ST. LOUIS • As the officers and staff at the St. Louis police headquarters pack their belongings to move to a new building next spring, Barbara Miksicek just might be hovering for treasures.
After all, the current police headquarters opened in 1929. That’s plenty of time for old books, documents and other lawful gems to pile up. “I’ll watch those tubes coming down from the fifth floor and think, ‘What’s going in the Dumpster now?’” she says brightly — and half-jokingly.
Miksicek (pronounced Micks-a-check) is the police department’s librarian and historian. And yes, the police department does have a library — believed to be the oldest and largest in the nation — with about 20,000 books and about 150 magazine and periodical subscriptions. She’s also the department’s keeper of historical stuff, as the library hosts a collection of historical photos, old jail keys, leg irons, uniforms, and silver loving cups won in old-timey police tug-of-war and swimming competitions.
That stuff reflects history and change. One recent morning, a janitor visited the library, housed in the St. Louis Police Academy building at 315 South Tucker Boulevard, lugging two large wooden plaques bearing engraved names of past police commissioners. After St. Louis regained control of the department from the state in September, therefore dissolving the board, the plaques became pieces of history.
Miksicek found a spot for the plaques in her archives — an old storage closet. They might be on display some day. A police commander has promised to snag an old holdover cell door for her once the headquarters moves. She dreams of setting up a police museum.
“Who wouldn’t want their picture taken behind a cell door?” she muses.
The library is open to the public by appointment, and its lobby serves as a museum of sorts with display cases of guns and knives used in notorious crimes, pieces of rope used to hang convicts, and what is among the oldest fingerprint cards on file in the country, from 1904.
The department claims many police firsts, the first to adopt a fingerprint system, the first to use police lineups, the first to start experimenting with color photography, and the first to establish mugshots and compile a rogues gallery.
The department once pasted posters of wanted criminals on the sides of wagons and parked them in places where crowds gathered, such as markets and festivals. “It was like the early ‘America’s Most Wanted,’” Miksicek said.
The police library began in the 1940s, the brainchild of a member of the board of police commissioners who also sat on the board of the St. Louis Public Library. Better-educated police officers are better officers, the board member believed, so he asked for police book donations and got 1,600 of them. The books were put in a jail cell at police headquarters, and they remained there until the 1960s when they were moved to a space in the police academy building. The library moved to its current, expanded space in 1994.
Every day for Miksicek is different, as she deals with the needs of civilians and officers. The chief might request the library’s three best books on redistricting or chase policies. An officer might need to check out the latest copy of a police journal — quickly — as his partner waits in the patrol car downstairs. Families seek information on ancestors who served on the force.
She often gets calls from Hollywood, filling requests for pictures of old uniforms or patrol cars. For months, she communicated with costumers at the Harlem Ballet, which staged a production of “St. Louis Woman.” In the show, a character kills somebody and a police officer dances onstage and arrests her. Costumers sought photos of a 1940s-era St. Louis Police uniform, and Miksicek provided. When the production came to St. Louis, they gave her and her husband tickets.
“He was on stage for about 10 seconds,” said Miksicek, thinking back on her months of work. “But it was accurate, except for the ballet shoes!”
She has also worked on updating the book “In the Line of Duty,” a chronology of the St. Louis police officers who have died on the job. Sixteen new profiles have been added since the book was last released in 1991. The biographies of all the officers have been updated, and the new edition will be released in the spring.
The book update, while a somber task, is a necessary one. It’s a way of honoring past officers, but it’s also about preserving history and educating others. She thinks about that every time she checks out a book to an officer who wants to know more about tactical operations or community relations.