. The first agency to be amalgamated with Ottawa Police was the Vanier Police in 1984.  After this, the city of Vanier was policed by the Ottawa Police. Most Vanier police officers “patched” over to the Ottawa Police to continue policing the former Eastview and the wider city.

In the mid 1990’s, several police services within the current city of Ottawa were amalgamated into the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Service.  This expansion included the Ottawa Police Service, the Gloucester Police Service, the Nepean Police Service, and the following detachments of the Ontario Provincial Police: Cumberland, Kanata, Manotick, Rockcliffe Park, and West Carleton.

The current city of Ottawa is one of the largest geographic municipalities in Canada.  It was created through the 1999 City of Ottawa Act.  It provided for the 2001 amalgamation of the former Region of Ottawa-Carleton, the former cities of OttawaNepeanKanataGloucesterVanier and Cumberland, the former townships of West CarletonGoulbournRideau, and Osgoode, and the former village of Rockcliffe Park into the new City of Ottawa.  This occurred as a result of recommendations toward streamlining services for the entire population.

As a result of the newly formed city of Ottawa, the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police name changed to the Ottawa Police Service.

Today, the Ottawa Police is proud to say that almost 40% of its employees are female, with officers and civilians coming from many diverse backgrounds, and celebrating diversity working in all sections of the Ottawa Police.  The Service continues to grow with the city, and in 2019, numbers approximately 2,000 sworn and civilian members, keeping Ottawa safe.

Since those humble and difficult beginnings so long ago, the Ottawa Police Service has evolved into today’s highly trained and technically equipped service.  Through their entire history, these officers served with pride, honour, and courage. In doing so, several gave their lives for their community.  In 1977, the Ottawa Police Service was instrumental in creating Canada’s National Police and Peace Officer’s Memorial parade, which takes place on Parliament Hill annually on the last Sunday of September to remember all officers who have been killed on duty in Canada since Confederation.

Any member previously employed by the Ottawa Police Service (or those police agencies who amalgamated into this Service), are granted the honour and privilege of continued membership in the Ottawa Police Veterans Association, where those who have served are still connected to the old family.