When was police line tape first used at crime scenes in the US?
December 29, 2007 10:03 PM   Subscribe

When was police line tape first used at crime scenes in the US?

I figure this doesn't require much explanation -- I'm talking about the yellow POLICE LINE - DO NOT CROSS tape you see in movies all the time. It's certainly been in use as far back as I can remember, but when was it introduced?
posted by kittens for breakfast to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would imagine it wasn't used before platics were first widely available, as paper tape would not stand up to the elements too well. So, I guess 20th century some time. I don't know a whole lot about the history of plastics though.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:13 PM on December 29, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, I was thinking it had to be a mid-20th C invention for the same reasons. Frustratingly for me, I'm writing a story that takes place in 1941, so I'm kind of in the anti-sweet spot of "bwuh?" in terms of whether it would have been in use yet.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:30 PM on December 29, 2007

Red or yellow dyed rope could have served the same purpose before plastic was invented. I'd say that the need for crime scene protection is what started the use of the tape, not the availability of plastic.
posted by philomathoholic at 12:04 AM on December 30, 2007

I've just been watching the first two seasons of Adam-12 on DVD, which were filmed in 1969 and 1970, and so far they've only used live police officers to block off a crime scene, no sign of the yellow tape. (If that's of any help for your book.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:05 AM on December 30, 2007

The Maltese Falcon is 1941 and I don't recall there being tape at the beginning. I'm sure if it were available it would be used in the movies pretty quick, though.
posted by rhizome at 12:24 AM on December 30, 2007

Well, I can't cite evidence to back this up, but I think you're safe in the 40's. I'd be astonished if the stuff was in general use back then. My admittedly questionable instincts are that you wouldn't expect to see the stuff until maybe the 70s.

For what that's worth. My sense of old TV shows and movies up to the 60s anyway is that the scene would be marked off by rope and a few uniformed officers, and then only if there was a crowd of curious onlookers to be kept out.
posted by Naberius at 1:51 AM on December 30, 2007

Surely tied to developments in forensics? So second the 1970s or later
posted by A189Nut at 3:41 AM on December 30, 2007

Definitely no yellow tape in 1941. Hell, everything was made out of leather and wood then.
posted by telstar at 4:16 AM on December 30, 2007

I vaguely recall sawhorse-style stands blocking off areas before police tape did, when they needed to secure a scene for a while, but I don't know where I'd start to try to find evidence of same now.
posted by mendel at 7:38 AM on December 30, 2007

Almost certainly police would have used rope and barricades to cordon-off an area back in the 40's. That and every beat cop in the area.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:16 AM on December 30, 2007

You might want to pay for this article? Seems like it might have a mention of the history of it. You are safe in the '40s though -- they didn't even have plastic then right? Everything was Bakelite.
Source: GEOFFREY TOMB Herald Staff Writer
It's a dandelion of detection, a pollen of police work, sprouting out from crime scenes as commonly as flashing blue lights, gumshoes and ``just the facts.'' Yellow police tape is everywhere these days, an instantly recognized barrier designed to prevent the curious public, and sometimes other officers, from disrupting the blood, guts, glass and other big or minute evidence from the scene of a crime. Its use is spreading outside police and fire circles.
Published on May 26, 1998, Page 1B, Miami Herald, The (FL)
posted by misterbrandt at 9:51 AM on December 30, 2007

Plastic tapes were available in the 1940s- scotch tape was introduced in 1930. I doubt the neon yellow vinyl-ish tape was around then, though. Blue and white might have been the colors of choice based on a bit of poking around I just did.
Here's a partial time line for tapes from a site I posted to the main page recently. Looking at the materials time line from the same site might help you narrow down the possibilities.
posted by stagewhisper at 10:44 AM on December 30, 2007

Also, here is a blurb from the 3M website about the general history of product development at the company. My wild guess is that the police tape was a byproduct of related materials that were being developed for the military in the 1940s.

"In the early 1940s, 3M was diverted into defense materials for World War II, which was followed by new ventures, such as Scotchliteâ„¢ Reflective Sheeting for highway markings, magnetic sound recording tape, filament adhesive tape and the start of 3M's involvement in the graphic arts field with offset printing plates."
posted by stagewhisper at 10:57 AM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: Daaaaaaaamn...that's some clever thinking, stagewhisper, and I'll bet you're right. (Meanwhile, I'm all like, "$2.95...$2.95...is this incredibly minor detail in my story worth spending $2.95 on a Miami Herald article...?")
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:12 AM on December 30, 2007

Best answer: In 1983, NYC still used barricades. By 1985, they were blocking off crime scenes with yellow ribbon.

Some of the more advanced police departments, such as LA, may have begun using it as early as the 1970s, but it really doesn't seem to appear in news stories regularly until the mid-1980s.
posted by dhartung at 3:15 PM on December 30, 2007

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