On November 23, 1931, under the administration of Governor Doyle E. Carlton, at the request of the Chairman of the State Road Department, Attorney General Cary D. Landis ruled it shall be the duty of the State Road Department to maintain the state roads and enforce the laws enacted to preserve its physical structure. As a result of this ruling, the road department hired 12 weight inspectors who were placed under the supervision of the division engineers. This was the beginning of state law enforcement in Florida.
In January 1934, under the administration of Governor Dave Sholtz, a Division of Traffic Enforcement was created as a result of an Attorney General's opinion indicating the division could enforce the motor vehicles laws. As a result, E. A. Shurman was appointed Traffic Inspector. The division was given a distinctive military style uniform, forest green in color.
In 1935, Chairman of the State Road Department, C. B. Treadway, authorized an increase of strength to 25 traffic inspectors. Upon graduation from a training school held in Palatka, the new recruits were given either a motorcycle or a small sedan and assigned to duty patrolling the highways in Florida. The force of men had increased to 45 by February 1936 and Chief Traffic Inspector E. A. Shurman held a four week training school in Ft. Myers for all 45 inspectors. These men reported to Tallahassee on March 2, 1936, for inspection by Governor Dave Sholtz and C. B. Treadway. The traffic inspectors were then assigned duties throughout the state under the supervision of Chief Shurman and three lieutenants, M. Oakford, J. G. Gallop and C. C. Sheppard.
In July 1936, Chairman C. B. Treadway appointed Army Major H. Neil Kirkman, Chief of the State Road Department's Traffic Division because of his experience in the Armed Forces associated with traffic and his background in engineering. Army Major Kirkman was the engineer supervising the construction of the Palatka Memorial bridge over the St. Johns River.
When Fred P. Cone was elected Governor in 1937, as an economic move, he abolished the traffic enforcement division of the State Road Department even though it performed valuable service to the citizens of Florida during the years of service.
The American Legion and the Jaycees strongly supported the idea of establishing a highway patrol to serve the needs of the motoring public. Richard (Dick) W. Ervin was the attorney for the State Road Department and his supervisor was Arthur B. Hale, Governor Cone's Chairman of the State Road Department.
Chairman Hale authorized Mr. Ervin to prepare legislation to create a Department of Public Safety with a highway patrol division and a driver license division, and lobby its passage in the 1939 Session of the Legislature. Richard Ervin was the author of the legislation creating the Department of Public Safety and the Florida Sheriff's Bureau which paved the way for the creation of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Mr. Ervin contacted H. M. Fearnside, a state representative from Palatka and Putnam Counties. Fearnside agreed to introduce the legislation and work for its passage.
In 1939, the Florida Legislature created the State Department of Public Safety with two divisions; the Florida Highway Patrol and the Division of State Motor Vehicle Drivers Licenses, under the control of Governor Fred P. Cone and Chairman of the State Road Department, Arthur B. Hale.
The legislation authorized 60 officers to patrol the public highways and to enforce all State laws in effect, or hereinafter enacted, regulating and governing traffic, travel and public safety upon the public highways, and providing penalties for violations thereof, including the operation, regulation and licensing of motor vehicles and drivers thereof, and other vehicles thereon, with full police power to bear arms and to arrest persons violating said laws. The beginning salary was $1,500 per year for a highway patrolmen and each year thereafter the salary would be increased $120 a year until a maximum of $2,000 a year was reached.
Funds for the operation of the Department were to come from the sale of driver licenses. In order to get started, the Legislature transferred funds from the General Revenue to a State Driver License Fund for a period of 90 days to carry out the provision of the Act until the Department could repay the funds through the sale of driver licenses, which cost fifty cents for an operators license and one dollar for a chauffeurs license.
On September 28, 1939, the first meeting of the executive board of the new Department of Public Safety was held with the following members and officials in attendance: Honorable Fred P. Cone, Governor; Honorable Arthur B. Hale, Chairman of State Road Department; and Honorable D. W. Finely, State Motor Vehicle Commissioner. It was determined that sufficient funds had accrued from driver license fees to commence the work of setting up the Highway Patrol.
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Patrolman Walker was shot and killed after stopping a vehicle with faulty headlights in Cross City. Patrolman Walker stood on the running board of the suspect's car as he escorted the vehicle to the Dixie County Jail. While en route, the driver shot Patrolman Walker seven times. Patrolman Walker returned fire, killing the suspect. Patrolman Walker died at the scene from his wounds. He had served the citizens of Florida for seven months.
Patrolman Walker joined the Florida State Road Department Traffic Division in early 1936 and trained in Fort Myers, Florida in February 1936. Upon completion of the four-week training school, Patrolman Walker reported to Tallahassee, Florida and was inspected by then Governor Dave Sholtz. Patrolman Walker was subsequently assigned to the area of North Central Florida. Patrolman Walker was son of Earl Walker, the former Sheriff of Levy County, Florida from 1903 through 1925. At the time of his death, he was 27.
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In September 1939, W. F. Reid was appointed Director of the Department of Public Safety by Governor Fred Cone and the Chairman of the State Road Department, Arthur B. Hale. He was directed to proceed with the work of organizing the Florida Highway Patrol. He was further directed to employ a Captain of the Highway Patrol to assist in the work. Mr. H. N. Kirkman was appointed Captain and served until 1940.
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On October 1, 1939, H. Neil Kirkman was appointed as the first Commander of the Florida Highway Patrol due to his military background in the United States Army and his vast experience as Chief of Florida's State Road Department. Colonel H. Neil Kirkman was originally from Greensboro, North Carolina but considered Palatka, Florida his home. He entered the United States Army as a Private in 1917 and was discharged as a First Lieutenant. He was a charter member of the American Legion and served as State Commander of the American Legion during 1922 - 1923. He was engaged in the construction business for many years, particularly in building bridges such as the Memorial Bridge at Palatka and the Clearwater Causeway Bridge. Kirkman laid the groundwork for what has become the motto of the Florida Highway Patrol: "Service, Courtesy, Protection."
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In 1939, the uniform color for the Florida Highway Patrol was forest green. The forest green whipcord blouse had orange piping around the epaulets and shirt pockets with silver buttons carrying the State seal. There was an orange and blue shoulder patch on the left shoulder, with silver collar ornaments - FHP on the left lapel and a wheel with wings attached to each side on the right lapel signifying traffic. There was a badge, chain and whistle. The shirt was forest green with orange piping around the epaulets and shirt pockets. Trousers were forest green with 1-1/2" black stripe. Shoes were black. In addition, each trooper was issued two pair of riding britches with 1-1/2" black stripe and a pair of black boots for winter dress.
The collar ornament design is a wing and wheel similar to the insignia that appears on the Ohio State Highway Patrol cars today. The original insignias had a broken spoke in the wheel which is the origin of the Broken Spoke Club.
A black Sam Browne belt, 3" wide, with handcuff case, cartridge clip, and a swivel or swing holster carrying a .38 caliber Colt revolver on the right side, with a shoulder strap to support the revolver and other equipment, completed the body uniform.
The first beige Stetson, or "Campaign", hats purchased for the Patrol in 1939, were $12.50 each. The hat, was the Stetson 3X Beaver, with a 1-1/2" orange hat band and a thin, 32" long, tan leather head strap to hold the hat in place. Before the turn of the century the Stetson 3X Beaver, as its name implies, was made from genuine beaver pelt; however, it is not known what type of fur, if any, our original Stetsons were made from.
Our uniforms and ornaments originated with the military. Our original Stetson hat first appeared on the scene during the civil war, was beige in color, rounded on top instead of creased down the middle, and was worn by the officers of the Union Forces. Confederate Forces also wore the same hat but gray in color.
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In November, 1939, the first training school was held in Bradenton, Florida, with 40 recruits. The school was directed by Captain George Mingle of the Ohio Highway Patrol, a personal friend of Colonel H. Neil Kirkman. C. J. Hutches, the host and Sheriff of Manatee County also assisted with the instruction during this first school. There were many others who were of assistance during the school including James T. Lowe, Duval County Patrol, who later became their Chief. Thirty-two recruits graduated and became patrolmen. Twenty patrolmen were issued specially equipped Ford motor vehicles and twelve were assigned Model 84, Harley-Davidson motorcycles. They were assigned patrol duty in various parts of the state.
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On December 12, 1939, "Fourteen Special Autos" arrived in Bradenton for patrol use. The black and cream, two-door Ford Coaches were equipped with sirens and bullet-proof windshields.
In the early years, there was no form of radio communication. Patrolmen would make regular stops at service stations or grocery stores along their routes to call in for assignments, reports of wrecks, and messages.