First “Radio-ized” Fleet of Police Cars

I’ve seen articles giving Detroit credit for the first one-way radio communication with patrol cars, but according to 1928 newspaper stories, those honors should go to the police department in Berkeley, California. In January of 1928, they were the first police department to be fully equipped with radios in patrol cars:

“To Berkeley California, goes the distinction of operating the first police fleet which is completely radio-equipped. In line with his policy of providing every scientific aid for his men, Police Chief August Vollmer, well-known criminologist, sponsored installation of fixed-tune short wave sets under the rear decks of these Buicks, thereby combining quick communication and speedy pursuit in a manner which greatly increases the odds against crime. In support of Chief Vollmer’s methods, it is pointed out the Berkeley requires the smallest police force in the country, population considered.”

That’s not too surprising as Chief August Vollmer has been called the father of American policing. Apparently, a high power vacuum tube transmitter was installed at police headquarters, and this transmitter worked in conjunction with fixed tune receivers installed in the rear of the patrol cars. A red light would come on when there was a message for the police officer, and a concealed loud speaker unit would allow the desk sergeant to communicate instantly with any or all of the officers simultaneously. Tests at the time showed that the system worked perfectly at 50 mph.

Another story said Vollmer was of the opinion that the combination of radio equipment and fast pursuit machines would vastly increase the odds against crime. The “fast pursuit machines” to which he referred were a fleet of new, 1928 Buick coupes.

For 1928, Buick introduced a new hemispherical combustion chamber to allow for higher compression. Two inline sixes were offered, the Standard Six with 207 cubic inches and the Master Six with 274. One story mentioned that the Berkeley police cars were 2-passenger coupes, so they would have had the Standard Six, but with room for only two passengers I guess they were calling the paddy wagon to haul the bad guys.


“Berkely Has Radio-ized Police Fleet.” The Arizona Republican [Phoenix], 18 March 1928, sec. 5 p. 6.

“Berkeley Police Force Complete Radio System.” Modesto News-Herald, 5 February 1928, p. 10.

“Berkeley Police Get Radio Sets.” Asheville Citizen Times, 1 April 1928, p. B-7.

“Berkeley Police Use Radio Equipped Cars.” Oakland Tribune. 22 January 1928, p. O-3.

“New 1928 Buicks Come With Standard Gear Shift.” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 13 August 1927, p. 3.

“New 1928 Buicks To Be Put On Display Monday Evening.” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 6 August 1927, p. 2.

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