Sheriff David Lain's Law enforcement antiquities
Dee Dunheim | Feb 13, 2012, 6 a.m.
Porter County Sheriff David E. Lain refers to his valuable, historical collection of law enforcement equipment as “my old police stuff.” But, said another way, it’s a private, carefully researched 200-year retrospective of police memorabilia.
The sheriff owns everything from badges, bullets, guns, swords, handcuffs, lanterns, billy clubs, an Oregon boot and even a ball and chain. The collection is all about preservation of historically significant items.
The sheriff’s bug for collecting police antiquities began about 23 years ago. At first, antique firearms caught his attention — particularly early pocket pistols, pepperbox guns, revolvers and semi-automatic weapons. “Although fascinated by them, prices at gun shows were pretty well set for these items,” said the sheriff. “They were no bargain, so collecting them wasn’t as much fun as I had thought.”
His interest was soon sparked by police restraints, including leg irons, handcuffs and a class of restraints, which no longer exist, called come-alongs. “Great varieties of these patented mechanics were employed to latch onto the wrist of a bad guy who would literally have to ‘come along’ with the officer,” explains Lain.
“Iron Claws” and other come-alongs, known by different brand names, clamped around the wrist, forced compliance by causing pain while using the advantage of leverage to restrict movement. “The problem was that they could do damage and,” added Lain, “an officer always had that nagging matter of the prisoner having one free arm.” They remained standard equipment from the mid 19th to mid 20th century slowly being replaced by handcuffs.
Lain does a great deal of research on items, and will sometimes spot old police paraphernalia when he least expects it. “In an old Elvis Presley movie,” he recalled, “I noticed one of officers had a come-along hanging from his equipment belt. That,” he said “shows that they were still being used in the late 1950s.”
The inner-workings of many antiquated police items are quite elaborate and that’s what interests Lain the most. “It’s amazing to see how far law enforcement equipment has come, and how people approached the same end result in very different mechanical ways,” he said.
The lost-in-time items are the most rare and valuable to Lain’s collection, housed in his office.
Lain, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, teaches classes of police history to high schoolers and teaches ethics and moderates on cultural diversity at the police academy. He also presents workshops, lectures and seminars in Illinois and Indiana.
During demonstrations, Lain often shares a look at his Dark Lantern with its bulls-eye lens, the forerunner of the flashlight. Lain also brings along a noise-maker, the forerunner to a whistle.
He always looks for the distinct and subtle differences between one generation of police equipment to the next.
Saps and blackjacks were common weighted defensive weapons forcing compliance to someone who was resisting an officer. Most were constructed of leather. A few in Lain’s collection even had carved patterns in the leather.
Another collection is wooden billy clubs, also known as batons and night sticks, some of which date back to the 18th century.
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