In Early 1900s, DC Police Had Motorcycle Daredevil Team, Car Impound Fees Were $3

In the first half of the 20th century, the D.C. police department had a team of motorcycle-riding daredevils who formed human pyramids on wheels and rode through flames.

Cameras were first used in the city to enforce traffic laws in 1938, and in 1934, it cost just $3 to get a car back after it was impounded.

A D.C. family recently found a treasure trove of artifacts on what the District's police department and the city were like from about 1918 to 1949. News4 pored over their old scrapbooks, plus rare footage from D.C. police.

"So much of this just gathered dust in my parents' attic for decades," musician and retired minister Blaine Smith said.

Blaine Smith is the grandson of Milton "Shorty" Smith, who rose to the rank of assistant chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) before his death in 1949.

At 5-foot-5, Milton Smith was the shortest officer on the force and needed a waiver in 1918 to become an officer. He often was featured in news reports because of his stature.

Nearly 70 years after his grandfather's death, Blaine Smith found his grandfather's collection of memorabilia. What he found helps tell the story of the D.C. police department.

One article from 1937 says parking signs even then were too confusing. Another describes the start of the D.C. police union, as officers sought to reduce their schedules to six days a week. 

When MPD Assistant Chief Jeffery Carroll learned about the Smith family's collection, he invited them to police headquarters. There, the family watched the only known footage of Milton Smith and the police motorcycle unit, performing stunts at a 1941 exhibition at Griffith Stadium.

The Smith family laughed as they saw the family patriarch in action.

Carroll said the family's collection contributes to what we know about the city.

"This is our history -- not only the history of the Metropolitan Police Department; it's part of the history of Washington, D.C.," he said.

Blaine Smith said he was pleased to see the footage of his grandfather. He plans to preserve the whole collection.

"It's incredible. Incredible. I can't wait to show it to my other son, who's out of state, and my two grandkids," he said. "We are going to treasure that."

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