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Authority record
City of Tacoma Department

Tacoma City Council

  • 1.1.1
  • City of Tacoma Department

In November of 1883, the territorial legislature passed a law that resulted in the merging of Tacoma City (Old Tacoma) and New Tacoma. The law stated: "That on and after the first Monday of January, 1884, the city of Tacoma, incorporated on November 12, 1875, and New Tacoma, incorporated on November 5, 1881, shall be consolidated under one city government, to be known as Tacoma."

The law also stipulated that an election was to take place in December 1883 to elect a "mayor, city marshal, and three councilmen for each ward." The city was divided into three wards leading to the election of a ten member council. The merger of the two cities occurred on January 7, 1884 with John Wilson Sprague serving as Mayor. Sprague and the nine council members were to serve for an interim term until another election could be held in May 1884.

In 1910, a commission style government was put in place with elected officials managing utilities, public works, and public safety. In 1952, Tacoma voters approved the Mayor/City Manager System that remains in place today. Under this model, the elected Mayor and City Council determine policy that is implemented by the City Manager. The Council is made up of eight Council Members, representing five districts and three at-large positions, and the Mayor. They are responsible for "enacting and amending City laws, adopting the Biennial Budget, appointing citizen board, committees, and commissions, and providing guidance and direction for actions which affect the quality of life in the City."

Tacoma Police Department

  • 1.3.1
  • City of Tacoma Department
  • 1885-

The origins of the Tacoma Police Department can be traced back to the appointment of Leonard Diller as City Marshal of what would become Old Tacoma in 1874. Following the incorporation of New Tacoma in 1880, Henry Williams became the first City Marshal of New Tacoma. In 1884, Old and New Tacoma combined to form the City of Tacoma. E.O. Fulmer, who had begun as City Marshal of New Tacoma in 1882, became the first City Marshal of the City of Tacoma. New Tacoma's combined police station and jail on the southeast corner of 12th Street and Cliff Avenue served as Police Headquarters until 1899.

City Ordinance No. 77 formally created the Tacoma Police Department on April 15, 1885. Under this ordinance, a chief of police was to be elected by the City Council. The person in this role would be responsible for identifying and hiring officers. Because the role of City Marshal was established by the City Charter, the City Attorney determined that the Chief of Police and City Marshal would continue to serve simultaneously without one taking precedence over the other. The Mayor, R.J. Weisbach, appointed himself Chief of Police while E.O. Fulmer remained City Marshal. In 1886, the City stopped paying Fulmer and he successfully took legal action for lost wages. An 1896 ordinance established funding for the police department at a rate of $25.00 per month.

The development of the police department followed patterns of change nationally. Horses and a bicycle squad preceded the acquisition of the department's first motor vehicles in 1910. During Prohibition, local police were said to have met bootleggers at the docks to safely escort them to their warehouses. As the Great Depression took hold, the Tacoma Police Department and Tacoma Fire Department challenged each other to a football game. Admission was charged and the money was used to purchase flour and beans to distribute to hungry families in Tacoma. In the 1940s, police were responsible for enforcing Executive Order 9066 by forcing local families of Japanese descent into incarceration facilities and confiscating their cameras, radios, and other banned items. Controversial "vice squads" were active in the 1950s. While some supported the work of cracking down on gambling and prostitution, the department was accused of using unlawful tactics and the entire squad was demoted to patrol by Mayor Ben Hanson. "Community based policing" was embraced by the department in the 1960s. Officers began wearing name badges and being assigned to specific neighborhoods. The department came under national scrutiny over tactics used by police during violent clashes with local Indigenous tribes over fishing rights in the 1970s. In the 1980s, there was widespread coverage in local media about racial discrimination and use of excessive force by Tacoma police officers. In the 1990s, officers staged a protest against Chief Phillip Arreola in response to his accusation that officers were covering up the misdeeds of other members of the force. The 2000s saw the establishment of the Marine Services Unit and the opening of a new headquarters at 3701 South Pine Street. In 2020, nationwide protests broke out in response to police violence against people of color. Locally, these protests intersected with the killing of Manuel Ellis, a Black man, by police in March 2020.

As of 2022, the Tacoma Police Department has the following mission statement: "To create a safe and secure environment in which to live, work, and visit by working together with the community, enforcing the law in a fair and impartial manner, preserving the peace and order in our neighborhoods, and safeguarding our Constitutional guarantees."

Tacoma Fire Department

  • 1.3.2
  • City of Tacoma Department
  • 1884-

The first local firefighting company, the "New Tacoma Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1," was established on May 29, 1880. The company was made up of volunteers using donated equipment. When New Tacoma and Old Tacoma merged to form the City of Tacoma in 1884, the two volunteer fire departments were also combined. Lack of equipment and an inadequate water system led to significant fire destruction in the early years of the department. The City Council considered multiple plans to respond to the problem, even a proposal that all households stores 40 gallons of water on their roofs to assist with a fire response if needed. Beginning in April 1885, a new water system, the installation of 40 fire hydrants, and funding for equipment allowed the department to improve their response and reduce fire destruction.

After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, the Tacoma City Council was determined to invest in its fire department to prevent similar destruction. Tacoma became one of the earliest cities in Washington to convert the volunteer positions to paid jobs. An alarm system was also installed that year which connected 28 alarm boxes with the alarm tower on I Street. In 1899, the tugboat "Fearless," owned by the Tacoma Tug and Barge Company, was outfitted with a pump and hoses to be made available to the department when needed.

By 1900, the department had a fleet of 33 horses. Seven years later the first motorized vehicle had been obtained. The complete transition from horses and steam fire engines to motorized vehicles was complete by 1919. The Tacoma fire fighters organized as the City Fireman's Federal Union No. 15601 and were charted by the AFL in 1917. The following year, they became a charter member of the International Association of Fire Fighters as local number 31. A bond issue passed by Tacoma voters in 1928 led to increased funding and the purchase of the department's first fireboat.

The Tacoma Fire Department today serves the city of Tacoma and provides contracted fire and EMS services to Fircrest, Fife, and Pierce County Fire District 10. They operate 16 fire stations, 5 medic companies, 4 ladder companies, and 2 fireboats.

Tacoma Public Library

  • 1.4
  • City of Tacoma Department
  • 1894-present

The first movement toward creating a library in Tacoma occurred in “New Tacoma” in 1881. The four block area was established in 1869 by Anthony Carr who feared that the name “Tacoma” would be lost in favor of the more popular “Commencement City.” As New Tacoma grew, residents began discussing the need for a library. In 1881, the articles of incorporation for the New Tacoma Library Association were signed. A small number of books were accumulated but borrowing privileges were limited to residents of New Tacoma who purchased a share in the library.

In 1886, a group of three women were discussing books while they sewed. The city of Tacoma was growing rapidly, but books were difficult to find. What the city needed, the women concluded, was a circulating library which would be open to the public. One of the women, Grace Moore, applied her “untiring energy and lifelong devotion to the cause of education” to the effort and took action toward forming the library. By May 5, 1886, Moore had assembled a group of eighteen women to begin the Mercantile Library of Tacoma. The group ordered a collection of paper bound books and set to work binding them in pasteboard to make them more durable. The circulating library opened in Moore’s home before moving to several different spaces around Tacoma including the Otis Sprague Building on the corner of Ninth and C Streets. In order to pay for repairs to the books and the purchase of new items, a fee of 25 cents was charged to borrowers and an additional 5 cents for use of the space as a reading room. Through fees, donations, and fundraisers, the association’s collection quickly grew to 2,000 volumes.

The success of the Mercantile Library gained the attention of a number of prominent citizens and politicians who encouraged the Mayor and City Council to commit financial support to establish a city library. In January of 1889, incorporation papers were filed with the territory of Washington to form the Public Library. According to these original articles, the Library would be governed by seven trustees which would include the Mayor and two additional members of the City Council. The first meeting was held on April 24, 1889.

In 1890, a “gathering of public-spirited citizens” assembled to discuss municipal funding for the library and a new library building. “The people of Tacoma appreciate that hardly anything, aside from its special work, can advertise the city more than the establishment of a library such as is found in eastern cities,” said one attendee. A local businessman in attendance encouraged citizens to “think of the educational advantages derived from a place from which all who wish can get books.”

City Council soon passed a resolution to fund the Library at a rate of $75 per month. In 1891, the Library moved into the Ball Building on C Street. The following year, the City increased funding to $250 per month and committed the fifth floor of the new City Hall to be used by the Library at no charge. All materials that had been accumulated by the Mercantile Library were gifted to the City. William Curtis Taylor was hired as the first City Librarian and the library moved into its new City Hall quarters in 1894, becoming the Tacoma Public Library.

The Library soon outgrew the City Hall space, especially after facilities problems forced a move from the fifth floor to the second. A group of local citizens worked with librarian Reverend S.B. McLafferty to initiate work on a Carnegie grant to fund construction of a dedicated library building. In 1901, it was announced that Tacoma would receive $50,000 from Andrew Carnegie to fund construction on the condition that “the city will provide the site and guarantee $5,000 annually for maintenance of the library.” Soon after, the Carnegie gift was increased to $75,000 when the city agreed to earmark $7,500 annually for maintenance.

A number of possible sites were discussed before the City settled on the northwest corner of Tacoma Avenue and 12th Street, which was accessible by many street car lines. The building was designed by Jardine, Kent, and Jardine of New York and included “an eclectic Renaissance style punctuated by tawny Tenino sandstone and yellow brick from Seattle.” Construction began in 1902 and the library was dedicated on June 4, 1903. It was the first Carnegie Library completed in the state of Washington. The Carnegie building remained the only library facility until the South Tacoma branch opened on May 3, 1911.

n 1946, Tacoma voters approved a library construction bond. While several sites for the new “Main Branch” were considered, the decision was made to build a new large addition onto the Carnegie building. Initial plans by architect Silas E. Nelson included a rooftop parking lot and renovation of the Carnegie building to match the new construction. However, these measures were eliminated due to cost. Some plans even called for the destruction of the Carnegie building altogether. Groundbreaking for the 64,700 square foot building took place on March 20, 1951 and it opened on November 2, 1952.

Tacoma-Pierce County Opportunity and Development, Inc.

  • 1.7.1
  • City of Tacoma Department
  • 1964-

Tacoma-Pierce County Opportunity and Development, Inc. was formed "to employ the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Public Law 88-452, 88th Congress, as a means of providing stimulation and incentive for the mobilizing of the resources of the Tacoma-Pierce County community to combat poverty."

Planning and Development Services 

  • City of Tacoma Department

In 1991 the Planning and Development Services Department was created through the merger of the Community Development Department and the Human Development and Planning Department (1). This department's mission is to partner with the community to build a livable, sustainable, and safe City by providing strategic, timely, predictable, cost-effective planning and development services with a culture focused on community engagement, customer service, creativity, accountability, and continuous improvement (2).