Flashback: Calling the cops is easy now — but not in the past, before the telephone

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SEATTLE METROPOLITAN POLICE MUSEUM — When you have an emergency, you call 911 and help is immediately on the way.

Well, it sure wasn’t that simple back in the early days of the telephone — or before it was even invented.

Seattle Police Ofc. Jim Ritter has more in this “Flashback.”

"Calling the police nowadays is a quick and efficient way to get help fast. In many cases the cops can be at your emergency within minutes, but it wasn`t always that way. In 1860 we had one town Marshal in Seattle. If you had an emergency, you had to run all over town trying to find him, and in many cases, he`d be out hunting or fishing.”

“By the 1870`s you had to run to police headquarters to find the cops. That could be blocks or even miles away.”

“By 1890 the city of Seattle installed police call boxes. The boxes assigned to the downtown business district had citizens keys which were issued to each business owner who would run to the call box, insert the key, turn and the key would lock in place sounding the alarm to police headquarters. Also in the 1890`s as telephones got more affordable, citizens in the city of Seattle could call 'MAIN 7810', which was a number linked directly to police headquarters.”

“By the 1950`s, as Seattle expanded, the city installed Citizens` Emergency Boxes throughout the city. These boxes were not locked and allowed any citizen at any time to open the box, pull the receiver, and get police dispatched to that location immediately.”

“In the 1970`s the American Telephone and Telegraph Company in conjunction with Bell Telephone came up with a dynamic concept where citizens only had to dial three numbers to contact police, fire, or medical aid. It`s a concept that saved thousands of lives back then and continues to this day.”

“Modern technology is something we all take for granted. The old methods you`ve just seen for calling the police should make everyone thankful that help is only three numbers away, 911.

That`s the way it was. I`m Officer Jim Ritter and this is ‘Flashback.’”