On Saturday, the Rock Island Police Benevolent Association will host its annual dance at Rock Island’s VFW Hall.
For as long as Rock Island police can remember, there has been a dance hosted by the Benevolent Association.
The money raised by the event each year has gone to support a favorite charity chosen each year.
This year, the money raised will go toward funding the Benevolent Association’s annual Christmas Gift Basket program, said former Rock Island Police Lt. Bill Sowards, who is helping to plan the dance.
“Last Christmas, we gave out more than 600 gift baskets to help feed those in need during the holidays,” Sowards said.
“Each year, the event is free and open to the public,” he added. “We make our money for charities on the raffles and auctions. In years past, we held the dance in the Rock Island Armory. It was a huge deal.”
Before the days of rock ’n’ roll, bands playing the music of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and other big band legends of the day would attract large crowds.
“There were a lot of bands in those days, and it didn’t cost much to get one to play the gig,” Sowards said.
In days gone by, such dances were known as a policeman’s ball.
The words policeman’s ball harken to the days of the early- to mid-20th century and provide an image of the beat cop walking his streets, nightstick in hand or twirling his callbox key, and letting everyone he knows and sees that he has tickets to the annual soiree.
Rock Island’s dance has been going on for that long and longer.
Retired Rock Island Police Officer Mike Crow, who acts as the department’s historian, served the city from 1973 through 2004. Crow has found that dance goes back to at least 1928.
Also during those years, the police department and the Police Pension Fund had souvenir books or yearbooks in which advertising was sold.
Money from the dances and the yearbooks would be used for a myriad things, including buying equipment for the department that the city could not afford.
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Often, the money raised would be used to support widows and orphans, Crow said.
“You have to remember there were no social safety nets at that time,” he said.
Crow said that when he started working as a cop, he was making $4 an hour.
“You could get $5 an hour or more working at the manufacturing shops,” he said.
In the 1934 Rock Island Police Year Book, there is a story about the new radio system the city got to speed up response times to calls.
“Eventually, the bands gave way to DJs and their dance music,” Crow said. “But for many, many years, the dance was attended by just about everybody in the city. All the city leaders and politicians were there, too.”
As always, this year’s dance is free and everyone is welcome to attend, Sowards said.
“We hope everyone comes out and supports this worthy cause,” he said.