Wisconsin Department of Transportation

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75th anniversary of Wisconsin State Patrol logo

State Patrol's historical timeline

In addition to the following events, the Wisconsin State Patrol has responded to statewide and local emergencies and natural disasters, crimes, crashes, and other law enforcement and public safety incidents that are too numerous to mention.

1939

  • The Wisconsin Legislature on Sept. 1 passed Chapter 110 creating the Motor Vehicle Department, which consisted of three divisions: Registration and Licensing, Highway Safety Promotion, and Inspection and Enforcement.
  • Governor Julius Heil appointed Colonel George Rickeman as the first commissioner of the Motor Vehicle Department. In turn, Commissioner Rickeman appointed Homer G. Bell as the director of the Inspection and Enforcement Division with supervision of 46 inspectors, who previously staffed five different agencies in various state departments.
  • The inspectors were authorized to enforce the state’s motor vehicle code and motor carrier regulations. They were paid $180 month. They used their own vehicles but were supplied with a siren, flashing red lights, police license plate and official door shield. They also received $30 a month for gasoline, oil and lubricants.
  • The officers were the official Motor Vehicle Department representative in their assigned counties and a large part of their time was devoted to non-enforcement duties such as giving driver’s license tests and taking vehicle registration applications.

1940-1949

  • The Legislature in 1941 restricted the number of agency personnel to 55 and labeled them "traffic officers" for the first time.
  • During World War II, traffic officers escorted military convoys and maintained smooth and safe traffic flows in the vicinity of Camp McCoy and the munitions plant near Baraboo. They also escorted caravans of celebrities selling war bonds around the state.
  • As a result of the war efforts, the agency’s field headquarters moved to the Badger Ordnance complex near Baraboo in 1941.
  • Officers had no communications equipment in their vehicles. In emergencies, radio station WIZR at the Badger Ordnance plant would broadcast an alert. The officers would then have to find a nearby phone to contact headquarters for instructions.
  • A private telephone line to the Motor Vehicle Department provided a 24-hour, direct link between the field headquarters and Madison for driver’s license and vehicle registration information.
  • When Badger Ordnance closed in 1945, the agency’s headquarters were moved to the lower level of the state office building at 1 West Wilson Street in Madison.
  • New communications stations were installed in Delafield, Hayward, Irma and Waukesha in 1946.
  • Communications improved with the creation of an FM radio station called WWCF east of Baraboo in 1947. The station allowed the agency to use its 654-foot tower for a communications center. The site also had living and office quarters and remained the central dispatch point until 1955.
  • The Baraboo site was linked to the agency’s radio console station at Lapham Peak near Delafield in 1948. The communications system consisted of seven base stations with control centers at Baraboo, Hayward, Tomahawk, DePere and Black River Falls.
  • To keep speedometers on officers’ vehicles accurate, a Fifth-Wheel Trackmaster was used. The trackmaster was a large bicycle-type wheel that attached to the bumper and accurately measured the vehicle’s speed.

1950-1959

  • The state began buying and equipping squad cars and assigning them to individual officers in 1951.
  • The agency devised an experiment in 1952 using a borrowed radar unit to determine if the new technology was useful for speed limit enforcement.  The first official use of radar by the agency was at an intersection in Hales Corner in 1953, and this new technology created great excitement.
  • The death toll from traffic crashes in 1955 climbed to more than 900. To reduce traffic fatalities, state officials including Governor Walter Kohler backed legislation to increase the number of officers to 250. The duties of the officers also became even more focused on traffic safety enforcement.
  • Lawrence Beier, director of the Motor Vehicle Department’s Enforcement Division, negotiated a two-year contract with the Northwestern University Traffic Institute in 1955 to operate a training academy at Camp McCoy. The first class of 48 officers graduated from the academy on December 29, 1955. Camp McCoy was chosen for the academy because it offered barracks, classrooms and a mess hall along with roads for driver training and crash investigation classes.
  • The agency began issuing firearms and provided firearm training to officers in 1955.
  • The Legislature in 1955 authorized an increase in the number of officers from 70 to 250.
  • The agency added Harley-Davidson motorcycles to its fleet in 1956. The motorcycles provided greater mobility through heavy traffic.
  • The first Breathalyzers were purchased in 1956 to detect drivers’ alcohol consumption. (Eventually, the agency’s Chemical Testing Section assumed statewide responsibility for testing and certifying this type of equipment to measure drivers’ alcohol levels.)
  • At the end of the contract with the Northwestern University Traffic Institute, agency staff assumed responsibility for the training program at the academy in 1957.
  • The Legislature in 1957 authorized an additional group of 70 motor carrier inspectors to relieve officers from duties at the stationary scales and to assist in administrative investigations. Inspectors enforced truck weight, equipment and licensing regulations. They were authorized to wear a distinctive brown and green uniform in 1959.
  • The agency took to the air with officers as pilots in 1958. Highway pavement was marked in one-eighth of a mile segments. By timing vehicles with a stop watch, officers in the plane could determine the speed and relay the information to officers on the ground for enforcement action.

1960-1969

  • The Legislature in 1961 provided officers with limited authority to make arrests for criminal violations committed in their presence on highways.
  • The number of authorized inspectors was increased from 70 to 83 by the Legislature in 1963.
  • The agency’s central headquarters moved to the Hill Farms State Office Building in Madison in 1964.
  • The central dispatch function was divided between two communications centers located in Wausau and Madison in 1964.
  • In 1965, the agency’s black and gray cruisers were replaced with dark blue vehicles which had a white roof, trunk and door. A red, white and blue shield was displayed on the front doors.
  • The traffic safety officer classification was officially changed to State Patrol trooper on September 9, 1966.
  • Troopers were issued .357 Magnum revolvers beginning in 1966.
  • The agency established a policy that troopers must wear a seat belt while on duty in 1967. (Mandatory safety belt use for all drivers and passengers was not a state law until 1987 in Wisconsin.)
  • A communications network was developed and installed in 1967 that equipped all cruisers with receivers and transmitters.
  • The authorized number of sworn officers was increased to 375 in 1968.
  • Because of renovations at Fort McCoy, the academy’s training programs were moved to the campus of Whitewater State University in 1968.
  •  he first state-owned buildings to house the State Patrol district functions were constructed. The new District 4 headquarters in Rib Mountain near Wausau opened on May 22, 1968. The facility cost $291,000 and had 12-inch thick walls in the basement to protect against nuclear fallout.
  • The Chemical Testing Section was formed in 1968 to test and evaluate equipment and procedures for detecting motorists’ alcohol levels. The first Chem Test technicians wore State Patrol uniforms and used squad cars during their work days.
  • Two broadcasting centers were created in 1969 to blanket the upper and lower halves of the state. Dispatchers were provided access to computerized records for determining driver’s license and vehicle registration directly.

1970-1979

  • The state’s TIME System linked officers to other law enforcement agencies in the state beginning in 1972.
  • The agency suffered its first line of duty death on August 26, 1972, when Trooper Donald Peterson was shot and killed. (In memoriam)
  • Officers were authorized greater enforcement authority in 1973 for arresting subjects with outstanding warrants.
  • A new District 3 headquarters facility was built in Fond du Lac in 1973. The complex cost $552,000.
  • The agency was the first in the nation to accept credit cards for traffic violation deposits beginning in 1974.
  • The first female cadets began training to become State Patrol officers as members of the 24th Recruit Class at the academy on March 5, 1975. Advanced planning was needed to ensure properly fitted uniforms and housing accommodations in the barracks at Fort McCoy.
  • A major reorganization in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation occurred in 1977. The Enforcement and Inspection Bureau, which had been part of the Motor Vehicle Division since its inception, became a separate division now called the Division of Enforcement and Inspection.
  • Recruit training at the academy was increased to a 22-week program in 1979.
  • Officers began to use portable breath alcohol testers on drivers in 1979. If the test showed a prohibited alcohol content during a sobriety field test, the driver was transported to a facility for an evidentiary breath test using a Breathalyzer or to a medical facility for a blood draw.
  • The new VASCAR system was installed in aircraft in 1979 to calculate vehicle speed on the ground. VASCAR replaced the stop watch timing by officers in aircraft for speed enforcement. (A State Patrol video on You Tube shows how VASCAR works)

1980-1989

  • The Division of Enforcement and Inspection officially became the Division of State Patrol on January 15, 1980, to reflect the agency’s mission and responsibilities.
  • The State Patrol in 1980 purchased its "red phone" system, which is a private telephone system connecting the central headquarters in Madison with the seven district headquarters, the State Patrol Academy, and the state Division of Emergency Management.
  • Trooper Gary Powles was killed in the line of duty from injuries sustained in a crash on May 18, 1980. (In memoriam)
  • The Legislature increased the authorized strength of the State Patrol from 375 to 400 sworn positions in 1983.
  • Construction began on a new State Patrol Academy facility at Fort McCoy in May 1984.
  • Intoxilyzers for measuring breath-alcohol levels replaced the Breathalyzers beginning in 1984.
  • The agency began its participation in the federally funded Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) with six inspectors in 1985.
  • The .357 Smith & Wesson revolver was replaced with the .9mm Ruger semi-automatic in 1987.
  • A new two-person, two desk radio console system became operational at the District 4 headquarters in Wausau in 1988. The system contained a teletype machine, typewriter, telephone, printer, credit card machine, recall recorder for radio and telephone traffic, citizens band radio, police scanner, personal computer and microfiche machine.
  • Trooper Deborah McMenamin was killed in the line of duty on Oct. 26, 1989.  [In memoriam]

1990-1999

  • The Computer Aided Radio Log (CARL) developed specifically for the State Patrol in 1991 enabled dispatchers to use computerized functions to replace tasks previously completed by written communications.
  • In-car videotaping equipment was first installed in cruisers in 1992 as part of a study to access the system’s effectiveness and utility. The system cost about $1,650 per cruiser.
  • A law was enacted that provided troopers and inspectors with the full enforcement powers of a police officer for Wisconsin laws in 1993.
  • Trooper William Schoenberger died on April 22, 1993, from injuries suffered in the line of duty. (In memoriam])
  • A new emergency vehicle operator course (EVOC) opened at the academy in 1994.
  • The first mobile computers began to be installed in cruisers in 1995. By 1999, mobile data computers (MDCs) built by Panasonic were being used by troopers and inspectors to obtain critical information about motorists’ licenses and vehicle registration without having to use voice communications.
  • The Chemical Testing Section evaluated and approved the Intoximeter EC/IR for evidential breath testing results for determining alcohol levels in 1998. The Intoximeter replaced the Intoxilyzer equipment.
  • The position of State Patrol superintendent was created in 1999. Unlike the previous classification of administrator for the head of the agency, only a sworn officer could hold the position of superintendent.
  • The radio communications program for the Department of Natural Resources was consolidated with the State Patrol in 1999.

2000-2009

  • Four full-time positions were added to the State Patrol Radio Shop in Madison in 2000 to expedite the installation of communications and other equipment on cruisers.
  • Police communications operators (PCOs) were authorized in 2000 to wear a distinctive navy colored shirt, which included a State Patrol patch, while on duty.
  • Strobe lighting was installed on new cruisers for better visibility and enhanced safety of officers and motorists in 2000.
  • Ford Expeditions were issued to 17 motor carrier inspectors for transportation of heavy equipment in 2001.
  • The state’s Move Over Law was enacted in 2001 that requires motorists to move over or slow down for emergency vehicles on the side of a road. Despite the new law, State Patrol officers still face the constant danger of being hit by a vehicle. (State Patrol videos show some recent close calls where troopers narrowly escaped tragedy).
  • A digital communications system replaced the last remaining microwave path in 2002.
  • The deadliest crash in Wisconsin history occurred on Oct. 11, 2002, on I-43 in Sheboygan County. Ten people were killed when heavy fog blanketed the highway leading to a huge pile-up of vehicles some of which caught fire. State Patrol officers responded to the scene, and crash reconstructionists spent many months detailing events in the crash that involved more than 50 vehicles.
  • As part of its Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) initiative, State Patrol hired six consumer protection investigators and a supervisor in 2002. (These non-sworn investigators conduct motor carrier safety audits to promote compliance with state and federal regulations.)
  • The Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Safety (BOTS) becomes part of the Division of State Patrol in 2003. A major function of BOTS is disbursing federal funding for traffic safety enforcement and education activities statewide.
  • After testing by State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies, the new Traffic and Criminal Software (TraCS) rollout began in June 2005. By using their mobile date computers equipped with TraCS, State Patrol officers no longer have to fill out paper forms for crashes, citations and warnings.
  • The State Patrol’s expertise in using the total station surveying system to map a crime scene was instrumental in helping secure a murder conviction of Chai Soua Vang, who shot and killed six deer hunters and wounded two others in the woods near Exeland in Sawyer County on Nov. 21, 2004. Vang contended that he acted in self-defense after the hunters harassed him for trespassing on their property and then fired a shot at him. According to William Bremer, the jury foreman, a map of the crime scene, produced by the State Patrol Northwest Region, clearly showed jurors that the defendant’s version of what happened was not credible. The high-profile murder trial attracted international attention.
  • An extensive WisDOT reorganization in 2005 created five State Patrol regions with seven posts to replace the previous seven State Patrol districts. (State Patrol regional locations and areas of responsibility)
  • The Dignitary Protection Unit was formed in 2006 to protect the Governor and other state officials. (Dignitary Protection Unit’s responsibilities)
  • To meet the growing demands for the State Patrol’s expertise in crash reconstruction and forensic mapping, the Technical Reconstruction Unit (TRU) was formed in 2007. The unit has continually responded statewide to complex crash scenes and has been involved in the mapping of numerous high-profile crime scenes.
  • From 2007 to 2011, traffic fatalities in Wisconsin declined to levels not experienced since World War II.
  • To bolster its criminal interdiction initiative, the K-9 program was instituted, and the first handlers and their K-9 partners were deployed in December 2006. An explosive detection K-9 team was added in November 2010.  he K-9 program is funded through asset forfeitures from drug arrests. From its inception, the K-9 teams around the state produced remarkable results. For example, on Nov. 20, 2007, a K-9 team searched a semi tractor-trailer unit at the Safety and Weight Enforcement Facility on I-90 near West Salem. The trained K-9 alerted on a cardboard box stashed among a load of fresh tomatoes in the trailer. Inside the box, officers found about 25 pounds of marijuana. Officers subsequently opened another 14 boxes and found a total of more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana, which was one of the largest marijuana seizures ever in western Wisconsin.
  • The State Patrol launched coordinated responses to widespread flooding that hit 30 counties in the summer of 2008. In total, State Patrol officers served more than 9,000 hours in flood-related duties. Teams of officers surveyed the conditions of roads, bridges and other infrastructure. They also assisted with evacuations of residents and provided security for vacated homes and businesses.
  • An exhaustive investigation by the Technical Reconstruction Unit supplied evidence that helped determine multiple homicide convictions after one of the deadliest drunken driving crashes in Wisconsin history. On January 18, 2009, Richard Powell was driving his pick-up truck at a high rate of speed when he crashed into a sedan at an intersection on US 41 in Marinette County. The crash killed a father and his four children in the sedan, including two of his daughters who were pregnant. The family was traveling to a job as a cleaning crew. Powell plead no contest to five counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle with two additional counts for the deaths of the unborn children read into the record for sentencing.
  • In 2008 and 2009, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) presented its Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) Leadership Award for Overall State Safety Program Performance in the large-state division to the State Patrol. Overall performance was measured in the areas of data quality, traffic enforcement, commercial motor vehicle fatality rate, and state-conducted compliance reviews.
  • State Patrol Inspector Dan Slick of the Northwest Region - Spooner Post won the Grand Champion Award at the 2008 North American Inspectors Championship (NAIC). NAIC contestants were evaluated in seven categories, and Inspector Slick amassed the highest cumulative score to earn the Grand Champion title as the best overall commercial motor vehicle inspector.
  • The Bureau of Transportation Safety launched a new statewide traffic safety campaign called Zero In Wisconsin in 2009. The goal of the campaign is to reduce the number of preventable traffic deaths to Zero In Wisconsin. (Zero In Wisconsin campaign)
  • Trooper Jorge Dimas died on June 14, 2009, of injuries suffered from a crash in the line of duty. (In memoriam)
  • State Patrol assigned a sergeant to work full-time with the Milwaukee High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) in 2009. The State Patrol sergeant supervises the HIDTA interdiction effort made up of two State Patrol K-9 teams, three Milwaukee Police Department officers, a U.S. Postal inspector and a Coast Guard officer. In partnership  with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies,  HIDTA dismantles and disrupts drug-trafficking operations in Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Waukesha, Rock, Dane and Brown counties.

2010 to present

  • K-9 teams conducted 1,406 searches in 2010 that resulted in 535 seizures of marijuana, other drugs, and illegal weapons in 2010. In addition, a total of $883,394 in U.S. currency from drug-related offenses was seized in 2010.
  • The Bureau of Transportation Safety in 2012 launched THE REF (Transportable High End Rider Education Facility) to improve motorcycle rider safety. THE REF is the first of its kind in the nation.
  • The classifications of police communications operator and police communications supervisor were changed to law enforcement dispatcher and law enforcement dispatcher supervisor in 2013.
  • The Bureau of Transportation Safety launched the Drive Sober mobile app in 2013. The award-winning app had more than 40,000 downloads in its first year.

* The information sources include a variety of documents, newsletters, previous anniversary publications and submissions by current and former members of the Wisconsin State Patrol.

Questions about the content of this page:
Steve Olson, steve.olson@dot.wi.gov
Last modified: January 29, 2014

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