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J. D. Hillhouse, Chief of Police
Reno Nevada 1911 -1919 

R. C. “Charles” Leeper was elected to the Nevada State Legislature in 1890 for one term which ended in 1892. During the term, an article appeared about the Hon. R. C. Leeper.

The article said of Leeper that he is a typical self-made young man. “Coming to Reno at an early day, a perfect stranger, he has by perseverance, industry and integrity, become one of Reno's most respected young citizens. His first experience in Reno was that which generally falls to any young man who arrives in a new place without money or friends.

He was compelled to earn his living by working as a labor on the V&T which was being built at that time. He soon after located in Reno and gradually built up a prosperous business in the saddlery and harness line.

He is an active worker in political circles. Aside from his harness and saddlery business he takes considerable interest in blooded horses being the owner of several fine trotters.”

At the end of his term with the Nevada Legislature he elected not to run for reelection and instead put his hat in the ring for Washoe county Sheriff.

In 1892 Leeper became the “People’s Party” nominee for Washoe County Sherriff. It was published that he had been a resident of Reno for seventeen years, coming to this town when a boy with only $2.50 in his pocket, traveling on foot. His first employment was in the harness shop of Mr. Jaques, which he now owns. He is still a young man and is thoroughly identified with the best interests of his adopted State and town. Mr. Leeper two years ago was elected to the Legislature from this county by a handsome majority, leading his ticket and made an honest record.

The article said, “He is not an office seeker, but the office sought the man. There is no citizen of Washoe who is better or well qualified to make a good sheriff than Charley Leeper, with due regard for the merits of his opponents. If elected the Journal pledges that under his management that important office will be conducted economical and well subserve the best interest of the people.”

Leeper lost the 1892 election for Washoe county Sheriff to W. H. Caughlin.

It is believed that for serval years Leeper served as a deputy Constable for Constables D.R. Dickey, W. H. McInnis and Ward D. McNeilly. In 1900 Leeper would be elected as Constable of the Reno Township during which he would establish a reputation as a good lawman and a tough survivor after being shot during a gun battle with a suspect.

On December 20th, 1902, The Reno Gazette published that “A Faithful Officer, Who Will Retire on the First of the Year”.

The article spoke well of Constable Leeper. It said “With the close of this year Charley Leeper, who has faithfully served the people of Reno and Washoe county as an officer for many years, retires to private life again. In his retirement Reno loses a most faithful and efficient officer, one who at all times has promptly attended to his duties, never over-reaching his authority, but always performing the same, regardless of the risk involved, in a most conscious manner.

Fear is not in him. His record as an officer has shown this. While carrying the wounds of many a conflict with the tough element which has, in years passed. invaded Nevada, Officer Leeper has it yet to be said that he ever shoved the "white feather. His encounters have been many and he has the enviable reputation as an officer of having it said that when he went after a man, he was almost sure to get him.

The gentleman in question has also on various occasions proven himself an adept as a detective and owing to his sagacity many a criminal now languishes in the penitentiary paying the penalty of his crimes.

As said before Mr. Leeper has proven a most faithful officer and in his retirement the citizens of Reno feel that they are losing a guardian and protector whose place it will be hard to fill.

The "Gazette" joins with Mr. Leeper's many friends in wishing him success in any vocation which he may in future see fit to follow, and sincerely hope that he will not see fit to leave the city as he is recognized as a most creditable citizen.” Later in the year, Charley Leeper would once again throw his hat in the ring for Washoe County Sheriff. As in his first bid for sheriff his lost the election but this time to John Hayes.


J. D. Hillhouse, Chief of Police -- 1911-1919

The Reno Police Department Front Desk with J.D. Hillhouse, Chief of Police standing to the right

Charley Leeper is Considered by Many to be Reno's First Chief of Police
by Jim Gibbs

Rather or not Charley Leeper was indeed the first Chief of Police depends upon your interpretation as to what is truly the beginning of the City of Reno. Reno was incorporated as a township on two occasions and actually incorporated as a city in 1897. Oddly, with that 1897 incorporation the new City council viewed the creation of a police department as unimportant or just overed looked the need as they relied upon the elected Constable to serve as the City Marshal. Regardless, the new City of Reno created in 1997 was also the beginning of political turmoil and as an incorporated city it did not survive. The City of Reno would be short lived and was legislated back to a township in 1899 with administrative duties under the control of the Washoe County Commission functioning as a Town Board.

Upon the second incorporation as a city in 1903 the newly formed city council was faced with an uphill battle. It is a condition and not a theory that faced the city council. Upon their first meeting they were presented with a memorandum by Treasurer Boyd that showed things to be in bad shape financially. In fact, there could hardly be a worse state of affairs to face.

The figures showed that the town board (Washoe county Commissioners) had not only spent every cent in the treasury, but had run the town thousands of dollars in debt. According to the Incorporation act, the city council could not purchase a bottle of ink without paying for it out of their own pockets, for they are not allowed to contract any indebtedness. The situation was such a bad one the council wanted the people of Reno to know to what extent their treasury has been impoverished and their credit all but destroyed.

The taxable property of the city was $2,352,125 and in the county $6,065,625. The annual revenues amount to about $20,000.

The County Commission acting as the town board began the year with a surplus of $8,431.82. By May that surplus had vanished and, in its stead, looms up a deficit that makes for a very difficult beginning for the City of Reno.

The next issue before the new City Council would be the selection of a man for Police Judge. Justice of the Peace Richard Nash filed an application with the Council for the position as did John T. Reed, but they were both turned down and the Judgeship fell into the lap of C. A. Richardson. Judge Nash was rejected to assure the duties of the Reno City Court were separated from the duties of Justice Nash, who was elected to serve the whole township.

Next in order was the naming of a man to be Chief of Police, and ex-officio Chief of the Fire department. The job of appointing the first Chief of Police would not be easy. Charles Leeper, Stewart Logan. C. P. Ferrell, S. W. Upson and H. P. Brown presented their names for that position.

A vote was taken to see which way the minds of the members of the Council were leaning.

The first ballot gave Leeper two, Logan two, and Ferrell one. The second ballot was unchanged. and the third likewise. At this Interesting point the room was cleared and the five members of the Council left alone to put the tape measure on the candidates where the vulgar gaze of the "common people" could not reach them.

The conference resulted in the choice of Charles Leeper on the first ballot after the conference, with Logan still holding his two votes, but Ferrell's friend fell into the Leeper camp. giving him the necessary number to. make him Chief of the Police and Fire Department.

It was believed by the media that Stewart Logan would probably get an appointment on the force under Chief Leeper as a result of his strong bid for chief. It was interesting that the City Charter did not give the Chief of Police power to name the force under him but simply to recommend to the Council his choice with the Council having the authority to actually make the appointments.

The newly appointed Chief of Police for a financially depleted City, and without even the authority to appoint police officers without the City council’s approval, Chief of Police Charles Leeper took office. No doubt, the anticipation of a Presidential visit by Teddy Roosevelt just a week away surely made for a busy beginning.

The First Year of the Police Department – A Proud Record
The record of the Reno Police Department for the first year under Chief Leeper, beginning June 1st, 1903, and continuing to June 1st, 1904, shows that the Chief and his officers handled the crime committing element in a creditable manner, both to themselves and to the City of Reno.

During that first year there were eight hundred and eighty-four arrests made upon complaints for nuisance, and on the other hand fifteen hundred and seventy-five arrests made upon complaints for misdemeanor.

The total arrests made by the department during that first year gives a total of 2459 arrests.

Just think of it! Almost seven arrests a day. Few police departments at the time could boast of a better record, and the people of the City of Reno may well feel proud to know that the first-year history of the department is worth repeating itself.

The total revenue that those 884 nuisance arrests have brought in to the city amounts to $1598.65, and for the 1575 misdemeanors there came to Reno through this part of the city government, $5292.50, making a grand total of $6801.15.

This large sum of money, Police Judge Richardson says, has been turned in by himself since June 1st, 1903 when he entered upon the duties of the office.

The Reno Gazette reported, “The total expense of the police department is at present about $500 per month. At present there are on duty six officers including Chief of Police Leeper. The other policemen are Assistant Chief McNeilly, F. T. Meffley, R. O. Tatum, T. O. Berry and James Saunders. who is at present filling the position of Charles Higley.”

Being Appointed Chief of Police and Keeping the Job can be a Challenge
There can be no doubt of the impressive beginning of the Reno Police Department under the administration of Chief Leeper. But cities are political organizations and politics and law enforcement can make for strange bed fellows.

The Tenderloin District, prostitution and the political battle over value and control of vice would bring clashes between the people, Churches and politicians with the police department caught in the middle.

In addition to the politics of the City Council, the Washoe County Sheriff, Charles Ferrell may have overstepped his jurisdiction when he sided with the churches and raided the Tenderloin District in the heart of the new City of Reno and the Reno Township Constable Wilson would also make the policing of Reno very political.

Two police officers would lose their lives in the line of duty during the short upstart period of the new Reno Police Department. Nothing would be easy for Reno’s first Chief of Police.

Newly elected Mayor O’Conner took office in 1905 with an apparent agenda to remove a couple of City department heads including the chief of police. All would come to a head in December of 1907 when the mayor would submit Leeper’s resignation previously obtain under questionable circumstances and Leeper would be replaced and would retaliate by opening a legal action against the City that would last for several years and go all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Please enjoy this online version of "The History of Policing Reno".


P.O. Box 60631
Reno, NV 89506

Email: badge254@renopd1978.com
Phone: 775-200-0578
Fax: 888-496-0270