Durango was born in the Wild West, and early visitors included the Texas Kid, Jesse James and Wyatt Earp. In 1881, these outlaws came to town to “get a bit of coin.”
The Texas Kid threatened Robert Dwyer, the marshal at the time, telling him to go along with a robbery or the gang would kill him. Dwyer refused. He told the outlaws to leave quietly in the morning, and they left without any trouble.
This story appears alongside many others in Beyond the Badge, a comprehensive history of the Durango Police Department from its inception in 1881 to 1949. The book, written by local historian Sharon Greve, took five years to complete.
“It’s been a long journey, and they have had nothing,” she said. “They’ve served and protected this community for 136 years and no history. At last, they can say, ‘We have a history.’”
Greve was offered the volunteer task in 2012 by Jim Spratlen, the Durango chief of police at the time. He knew it would be a tedious process because the police department had no documented history.
“They didn’t have a file, they didn’t have a box, there wasn’t a slip of paper,” Greve said. “They had nothing.”
Greve spent nearly 3,000 hours – most of them researching – on the 282-page book, which was released June 30.
She started by reading nine books about the history of Durango and several more about the region, but none mentioned the police department. She knew marshals were hired by the City Council, so she scoured through old City Council minutes.
Greve has read all of the council’s minutes from its outset in May 1881 until March of this year. The minutes weren’t typed until the early 1900s, so Greve used a magnifying glass on the computer screen to clarify what was written.
“I gave a big shout when suddenly the City Council minutes were typed,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, they got a typewriter.’ Then I could move a little faster.”
On top of the City Council minutes, Greve read old newspapers, visited all the region’s cemeteries and local museums and conducted numerous interviews with former police chiefs and members of their families.
The book is organized so that every marshal or police chief gets a chapter. Each one includes a biography, City Council minutes about police affairs, photographs and interesting stories from the chief’s tenure.
“It’s not just a dull, boring history book,” Greve said. “I didn’t want it to sound that way.”
The text features various stories from the department’s past, including bank robberies, numerous shootouts and the town’s only legal execution in 1882, which occurred because of a murder over a game of crib.
Greve named the book Beyond the Badge because she wanted to show the vast variety of duties that the police department has been responsible for since its formation. These include impounding livestock, making sure people were cleaning out their outhouses, enforcing gambling laws and protecting the city from bears and mountain lions.
The most surprising moments in her research came when two separate city managers – one in 1917 and another in 1922 – cut the police department in a move to save money and designated themselves as head of police affairs.
“I didn’t realize you could do that,” she said.
Greve decided to end the book at 1949. She gathered more data from the 1950s onward, as records were more easily accessible, and the amount of information required a second book. The 1950s were also when technological advances allowed the agency to transform into a more modern police department, so it was a perfect place for a split, she said.
Currently, Greve does not have plans to write the rest of department’s history. She said she will take a break for a little while and assess the situation afterward. She has already researched and compiled the entire history of the department, so all that needs to be done is to write it.
Greve has already created a file for current police chief Kamran Afzal, who took over the department in April.
Afzal said it’s important for the police department to recognize that a lot of people came before them to give their lives and protect the life and safety of the Durango community.
“If you don’t know where you came from and where you’ve been, it’s difficult to move forward,” he said. “It’s important to show this tremendous history that Durango has.”
Greve has written several history books, and Beyond the Badge is her longest. She also finished writing a history book of La Plata County cattlemen after the original author died.
Beyond the Badge is available at Maria’s Bookshop for $60. Two copies are on display at the Durango Public Library.