Chattanooga, TN Police Department

History of the Chattanooga Police Shoulder Patch

This patch is worn with pride by all uniformed members of the Chattanooga Police Department.  The patch shows the city surrounded by mountain ridges the Tennessee River winding around Moccasin Bend and a Civil War cannon at the edge of Lookout Mountain. 

The red 1852 signifies the date of creation of the city’s first police department.  By 1883 the Chattanooga population was over 18,000 with a police force of one chief, one assistant chief and ten patrolmen.  Today the department has grown to over 470 sworn officers.

The History of the Chattanooga Police Department Motorcycle Unit

The Iron Horse Warriors

(The Legendary BLACK WIDOWS)

The iron horse (Harley Davidson Motorcycle) was introduced into the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Police Department in 1912.  The Chattanooga Police Department was formed in 1852.  The reason for utilizing the motorcycles was to update the department and make it more mobile.

                In 1922, seven officers were assigned to ride the motorcycles who were formerly horse patrolmen.  This in effect marked the end of the mounted patrolmen and the beginning of the motorcycle squad.  At first the motormen acquired their skill for riding the menacing machines by first learning and mastering the basics on bicycles.  Their number grew from seven original in 1922 to twenty-two in 1924 and to my knowledge is the largest it has ever been.

                In 1930 or there about a logo was selected by the motormen to become their emblem.  They selected the Black Widow Spider and to this day, sixty years later it still proudly adorns the helmets and machines of the Chattanooga Motorcycle Squad.  We can only intelligently guess as to why the black widow spider was chosen since none of the original Black Widows are alive today and that particular information was not passed on to succeeding members nor was it fully documented.  We can only guess that at that day and time, the road hazards, weather and lack of expertise, caused numerous accidents, injuries and some deaths and we know that the motorcycles were commonly and laughingly called “widow makers” which we believe prompted the selection of the spider for their logo.

                What began as probably a joke has turned into a proud and legendary tradition over the years.  The motormen took great pride in their uniforms (which remain largely unchanged today), their jobs and their ability.  Their feats of courage and durability along with the excellent manner in which they performed their duty has become legend in our department.  A single motorman has been known to quell a hefty bar room brawl being out numbered ten to one on numerous occasions.  Alone and unaided, a motorman captured three separate armed robbers from three separate robberies in less than four hours.  Another captured an armed robber singlehandedly although the motorman was totally unarmed at the time.  They have pulled victims from burning buildings and cars at great risk to themselves; they have been shot at, pulled children from in front of speeding cars and numerous other acts of courage.  How do they respond to all this?  It’s part of the job they say.  Bragging is not part of the tradition, however, joking and needling one another about the mistakes and goofs thy make is very much the tradition.  One must possess a sense of humor.  The motormen look upon themselves as ambassadors of the police department and conduct themselves accordingly.  In the early 1960’s around Christmas time, three motormen were reflecting on the fact that they knew many families with children who would not receive any toys or food for Christmas.  As a result, that December morning at 6:30 am before the shift started, The Forgotten Child Fund was born.  Six families received aid from the motor squad that year, much of it coming from their own pockets.  Since then, the Forgotten Child Fund has become the largest single Christmas charity in this city providing for families with children.  This year, hundreds of families received aide.  Complaints from citizens are rare and it is said that no matter what the incident, One motorman is all that is needed.

                In the 1960’s the Chattanooga Motorcycle Squad was in great demand in the Southeast.  We traveled across the state and to other states to escort the dignitaries, funerals and parades of other municipalities.  We have made many Presidential motorcades and to my knowledge, we are the only motorcycle unit ever complimented by President Lyndon Johnson.

                Numbers have fluctuated over the years and presently we are an even dozen but we have assurance of growth.  We have many applicants aspiring to our ranks and we are looked upon with awe and admiration by the rest of the department.  We are also very selective when it comes to who may fill our ranks and as a result most all the motormen go on to promotion after promotion into the highest ranks of the police department.  As you can tell we are very proud of our heritage and tradition and all this was done on a Harley Davidson motorcycle.  As long as there are Harley Davidsons; the Black Widows will ride on into the future, creating legend and history as they go.

late 40s to early 50s in downtown Chattanooga. Our motor squad has led the armed forces day parade every year and continuing to this day.
Chattanooga Motorman doing what we still do – making kids grin from ear to ear behind the handlebars. Chattanooga Motor Officer Reno around 1963
1991 (Photo provided by Ken Hall)
Pig VS HOG Rally

Information and Photos provided by the Chattanooga, TN Police Department