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Police Department

History of the MNPD Traffic Section

In 1912, with the advent of automobiles, traffic control grew in importance, and the Nashville Police Department created a Traffic Division. The first traffic officers were called, “Corner Men,” and placed at the busiest intersections in the city.

In the late teens and early twenties, traffic officers began to use motorcycles to chase down violators of the new city ordinances passed to establish standards for the operation of automobiles. In January 1920, a select group of four officers popularly known as the “Flying Squadron,” became the first organized traffic motorcycle group tasked with patrolling the streets of Nashville to pursue reckless drivers and other traffic violators. By the early twenties, the traffic squad had grown to 15 officers made up mostly of, “Corner Men.” “Corner Men” kept traffic moving at their assigned intersections with a manual stop and go sign attached to a pole in the center of the intersection.

In January 1923 newly elected Police Chief J. William Smith launched a campaign against traffic violators. In a four-day period, 118 people were arrested for violation of the automobile law. Violations ranged from running without lights, running without numbers,(no plate), and speeding. At the time, the speed limit in the downtown area was 9mph, 8mph when crossing intersections, and 15mph in the rest of the city. Those who waived the opportunity to go to court paid fines ranging from $5 to $50. Those who were charged with speeding more than 20mph over the speed limit and drunk driving were bound over to criminal court.

On March 1st, 1940, R. Willard Jett joined the Nashville Police Departments Motorcycle Division at the rank of Sergeant after more than ten years with the Tennessee State Police, later called the Highway Patrol. Sergeant Jett was named the director or the Motorcycle Division on November 15th, 1940 and was promoted to the rank of inspector. He increased the motorcycle patrol unit from six officers to ten officers and adopted a vinyl-coated white cap for traffic officers. The white hat made them more visible, and the vinyl coating was more durable in rain and snow. In the early 1940’s there were more than 22 officers assigned to the Traffic Division. In the mid-1950’s, the Harley Davidson motorcycle became the primary vehicle for traffic officers. On occasion a well-known actress came into town, the motorcycle unit would race their bikes to the airport.

The first one to get there won the right to give the star a ride around town on his motor. In 1956 the National Safety Council presented Nashville a special award for its traffic safety program and school mothers patrol. In 1958 the Traffic Division was under the command of an Inspector, with Lieutenants over accident investigations, intersection and parking control, and School mothers patrol. In 1963, after the birth of the newly formed Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County, the back to school safety slogan implemented by the Traffic Division and School Mothers Patrol was, “Drive Slow, Children on the go.” In 1965, Newman’s Raiders was formed as a specialized traffic unit comprised of all volunteer motorcycle officers. Although Newman’s Raiders were very active with enforcement efforts, reportedly issuing more than 100 citations a night, they were disbanded in 1967 when the policy allowing officers to take city vehicles home was abandoned. After growing pressure to improve traffic enforcement, Assistant Chief Barton announced plans for the formation of two motorcycle units of 10 officers each, and the purchase of 20 new bikes.

The Traffic Division today is comprised of one Captain, one Lieutenant, four Sergeants, ten crash investigators, two Hit and Run investigators, nine DUI Enforcement officers, and the School Mothers Unit. Our goal to reduce fatalities, and injuries resulting from traffic crashes remains the top priority. We now employ a broad range of techniques to reach that target such as educational classes geared toward educating teen drivers, distracted drivers, and impaired drivers.

The traffic section participates in community events supports groups such as MADD. Also, traffic units conduct outreach instructing young drivers on the hazards of distracted, buzzed, and intoxicated driving. From the very beginning of the police department's history, traffic enforcement and control were a primary focus of the department's leaders. After more than 100 years, and numerous innovations in technology the goal of the traffic unit remains the same, to save lives.

Reference: Turner Publishing Company, “Metropolitan Nashville Police 1806-2006"