Early Rhode Island Municipal Police Insignia

Early Rhode Island Municipal Police Insignia

By Jim Ignasher

 

West Warwick Police
1st Issue patch
Worn 1930s

     Today’s police officers wear a patch on the left shoulder of their uniform which identifies their agency.  The patch is usually multi-colored, depicting a municipal seal or something else representative of the town or city.   However, there was a time when such emblems were plain and simple, stating only the department’s name with the word “police” added. This wasn’t due to any lack of imagination on the part of police chiefs. It had more to do with loom technology of the time and keeping costs low. 

     Some of these early examples are hard to find today, for not only were they produced in relatively small numbers, they were discarded when they became obsolete. Furthermore, collectors generally overlooked them in favor of the more elaborate designs which came later. It’s only in recent times that the historic value of these early emblems has been recognized.

     Rarer still can be the uniform patches worn by part-time officers.  Over the years many police departments appointed part-time officers to supplement the regular paid force.   These officers were known as constables, reserves, auxiliaries, and specials, depending on the municipal charter.  They might work one or two days a month, of fill-in as needed for special details, or work any other assignment deemed necessary by the chief.  Sometimes these officers wore their own insignia which clearly differentiated them from the regular force. 

     In most cases these part-time officers performed the same police duties as the regular officers, and therefore faced the same risks and dangers of the job, but there were some who viewed them as not being “real” police officers.  Consequently early emblems worn by these officers have largely been ignored by collectors and thus fewer have survived.   

     Perhaps the rarest insignia are the unaccepted prototype emblems produced for a police department when considering a style change.  In most cases only a handful would be produced, (generally about five), by a manufacturer and then presented to the chief for consideration.  If the prototypes were approved, then they were produced in large numbers, however, in cases where the prototypes were rejected, the emblems were generally disposed of, or kept by an interested officer. 

     This article depicts examples of Rhode Island’s earliest known municipal police insignia. They were culled from a private collection begun in the 1970s.  Most are “first issues”, meaning they were the first patch worn by the agency however, in some instances no “first issues” are known to exist. Therefore, the earliest succeeding issues are represented. All of the examples depicted are long obsolete having been replaced by various succeeding issues.    

     Sources for this article include the 1970 and 1971 yearbooks of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association.  These rare publications depict images of the uniform patches worn by each department at the time, as well as information about each department’s size and rank structure.     

     The history of law enforcement patches coincides with the evolution of the police uniform. Police officers in large cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago, began wearing uniforms in the mid-1800s, but it wasn’t until the early half of the 1900s that many local police departments adopted uniforms.  At that time, generally speaking, the only distinguishing feature from one department to the next was the breast badge worn by the officers.  This eventually led to the idea of using cloth insignia to differentiate agencies.  It is believed that the notion came from the shoulder patches worn on military uniforms to identify which unit or division a soldier belonged.      

Smithfield Chief of Police
William Kelley
C. 1935
Note the patch on left shoulder. It appears to be round with the wording “Smithfield Police” with an anchor in the middle.
Click on image to enlarge.

     Exactly when the first law enforcement uniform patches were introduced in Rhode Island is unclear, but there’s photographic evidence to support that Smithfield, Warwick, and West Warwick police departments were wearing simple uniform patches as early as the 1930s and 40s, and it’s possible that others were as well.  Many Rhode Island police departments were wearing shoulder patches by the 1960s, and all of them had some type of insignia by the 1970s.  Today every Rhode Island law enforcement agency wears some type of shoulder insignia on their uniforms.

     The earliest patches were made of a heavy felt material with a cheesecloth backing, or in some instances, a white cotton backing, almost like the cotton of a T-shirt.  Some versions were made of a ribbed twill fabric with cheesecloth backing.  Modern patches generally have a wax backing which helps prevent shrinkage and deformation after multiple washings. Patches produced from the 1930s through 1970s generally didn’t have a wax backing.

     One may be surprised to learn that full-time paid police departments as we think of them today are a relatively modern “invention”. The earliest law enforcement agencies in Rhode Island were the county sheriff departments which were established in the 1630s. By the 1700s some of the larger towns had constables who enforced local ordinances and patrolled (sometimes) at night.  The majority of Rhode Island municipalities remained under a constabulary system for well into the 20th century before establishing a permanent police department through city or town decree. 

First Issue Providence Police
Worn from 1962 to 1972.

     Perhaps the oldest police department in the state is the Providence Police, which can trace its origins to 1651 when a small number of constables were appointed by the Town Council under the command of an elected Town Sergeant. These men patrolled in pairs, and generally only at night.

     This system remained in effect until 1775 when the first “night watch” was formally established under town ordinance. The original night watch consisted of four men, but by 1826 had increased to twenty-four.

     In 1831 Providence incorporated as a city and created the position of City Marshall to lead the police constables.

     In 1848, Providence constables were issued badges for the first time, but initially many kept these symbols of authority in their pockets until a general order was issued dictating they be worn on the lapels of the outer coats.  (The constables did not wear uniforms at this time.)   

Providence Police
Community Service Officer
Worn 1960s

     The first day patrol was established in 1851, consisting of ten men.

   Two years later the department was increased to forty-six men and five police districts were created.   Each district came under the charge of a sergeant.

   It wasn’t until 1864 that the Providence Police Department as we know it today was formally established under city ordinance. The following year Providence officers began wearing uniforms for the first time.  Its unclear when they began wearing uniform shoulder patches, but its believed to have occurred in the 1960s.     

Providence Police Reserve
Worn 1960s – early 1970s

2nd Issue
Worn from 1972 to 1981

3rd Issue
Worn from 1981 to 1990.

      The Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy was established in 1969.  Below is the earliest known patch worn by recruits while they attended the academy. 

R. I. Police Academy Patch
First Issue, worn 1970s

2nd Issue
Worn in the 1980s
A similar, but later version had different wording.

     Barrington was incorporated on June 16, 1770. 

     In 1970 the Barrington Police Department was staffed by a Chief, a Deputy Chief, five Sergeants, and sixteen Patrolmen.          

Barrington R. I. Police
Worn 1960s

Barrington Police
Worn 1960s
By 1970 the red lettering was changed to gold.

Barrington Auxiliary Police
C. 1970s

     The Town of Bristol was named after Bristol, England, and was incorporated January 27, 1747.   The patch pictured below has been worn since the 1960s, and although it has gone through some color changes over the years, it is still being worn today.   

     In 1970 the uniformed department consisted of one Chief, one Deputy Chief, one Captain, two Sergeants, and nineteen Patrolmen.

   

      Burrillville was originally part of the town of Glocester before its incorporation on October 29, 1806. The town was named after James Burrill, Rhode Island’s Attorney General from 1797 to 1814.

A reproduction of the style worn during the 1960s.

The second issue worn by the department shows the town seal.
Worn 1970s – mid 1980s

Third Issue
First worn in 1983

     Central Falls was originally part of the Town of Lincoln, which until 1871, was part of the Town of Smithfield. The City of Central Falls was incorporated February 21, 1895.

     In 1970, the department was staffed by a Chief, a Deputy Chief, two Captains, two Lieutenants, five Sergeants, and twenty-five Patrolmen.

     The Central Falls patch represented here is known as an “anchor style” – a generic “fill-in-the-top” patch worn by many Rhode Island police departments in the 1960s and early 70s.  Early versions were made of felt; later ones were made of twill.

Central Falls Police
Worn 1960s – 1970s

Central Falls Police
Second Issue
Worn 1970s – 1980s

Central Falls R. I. Auxiliary Police
C. 1970s

       Charlestown was incorporated on August 22, 1738, and was named in honor of King Charles II of England. 

     In 1970, the Charlestown Police Department consisted of the Chief of Police, two full-time patrolmen, and ten part-time constables.

Charlestown R. I. Police
worn 1960s – 1970s

Charlestown Police
2nd Issue Worn from 1985 – 1989

     Coventry was originally part of Warwick until its incorporation on August 21, 1741, and was named for Coventry, England.   

     Of the patches depicted below, the one with the small anchor was issued first.  It’s made of a felt material and has a cotton cloth backing.  The other two patches with the large anchor are newer, but still date to the 1960s.  The one with the grey background was worn on shirts. This style was discontinued by the department around 1968.

Coventry Police
Small Anchor
Worn 1950s – 1960s

Coventry Police
Large Anchor
Worn until 1968

Coventry Police
Grey Version
Worn until 1968

Coventry Police
Worn from 1968 to circa 1970, then “R. I.” was added under the elephant.

     Cranston was originally part of Providence until its incorporation as a town on June 14, 1754. It was named in honor of Samuel Cranston, the Governor of Rhode Island from 1698 to 1727. Cranston became a city on March 10, 1910, shortly after which the Cranston Police Department was formally established as the first permanent police force under city ordinance, although Cranston had been utilizing police constables since 1754.

     The first permanent force consisted of one Chief of Police and ten Patrolmen, supplemented by part-time constables.

     Cranston’s first uniform patch was made of a heavy felt material.  Those with silver borders were worn by Patrolmen.  Those with gold borders were worn by ranking officers.  The patches were first worn in 1967, and continued in use until 1995.  

     The words “Dum”, “Vigilo”, “Curo” are Latin for “While I watch, I care.”   

Cranston Police
Worn 1967 to 1995

  

Worn by the Cranston Emergency Police, who were volunteer officers. Patches with a white background were worn by ranking officers.
Worn mid-1950s to 1967

       Cumberland was incorporated on January 27, 1747, and is named for William, the Duke of Cumberland. 

     In 1970 the police department was staffed by one Chief, one Deputy Chief, three Captains, three Sergeants, and twenty Patrolmen. 

     The patch depicts the shape of the town of Cumberland and the year of incorporation.

Cumberland Police
Worn 1960s – until c. 1984

     The town of East Greenwich was incorporated on October 31, 1677, and was named for Greenwich, England. 

     In 1970 the department was staffed by one Chief, two uniform Lieutenants, one Detective Lieutenant, one Sergeant, and fourteen Patrolmen, and eleven Special Officers.

An Xerox copy of an early East Greenwich PD patch.

     The patch depicted below has been worn by the department since the 1960s, and is still in use today.

     East Providence incorporated as a town on March 1, 1862, and as a city in 1958.

     The department’s current uniform patch was worn as early as the late 1950s or early 1960s, but it was originally blue and gold in color.   The city seal is at its center.

An early example of the East Providence Police patch. Worn c. 1960 to 1983

Worn by East Providence Special Police, 1970s – 1980s

     In 1960, East Providence received the All-America City Award, and for one year officers wore a custom All-America City patch on the right shoulder of their uniforms.  It’s unknown how many of these emblems were produced, and how many were issued to each officer.  The example illustrated below had metal snaps sewn to the back of it indicating that it was transferred from shirt to shirt by the officer who wore it.

Worn by members of the East Providence Police Department in 1960.

Reverse side showing the metal snaps attached.

     The Town of Exeter is currently the only town in Rhode Island without a police department.  However, the town did once have a police department consisting for a Chief of Police and several part-time officers during the 1960s and into the 1970s.     

     Original examples of the patch worn by members of the Exeter Police Department are rare, and in recent years someone has reproduced them. When compared to an original, it’s easy to tell the difference.  The originals are made of a ribbed twill fabric with a cotton cheesecloth backing, and the lettering is rounded, not flat looking.  

An original Exeter Police Patch
Worn 1960 to 1978

Worn for one year
1978 – 1979
Then the police dept. was disbanded.

     The Town of Foster was set apart from the Town of Scituate on August 24, 1781, and is said to be named for Theodore Foster, who was a U. S. Senator from Rhode Island.

     In 1970 the department was staffed by a Chief of Police and six part-time patrolmen. 

Foster R. I. Police
First Issue
Worn 1960s – 1970s

Foster R. I. Police
2nd Issue
Has the town seal, but not the word “Police”.
Worn 1970s – early 1980s

Foster R. I. Police
3rd Issue
Worn 1980s – early 1990s

     The Town of Glocester was incorporated February 20, 1730/31 after being set apart from the (then) town of Providence.

     In 1970 the police department consisted of a Chief of Police and ten part-time officers.  The patch illustrated below was no longer worn by 1970. 

Glocester R. I. Police
First Issue
Worn 1960s

     The Town of Hopkinton was incorporated March 19, 1757. 

     In 1970 the department consisted of a Chief of Police, a Deputy Chief, and several part-time officers.

Hopkinton Police
Worn 1960s – 1970s

  

Hopkinton R. I. Police
2nd issue
Worn 1970s – 1980s

     Jamestown was incorporated on October 30, 1678 and was named in honor of King James II of England.  the town occupies Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay. 

     In 1970 the police department was staffed by a Chief of Police, one Lieutenant, one Sergeant, and four Patrolmen, and several special officers.

     The first patch known to be worn by the Jamestown police had a light blue background and dark blue lettering that read “Jamestown Police, R.I.”.  The second issue patch worn by the department came into existence in the 1960s, and was used into the early 1980s. 

Jamestown R. I. Police
Second Issue
Worn 1960s – early 1980s

     Johnston incorporated as a town on March 6, 1759, and was named for Rhode Island Attorney General Augustus Johnston, who served from 1758 to 1766.    

     In 1970 the police department consisted of a Chief of Police, one Captain, two Lieutenants, three Sergeants, four Corporals, and 28 Officers.

     Of the two patch examples illustrated below, it’s unknown which came first.  The first has a fully embroidered background and black border, the second has a twill background and a gold border.  

Johnston Police
Worn 1960s to 1971

Johnston Police
Worn 1960s to 1971

     Johnston’s 3rd Issue uniform patch depicted an eagle.  It was worn until 1983, when it was replaced by an updated version with black thread outlining all of the eagle’s feathers.  Other variations followed, and today the department’s uniform patch depicts a black eagle.       

Johnston R. I. Police
3rd Issue
Worn 1970s to 1983.

     The Town of Lincoln was originally part of the Town of Smithfield until it incorporated as its own municipality on March 8, 1871.   It was named in honor of former President Abraham Lincoln. 

     Its possible that the first patch worn by the department was a simple triangle  with the words “Lincoln Police” on it, but this is unconfirmed.  The earliest confirmed uniform patch worn by the department was the town seal pictured below.  At the time it was one of two police patches worn by Rhode Island departments that didn’t include the word “police”  on it. (The other being North Kingstown.)  This patch was worn by regular officers until 1971, and then worn by reserve officers for several years afterward.      

Lincoln R. I. Police
Worn 1960s to 1971

     The Town of Little Compton was formally incorporated on January 27, 1747. 

     In 1970 the police department was staffed by a Chief of Police , a Sergeant-Inspector, and several part-time officers.

Little Compton R. I. Police
Worn 1960s – 1970s

Little Compton Police
2nd Issue
Still worn by the department, but with “R. I.” added at the bottom.

     The Town of Middletown was originally part of Newport until its incorporation on June 16, 1743.  Its name comes from the fact that it occupies the middle portion of Aquidneck Island.

Middletown R. I. Police
Worn prior to 1970.

Middletown Police
2nd issue
An early version of the department’s current patch, this one is made of heavy felt.

     The Town of Narragansett was incorporated on March 28, 1901.  The name comes from the Narragansett Indian tribe, and the town also borders Narragansett Bay.

     In 1970 the uniformed officers included the Chief of Police, one Deputy Chief, one Captain, one Lieutenant, three Sergeants, and fifteen Patrolmen.  

     The current Narragansett police patch has been worn continuously since the 1960s.  It depicts the famous twin towers,  a famous Rhode Island landmark.

Narragansett Police
Worn since about 1970

Worn C. 1980s

     Newport incorporated as a city on June 1, 1784, but the charter was later repealed.  The city incorporated a second time on May 20, 1853. 

     In 1970 the Newport police consisted of a Chief of Police, one Assistant Chief,  three Captains, eight Lieutenants, thirteen Sergeants, and fifty-nine officers.       

     The department still wears the patch it was wearing in 1970.

Newport R. I. Police
Worn since at least 1970s.

This tab was worn above the shoulder patch by Newport’s Auxiliary Police in the 1970s and 1980s.

      The Town of New Shoreham is located on Block Island three miles off the southern coast of Rhode Island.  The town was admitted to the Rhode Island Colony on May 4, 1664 as Block Island, named for Adrian Block, an early Dutch explorer and seaman.  On November 6, 1672, the name was changed to New Shoreham.    

     In 1970 the island was policed by a Chief of Police who was assisted by several special officers.

     It is unknown which of the following three patches was used first. 

New Shoreham Police
C. 1960s

New Shoreham Police
C. 1960s

New Shoreham Police
C. 1960s

     North Kingstown  was originally part of “Kings Towne”, incorporated on October 28, 1674.  At that time, the town of North Kingstown and South Kingstown were one.  The town divided in February of 1723.

     The original North Kingstown uniform patch depicted the town seal, was made of felt, and did not have the word “police” on it.  Twill versions of this emblem also exist.  It was worn from the 1960s into the early 1980s.  

North Kingstown R. I. Police
Worn 1960s to 1980s.

C. 1960s – 1970s A version of this patch was also worn by full-time officers with the lettering “DEPT.” instead of “AUX”.

     North Providence was incorporated on June 13, 1765. 

     In 1970 the department consisted of a Chief of Police, two Captains, three Lieutenants, three Sergeants, three Detectives, and 21 Patrolmen, as well as several Special Patrolmen.

North Providence Police
Worn 1960s – 1982

North Providence Police
2nd Issue
Worn 1982 to 1994

An early North Providence police reserve patch believed to date to the 1950s.

Worn C. 1960s

Worn C. 1970s

 

      The Town of North Smithfield was originally part of the Town of Smithfield until its incorporation on March 8, 1871. 

     The three hammers are representative of the town’s official seal. 

North Smithfield Police
Worn 1960s – 1970s

North Smithfield Police
2nd Issue
First worn in 1983

     The City of Pawtucket was incorporated as a town on February 29, 1828, and as a city on March 27, 1885.  The name is of Indian origin.

     In 1970 the police department consisted of 152 officers.

     Depicted on the patch is a view of the bridge which crosses Pawtucket Falls.  The patch is made of heavy felt. Cloth-twill examples are also known to exist.

Pawtucket R. I. Police
Worn 1960s – 1970s

C. 1960s – 1970s

Pawtucket Police
Parks & Properties
Dates to the 1970s

Pawtucket Police
Housing Authority
Only worn for six months in 1995.

     The Town of Portsmouth was incorporated on January 12, 1640, and was named for Portsmouth, England.      

     The department wore two colored “anchor styles” in the 1960s.  One gold and the other silver.  Both were discontinued by 1970.

Portsmouth R. I. Police
Silver and black patch
Worn 1960s

Portsmouth R. I. Police
Gold and black patch
Worn 1960s

Portsmouth Police
2nd Issue
Worn in the 1980s

    The Town of Richmond was incorporated August 18, 1747.

    In 1970 the police department consisted of a Chief of Police, a Deputy Chief, and several special officers.   

     The patches shown below were worn by the Richmond Police from the 1960s until the mid 1980s.  The black patches were won on jackets, and the light blue patches were worn on shirts.

Richmond R. I. Police
Black felt
Worn on uniform coats
1960s to the 1980s

Richmond R. I. Police
Worn on uniform shirts
1960s to 1980s

     The Town of Scituate was incorporated on February 20, 1731.

     In 1970 the police department consisted of the Chief of Police, one Deputy Chief, one Captain, one Lieutenant, two Sergeants, one Corporal, eleven Patrolmen, and nine part-time officers.

Scituate R. I. Police
Worn 1960s and 1970s

     The Town of Smithfield was incorporated on February 20, 1730/31 and originally included the present-day municipalities of North Smithfield, Woonsocket south of the Blackstone River, Lincoln, and Central Falls, until its division in 1871.

     In 1970 the police department included a Chief of Police, one Deputy Chief, one Lieutenant, two Sergeants, and twelve Patrolmen.

     The first uniform patch, of which there are no known surviving examples, was round with the words “Smithfield Police” and an anchor in the middle.  The top example illustrated below is believed to be the department’s second issue, created sometime in the 1950s. 

Smithfield R. I. Police
Worn 1950s – 1960s

Smithfield R. I. Police
Worn 1960s – 1970s

A white version of the Smithfield patch.

     South Kingstown was incorporated on February 26, 1723.

    In 1970 the uniformed police department included a Chief of Police, two Captains, three Lieutenants, four Sergeants, and nineteen Patrolmen.   

    The department’s uniform patch has been worn since the 1960s, but has gone through some minor changes over the years concerning the arrowhead in the center.   In the original version depicted below, it was thought that the arrowhead appeared to be a Christmas tree, so modifications were made over the years to correct this.

South Kingstown R. I. Police
Worn 1960s to present

C. 1970s – 1980s

     Tiverton was incorporated as a town in Massachusetts in 1694, and was annexed to Rhode Island on January 27, 1747. 

     In 1970 the Tiverton police department consisted of a Chief of Police, one Lieutenant, three Sergeants, and twelve Patrolmen.

     The first issue Tiverton police uniform patch was similar to the second issue one pictured below, except that it did not indicate “R. I.” on it.  

Tiverton R. I. Police
Second issue with “R.I.” added
Worn prior to 1970.

     Warren was originally a town in Massachusetts until it was annexed to Rhode Island in may of 1746.  The original name of the town was Barrington until its division in 1770.  Barrington retained the original name, and the new town was named Warren in honor of Sir Peter  Warren, an Admiral in the British Navy.

     In 1970 the Warren Police Department consisted of a Chief of Police, one Deputy Chief, one Captain, three Sergeants, and twelve Patrolmen.

Warren R. I. Police
Worn prior to 1970

Warren Police
2nd Issue, worn until 1986

     Warwick originally included the towns of Coventry and West Warwick.  Coventry separated from Warwick in 1741, and in 1913, West Warwick separated from Warwick. 

     Warwick incorporated as a city on April 21, 1931, and is named for the Earl of Warwick. 

     In 1970 the Warwick police consisted of a Chief, two Commanders, six Captains, seven Lieutenants, sixteen Sergeants, twenty-four Detectives and 89 patrolmen.

Warwick R. I. Police
Worn 1930s – 1950s

Warwick Police
2nd Issue

C. 1960s – 1970s

     West Greenwich was originally joined with East Greenwich, and separated to become its own municipality on April 6, 1741. 

     In 1970 the police department consisted of a Chief of Police who was assisted by fourteen volunteer patrolmen and one part-time clerk.

West Greenwich R. I. Police
Worn 1960s – 1970s

West Greenwich Police
2nd Issue, Worn from 1970s to 1987/88

     The Town of Westerly was incorporated on May 14, 1669. 

     In 1970 the uniformed police department consisted of  a Chief of Police, one Captain, one Lieutenant, three Sergeants, and twenty Patrolmen.

     The department’s patch is currently a colorized version of the one it has worn since the 1960s.  The town seal in the center of the patch depicts three red salmon, once found in large numbers in the Pawcatuck River, and the memorial at the top represents monuments around the world made with Westerly granite.

Westerly R. I. Police

Worn C. 1960s

   

      The Town of West Warwick was originally part of Warwick until it incorporated on March 14, 1913, making it the state’s youngest municipality. 

     In 1970 the police department consisted of a Chief of Police, one Captain, one Detective Lieutenant, two uniform Lieutenants, two Sergeants, three Corporals, and twenty-seven Patrolmen.    

     The first issue West Warwick Police uniform patch was oval in shape, with a grey background and blue lettering.  Only one example is known to exist.

     The department’s second issue patch was a grey triangle with blue lettering which read “West Warwick Police”.  There are no known examples still in existence today. 

     The department’s third issue was an anchor style which was worn in the 1960s to about 1975. 

West Warwick Police
1st Issue patch
Worn 1930s

West Warwick Police
Worn 1960s to 1975

Worn C. 1980s

     The portion n of Woonsocket north of the Blackstone River was originally part of the Town of Cumberland until it was incorporated as its own municipality on January 31, 1867.  The portion of Woonsocket south of the Blackstone once belonged to the Town of Smithfield until it was annexed to Woonsocket in March of 1871.   Woonsocket incorporated as a city on June 13, 1888. 

     The first patch worn by the department was made of heavy felt and depicted the city seal in the center.  A similar patch with “C. D.” added (For Civil Defense) was worn by auxiliary officers.   

Woonsocket Police
Worn 1960s – 1973

Worn 1966 to 1973

2nd Issue
Worn 1973 to 1985

Woonsocket Police
3rd Issue
Worn from 1985 to 1995
Patches with a white background were worn by ranking officers.

     A Final word…

     The patch pictured below, which dates to the 1960s – 1970s,  is fictitious.  While there is a Medway, Massachusetts, there is no municipality in Rhode Island known as “Medway”. 

There is no Medway, Rhode Island.

 

Police Tales Of Yesteryear

POLICE TALES OF YESTERYEAR  

By Jim Ignasher    

     The evening of October 2, 1933, was one of those glorious autumn nights where the weather was clear and cool, and the stars twinkled brightly; perfect for romance. So it was that a young man and his favorite girl parked along wooded Ridge Road near the North Providence line. As the couple sat in the car anticipating what might come next, a man with a pistol emerged from the woods.

     “Stick ‘em up and hand over your dough!” he demanded, as if he were in some B-rated gangster movie.

     The couple was in no position to argue, and the young man quickly handed over two dollars, stammering that it was all he had.

     Instead of being angry, or running off, the robber then proceeded to tell the couple his life story, leading up to how he had recently been released from prison. His time in jail, he insisted, had been a “bum rap”, and swore he was totally innocent of the crime he had been convicted of. He then explained that the only reason he was robbing them was to raise enough money to leave Rhode Island so he could “go straight.”

   Sepia tone images of those long ago days of the Great Depression seem to reflect a simpler, gentler time, when family values were strong, communities were close, and everyone pulled together. However, the 1930s were also the days of John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelley, and “Pretty-Boy” Floyd, hailed by some as modern day Robin Hoods, robbing banks and committing cold-blooded murder in flamboyant style. Although Rhode Island was spared such notoriety, Smithfield’s police officers still had crime and other problems to deal with. All of the stories contained in this article are true, culled from a collection of Depression Era newspaper clippings donated to the Historical Society of Smithfield by former town resident, Dorothy E. Reynolds.          

     On July 8, 1934, a West Warwick man was arrested in Georgiaville for “reveling”, but not before he put up a tenacious fight with officers. He appeared before the Ninth District Court in Gerogiaville where he pled guilty and was fined $100, which was a huge sum of money in those days.  

     The following month Officer Henry Passano was called to the Stillwater Country Club to investigate a report of a lost wrist watch. The complainant, a Woonsocket man, claimed he removed the watch while washing his hands and forgot it. When he returned later it was gone.

     On a warm August afternoon in 1937, Chief of Police Alfred La Croix was patrolling along Farnum Pike when he encountered two pretty teenage girls clad only in bathing suits walking home from Georgaiville Beach. After speaking with the girls, he drafted a proclamation banning the practice of strolling along public highways in such attire. The ban, which also applied to non-Smithfield residents, did not include sun suits or short pants.

     Apparently traveling peddlers had become a nuisance for that September Smithfield’s Town Council adopted a new ordinance requiring all peddlers operating in town to have a license. However, certain vendors, such as butchers, fish dealers, and farmers, were exempt.

     On October 4, 1937, a seventeen year- old youth accidentally shot himself in the leg while hunting in the woods off Capron Road. Severely wounded and unable to walk, he began shouting for help. Fortunately, his cries were heard by Maria Appleby and members of the Stillwater Country Club who went to his aid.

     Later that same month, Chief La Croix and School Superintendent Aaron F. Demorganville conferred about the possibility of using older students to establish a junior police squad for the purpose of crossing school children at intersections. The youthful “officers” would be equipped with a white traffic belt, a badge, and a hand-held stop sign.

   On October 21, 1937, Smithfield police held their first policeman’s ball with more than 300 people in attendance. Proceeds were used to buy uniforms and equipment for the department.

   The Ninth District Court docket for May 26, 1938 shows that a Greenville man was fined $20 for operating his motorcycle at an “estimated” speed of 58 mph on Farnum Pike. Two other men were fined $5 for operating motor vehicles without a license.

     An amusing tale concerning the courtroom wood stove happened on June 24, 1938, when the janitor, following orders, started a fire to remove dampness from the building. He apparently did his job a little too well for the resulting heat from the roaring fire, compiled with normal June temperatures, forced a temporary recess.      

    On the night of February 23, 1939, Walsh’s Roller Skating Rink in Georgiaville was destroyed by fire. Firefighters battled the blaze in strong icy winds while police dealt with hundreds of onlookers. Mr. Walsh vowed to rebuild.  

     A sad incident occurred in April of 1939, when a family of squatters living in a tar paper shack in the woods of Hanton City, sent for a doctor for their sick baby. Upon arrival, the doctor discovered the baby girl dead in her make-shift crib. It was determined the child suffered from severe malnutrition, and died of suffocation due to an overheated woodstove. Conditions in the dwelling were described as “deplorable”. When Smithfield police went to investigate they found the shack deserted. The family, which had two other children, ages 3 and 5, was said to be headed for California. The baby was given a proper burial in at town expense.

     A Pawtucket man was slightly injured on April 23, 1939, when his hastily repaired two-seater airplane crashed at Smithfield Airport, located where Bryant University stands today. The crash was blamed on a “bad welding job” and the mechanic responsible was promptly fired. The plane was owned by the Smithfield Airport Club, an organization consisting of young men interested in aviation.

     On March 21, 1940, Smithfield police and firefighters were called to the Lister Worsted Co. Mill in Stillwater after a bolt of lightning struck the 180-foot smoke stack and blasted the top half away. Tons of debris crashed down through the roof of the mill injuring three workers, damaging equipment, and igniting a small fire on the roof. Damage was estimated at $50,000.  

     It is said that lightning never strikes twice. However, the same chimney had also been hit by lightning in 1938, causing $8,000 in damage.

   One week later, Officer Charles Sullivan was injured when he was struck by a motorist while directing traffic outside Walsh’s Dance Hall on Farnum Pike in Georgiaville. The driver claimed he had not seen the policeman.

     More than just old newspaper accounts survive to give a glimpse of what the job was like for a Smithfield police officer during the Depression. In September, 2009, Smithfield’s deputy chief of police, Richard P. St. Sauveur, discovered an old iron key that once locked the cell of the Georgiaville bridewell. Before Smithfield had a police station, prisoners were lodged in one of two rented bridewells, a.k.a. jails, one on either side of town. The artifact is presently on display at the Smith-Appley House Museum.

     Yes, in many ways times were simpler then, but these stories illustrate that the job of a police officer has always been tough and challenging.

To Serve And Protect – Rhode Island’s Roll of Honor

First published in The Smithfield Times, magazine – August, 2016

By Jim Ignasher

RI.policeJohn Smith, who served as Foster’s Town Sergeant for many years, has the dubious distinction of being Rhode Island’s first (known) law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty.  On June 21, 1832, Smith was attempting to arrest a man wanted by Connecticut authorities when the suspect killed him with an axe.    

Twenty years later on May 18, 1852, Officer William T. Pullan and his partner, both of the Providence Night Watch, had just arrested four men on Broad Street, when an assailant ran up and struck Pullen in the head with a club killing him.

On the evening of September 11, 1872, Chief Alfred Church of the Woonsocket Police was shot in Depot Square about an hour after dispersing a group of rowdies from a liquor store.  (He survived.)

Newport patrolman Eugene Baker died on the afternoon of April 22, 1884, when he tried to take a man into custody after a bloody confrontation in a saloon.

Although art and literature have portrayed “olde” New England as idyllic and quaint, these incidents illustrate that the job of policing has always been difficult and dangerous. 

The National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington D.C. has the names of more than 22,500 officers who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice since 1791, and more names are added every year.  To date, 51of those names are of Rhode Islanders.   

Nobody can say for sure how many of America’s peace officers have lost their lives in the performance of their duty, for until the 1980s such information wasn’t collected, and the institutional memory of most departments only dated back as far as what the oldest member could recall.  “New” information periodically comes to light as amateur historians comb old newspaper morgues, microfilm collections, and town records, but the true number will likely never be known.

Most of the known incidents in Rhode Island occurred in the 1900s, beginning with Kent County Deputy Sheriff James V. Fish, who on January 16, 1901, was killed in an East Greenwich roadhouse as he attempted to take three men into custody. 

The following year Cumberland officer Herbert Moore, and Narragansett officer Joseph W. Westlake, both lost their lives while attempting to make arrests.

Providence Patrolman John F. Brennan was killed April 2, 1911 by two men he was attempting to take into custody.

Trooper Arthur L. Staples, Jr., lost his life December 18, 1931, while arresting two car thieves on Tower Hill Road in North Kingstown. 

State Police Lieutenant Arnold L. Poole was killed May 30, 1934, while serving an arrest warrant.

Brown University Officer Joseph F. Doyle died May 8, 1988 from head injuries he received while struggling with a suspect.

Providence Patrolman Thomas A. Mulvey, (September 19, 1931), Woonsocket Officer Albert A. Lemoine, (October 2, 1937), and Pawtucket Officer Doreen Tomlinson, (June 26, 1984), were all killed in vehicular pursuits. 

East Providence Officer James R. Caruso was killed January 6, 1958 by the driver of in a car he’d been chasing.

Rhode Island state troopers John Weber, (June 17, 1925), Joseph J. Gallivan, (June 22, 1937) Bradford G. Mott, (May 6, 1941), and Sgt. Walter J. Burgess, (November 14, 1959), as well as North Kingstown lieutenant Raymond W. Bennett, (November 10, 1964), and Providence Sergeant Maxwell Dorley, (April 19, 2012), were all lost in motor vehicle crashes during the performance of their duty.    

Newport Patrolman Robert C. Scott, (March 20, 1922), Coventry Officer Stanley Siembab, (January 21, 1939), and three Warwick Officers, Kenneth R. Fratus, (May 21, 1971), Reserve Captain Christopher Feeney, (December 20, 1971), and Patrolman Donald R. Casasanta, (July 11, 1981), were all hit by motor vehicles while directing traffic.    

Warwick officers John B. Gendron, (November 24, 1902) and Walter G. McQuarry, (June 27, 1911), as well as Cranston Officer Henry R. Johnson, (August 14, 1930), were all killed while investigating “suspicious persons”.  

Pawtucket Officer William W. Gemmell was fatally injured June 19, 1908, when he intervened in a sidewalk domestic dispute.

On September 30, 1952, a bank-robber armed with a deer rifle and holding three hostages killed Pawtucket Officer Charles Patnaude as he exited the department’s patrol wagon.  

Two other Pawtucket Officers, Detective Lieutenant Thomas Trusedale, and Patrolman Emil A. Newberg, where both killed on June 30, 1958, by a suicidal man who’d barricaded himself in a bathroom. 

On February 12, 1928, two Providence officers, Sergeant William A. Flynn, and Patrolman James O’Brien, were killed while conducting a liquor raid.   

Providence Sergeant Stephen Shaw was killed when he entered a home in search of a robbery suspect on February 3, 1994.    

Assistant Inspector Patrick J. Clune of the Newport Police, (March 5, 1938), and Providence Detective Sergeant James L. Allen, (April 17, 2005), both received fatal injuries within their police stations.

Corrections Officer Harry McVay was killed during an escape attempt on April 25, 1925, and Corrections Officer Donald Price was stabbed to death at his post on June 22, 1973.   

And some deaths were tragic accidents brought by fellow officers, as with the case of East Providence Police Major Alister C, McGregor who was killed during a training accident on December 27, 2001, and Providence Sergeant Cornell Young Jr., who was mistaken for a suspect on January 28, 2000.

Yet not all deaths were due to violence.  Cranston’s Chief of Police John Bigbee died of “blood poisoning” on December 11, 1908 from an injury he received at a fire.

Providence mounted patrolman James P. Cavanaugh died December 26, 1916, from injuries he received after being thrown from his horse. 

On August 18, 1925, Pawtucket Officer David B. Burns drowned when he attempted to rescue a child who’d been thrown in the water after the boiler on the steamship Mackinac exploded.  

Trooper Daniel L. O’Brien drowned while attempting to rescue persons trapped by rising waters during Hurricane Carol in 1954. 

On December 10, 1968, Smithfield Sergeant Norman Vezina drowned while attempting to rescue a child who’d fallen through ice on a pond.

Other officers suffered fatal heart attacks while either chasing or struggling with suspects/arrestees.  These include: Pawtucket Patrolman Samuel W. Slocum, (February 4, 1906), Captain Peter F. Pepin of the East Providence Police, (November 4, 1922), Cranston Sergeant Walter C. Busby, (February 12, 1979), and Corrections Officer Ernest R. Grossguth, (March 26, 1995).

Woonsocket patrolman Edward Clifford died of a stroke while walking his beat in 1905. 

There is of course more to each of these stories, but unfortunately space does not permit.  Interested persons may go to the National Law Enforcement Memorial website at www.nleomf.org for more information.  

To the centurions who protect our streets, thank you!  

 

 

Protecting Smithfield in a Simpler Time

Retired Smithfield police officers, Ray Trombley, (Left), and Jim McVey, (Right), recall what it was like to serve and protect in a time before modern police technology.

Retired Smithfield police officers, Ray Trombley, (Left), and Jim McVey, (Right), recall what it was like to serve and protect in a time before modern police technology.

Originally published In Your Smithfield Magazine – September, 2014

By Jim Ignasher

The pitch and wail of police sirens echoed in the night as a caravan of cruisers snaked through the streets of Providence in hot pursuit of a stolen Cadillac.  Blue lights reflected off storefront windows as tires screeched and cars careened around corners.  The Cadillac made its way onto Route 95 towards East Providence driving the wrong way against highway traffic at speeds topping 90 miles-per-hour!  The cruisers followed.  Leading the procession were Smithfield Officers Raymond Trombley and Joseph Parenteau who had initiated the chase.  When they reached the Washington Bridge the Cadillac and cruisers crossed into the eastbound lane.  In the distance ahead Trombley saw a police roadblock and as the Cadillac barreled forward the sound of gunshots rang out.  

In a recent interview Ray commented, “I said to Joe, I hope they don’t miss and hit us!”

It was the late 1960s, and even though nearly fifty years have passed since that incident, Ray can still recall the license plate on that Cadillac – GX-222.

Trombley and Parenteau had been patrolling Douglas Pike on the midnight shift when they noticed the Cadillac with two youths inside.  They activated the cruiser lights, but the driver refused to stop and fled in the direction of North Providence.   In the vicinity of Twin River Road the officers tried to force the Cadillac to the side of the road by pulling abreast of it, but the driver swerved at the cruiser trying to ram it.  As the pursuit entered North Providence, and then Providence, cruisers from those jurisdictions joined in.  The Cadillac was finally cornered in the town of Warren where it was discovered that the two occupants were escapees from the Rhode Island Training School.    

Back in Smithfield the two officers received high praise from the Town Council however, the chief saw things differently. “The chief wasn’t happy with us.” Trombley recalled.  “We blew the motor in the car as a result of the chase.” 

Such multi-jurisdictional high-speed pursuits involving gunfire are rare today, but there was a time when such things weren’t uncommon; when officers could chase a vehicle for virtually any reason and “warning shots” were allowed.  Police work has changed drastically since then, and recently Smithfield’s two longest retired police officers, James McVey, and Raymond Trombley, got together to recall what it was like to be a town policeman in those bygone days.    

Prior to the completion of Route 295 in the mid 1970s, Smithfield’s population was roughly several thousand people, so the officer on the beat knew most everybody, and they knew him.  In many ways Smithfield was still a small town.

Jim McVey was appointed to the force as a special officer in 1950, and recalled that when he joined the department there were only three full-time officers.  The rest of the department consisted of part-time “specials”, later called “reserves”.  Jim was appointed full-time on June 8, 1955.  Shortly afterwards, he was the first Smithfield officer to attend an eight week training academy run by the State Police at URI.  This was a very important step for the department for beforehand new officers received minimal formal training.  “I believe I was one of the first police officers in the state with a college degree to enter law enforcement,’  said Jim, ‘which makes me feel good today to see how changes have evolved from when no education at all was required to be an officer, compared to today when many police agencies require some form of college degree.”    

In the 1950s the department only had one cruiser which was equipped with a one-way police radio that could receive, but not transmit.  Therefore, officers always carried a quantity of dimes to use in payphones in case they needed to call the station, which in those days was located in the Town Hall.  The station, by the way, wasn’t manned 24 hours like it is today.

Dispatching in those days could be described as “hit or miss”.  The police station had a dispatch radio, as did the Chief’s house.  The station was “Station A”, and the Chief’s house was “Station B”, and sometimes calls were dispatched from either location.  The chief’s house also had an extension phone from the Town Hall, so that if nobody was in the station, the chief or his wife would pick up and take the call.  Unfortunately, the radio at the chief’s house had limited transmission capabilities – only 14 watts. 

On other occasions a call might come through from the State Police barracks in Scituate.  They would put out a broadcast such as “Attention Smithfield Police, respond to…”  The message would be repeated three times.  Since an officer couldn’t acknowledge via radio, the State Police never knew for sure if the call had been received, and sometimes they weren’t.  Such a system might seem archaic today, but even a one-way radio was a vast improvement over the days of no radios.

Jim recalled one night where he was on patrol with Deputy Chief Charles Young on a midnight tour. “There was a terrific storm raging that night, with thunder and lightning everywhere.  We drove from the station over to Greenville and checked the businesses there, and then over to Esmond, and up Whipple Hill onto Douglas Pike down towards Twin Rivers.  All of a sudden we came upon a bunch of cars and fire trucks all over the road in front of Bell Farms, (Today known as Twelve Acres.) with the Chief standing out directing traffic.”  

At that time the farm had on its property a small professional fireworks factory.  Unbeknownst to Young and McVey, lightning had struck the building setting off an explosion.  Due to storm related problems, Young and McVey never received a radio call of the incident.

When Ray Trombley joined the department on December 13, 1964, the roster consisted of thirteen full-time officers and a cadre of “reserves”.  “I was the thirteenth officer.” he recalled.  By then the fleet of cruisers had grown to three – Cars 193, 194, and 195, as designated by the police license plates, and each was equipped with two-way radios – a significant improvement.  The day and second shifts used two patrol cars, each patrolling one-half of the town, but the midnight shift used only one car with two officers patrolling the entire town.  This was done for safety reasons, which is why he and Joe Parenteau were riding together the night of the chase.  And with only three cars for the entire department, one might understand why the chief was upset over the blown motor.

Both Jim and Ray enjoyed two-man patrol cars for it gave them someone to talk to when things were slow – “Unless the other guy was a smoker”, Ray said with a laugh.

Ray recalled that all he had to do before going on patrol for the first time was qualify with his department issued pistol – a World War II vintage .38 caliber revolver.  Going to the academy would come later.  

As to police cars, Jim remembered that early cruisers had manual-shift transmissions which were difficult to operate at low speeds while creeping around buildings at night.  “Trying to shift, steer, and operate the hand-held spotlight all at the same time was difficult.” He said.  Luxuries such as automatic-transmissions, and air conditioning for Smithfield’s police cars didn’t come until much later.  

Those early patrol cars also lacked protective cages to separate an arrestee from the officer.  That situation was rectified after a patrolman was involved in an accident while transporting a prisoner. 

While speaking of accidents, one may be surprised to learn that Smithfield’s roadways have borne witness of many horrific car wrecks over the years.

“The very first accident I ever handled was a fatal in front of the Greenville Baptist Church” said Jim.  Unfortunately it would not be the last.  Ray also saw his share, “Especially at Seven and One-sixteen” he said. “Before they put a light up there, there were a lot of bad accidents.”   

Police work has always been inherently dangerous, and even simpler times weren’t necessarily gentler.  A case in point involved a time in 1952 when Jim stopped a car with Connecticut plates on Washington Highway.  He only intended to give the juvenile driver a warning until he learned the car was stolen.  The youth was transported to the State Police barracks in Lincoln where it was further learned that he was wanted for shooting at a Norwich police officer!  When a Connecticut trooper and Norwich officer arrived to take custody of the prisoner, the Norwich officer asked where the gun was.

“I tossed it out at the state line” was the reply.

“Tell the Smithfield officer what you would have done with the gun if you still had it” the officer ordered.

 Looking at Jim he said, “I’d have shot him!”

In another incident Jim recalled the night of May 19, 1961, when he pursued a stolen Pontiac with two men inside who tried to break into Cole’s TV on Route 44.  The chase continued along Putnam Pike and into Glocester where Jim fired a warning shot from his service revolver blowing out the Pontiac’s rear window.  Speeds were in excess of 100 mph, and as glass from the window blew backwards it peppered the front of the police car causing small leaks in the radiator.  As the cruiser began loosing coolant, the chase roared through Chepachet where a state trooper joined in.   Everything came to an abrupt end at Jackson Schoolhouse Road where the driver of the Pontiac lost control and crashed.  Subsequent investigation revealed that both men were armed, and had broken into several other businesses that night in Johnston and Providence. 

Today’s officers have computers in their cruisers that allow for instant information on vehicle and criminal data, but in the 1950s and 60s such was not the case.  When dealing with suspicious persons or vehicles and officer had to rely more on instinct and judgment.  One tool at their disposal was the state’s “two-hour-hold law” which allowed an officer to arrest a person for two hours while a follow-up investigation was done.  This law has since been repealed, but at one time it was a valuable asset to police work.  

Police officers in the 1950s and 60s made far less than other occupations.  Jim worked nine-hour days, 54 hours per week, all for $42.00 before taxes, and officers didn’t receive overtime. By the 1960s Ray had it a little better working 44 hours a week and taking home about $78.00 gross. To help make ends meet, he took a second job at Cavanaugh Company in Greenville. 

As to time off, a Smithfield patrolman in the 1960s got one-and-a-half days off each week.  Ray said some officers would work out a schedule between themselves filling in for each other on the half-day so one week they would have one day off, but the next they would have two full days off.  Only the most senior ranking officers got weekends off.  Ray’s days off were generally Monday and Tuesday.  

When Jim went on the force an officer had to pay for his own uniforms.  Ray recalled how his first uniform was free, but “used”.  “They gave me a shirt and a pair of pants. The pants had a 34 inch waist, and I was a 29!”   

By the 1970s the department had outgrown its Town Hall accommodations, and both Jim and Ray played a role in making the current police station a reality.  Since then, the department has grown far beyond what anyone could have imagined in the 1950s, and is once again facing a similar situation.

Jim retired as Deputy Chief in 1977, and Ray in 1984 as a Captain.  Sometimes they still miss police work, for the job is like no other, and they loved doing it.  Despite that, having worked in the era that they did, each doubted they would want to go into law enforcement today.  The world has changed, and the way they were trained for the job might not fit today’s way of doing things.  Modern police officers are forced to operate under restrictions and mandates that weren’t a consideration when Jim and Ray wore a badge.   

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