Indy Police Pioneer, Top Detective, Remembered

They buried Chief Spurgeon Dewitt Davenport Saturday.

His name was Spurgeon Davenport, but in Indianapolis and especially the Indianapolis Police Department, he was always known as Mr. Davenport or Chief Davenport.

For most of his 37-year career, he was the department's top detective, a man so respected that veteran detectives would not use his first name. He was so respected fathers would call the homicide office and surrender their sons to him.

Chief Davenport, 92, died Dec. 22.

He was the department's first black sergeant, the first black lieutenant and the first black to head a department.

While his career was marked with a host of firsts, it was really marked with "bests," other veteran officers say.

"He was the best interrogator I ever saw. It was something innate. He just talked. He was very good at what he did," said retired police Inspector Henry J. Wolff

"He always said listen to him (the suspect). Don't try to bluff him. He knows the truth and you are just guessing," said Joe McCoy, a retired detective.

Retired Assistant Police Chief John Offutt agreed.

"He always made you work hard. You couldn't slide on a case. He would always just give you that look and shove the file back at you. You would know you could do better," Offutt said.

Chief Davenport's career began only a few years after the Ku Klux Klan ran the city and the state. It was 1934, the depression was in full swing and he needed a job.

During his 11-year career as a street patrolman, Chief Davenport gained fame when he walked into the headquarters of a numbers racket and arrested a big shot gambler.

As Joe Jarvis related it in a story in The Indianapolis News in 1964, his efforts got him banished to a walking beat.

He was shifted to the old detective branch in 1945 and was one of the first officers assigned to the new Homicide and Robbery branch. Later, he headed that unit as a Lieutenant and a Captain.

In 1966, then Mayor John J. Barton named Mr. Davenport as one of the department's four top executives. The rank was then called Inspector of Police.

When the chief objected, Barton fired him.

IPD Major Richard Crenshaw retold that incident today to the crowd of mourners gathered to praise Chief Davenport during a funeral service at Phillips Temple CME Church.

And he also told a story that showed how the community trusted Chief Davenport.

"The phone would ring in the homicide office and someone would ask for Mr. Davenport. When he came on the phone the man would say something like this," said Crenshaw.

"I don't know you, but my cousin has a friend who says you can be trusted. If you will come out to my house, I will surrender my son to you. I know you will be fair with him," Crenshaw said.

"He loved this community. And he always told us to treat folks like you would want to be treated," said Offutt.

One of his toughest cases came after he retired. In 1987 a black teenager, Michael Taylor, died from a gunshot wound to the head while he was handcuffed in the back seat of an Indianapolis Police Department squad car.

The incident caused an uproar as ministers and others accused the police of a cover-up.

Chief Davenport was called in to investigate the police conduct.

"The community thought enough of him to trust him and so did the police," said Offutt.

Ronald E. Davenport summed up his uncle's police career when he told the funeral crowd: "Uncle Spurgeon put a lot of people in jail. But he was always fair."

And the nephew reminded the crowd that Chief Davenport won a national award for working to free a man who had been wrongly convicted.

That statement brought a chorus of "Amen's" from the congregation.

"He was my mentor. When I came on he told me if I could stay the course, you will be where I am," said Offutt.

"He always said it didn't matter what other people said or did. The test was if you did the right thing." Offutt said.

"He was right."

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