Pawtucket Police

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Johnston, R. I., Police Dept.

Photo taken on Route 44 near Susan Drive.

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Johnston R. I. Police – 1983

 

North Providence Police

Photos by Jim Ignasher

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North Providence Police – 1983

North Providence R. I. Police
Highway Safety Wagon – 1983

Providence Police Department

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30th Annual Policeman’s Ball Program – 1912

Providence R. I. Police – 1983.

Photo by Jim Ignasher

Providence R. I. Police – 1983

Photo by Jim Ignasher

Providence Police – 1983

Photo by Jim Ignasher

Newport, R. I., Police

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Newport, R. I., Police – 1983

Photo by Jim Ignasher

Newport R. I. Police – 1983
Photo by Jim Ignasher

Newport, R. I. Police – 1983
Photo by Jim Ignasher

North Smithfield, R. I., Police

Photo taken outside old police station in 1983.

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Lincoln, R. I., Police Department

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Lincoln, R. I., Police Car

Photo taken at Lincooln Woods in 1983.

Little Compton Police

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Little Compton, R. I., Police – 1983
Photo by Jim Ignasher

Glocester, R. I. Police

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Glocester Police – 1983
Photo by Jim Ignasher

Relics of Smithfield’s Police History Are rescued Just In Time

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, May, 2020.

Relics of Smithfield’s Police History Are Rescued Just In Time

By Jim Ignasher

     May 10 -16 is Notional Police Week.  Thank you to all law enforcement officers, especially in these trying times. 

A 1972 Smithfield, R. I. police car as it was found in March of 2020 in West Greenwich, R. I.

     Police patrol cars have fairly short careers due to the type of driving they endure and the amount of miles they accumulate, and when a car is “retired” it’s usually stripped of markings and equipment before being sent to one of two places; a car dealership for resale where it enters “civilian life”, or a salvage yard where it’s cannibalized for parts before eventually being hauled off to the crusher. This is why the recent find of a 1971 Smithfield police cruiser sitting on a rural property in West Greenwich is so unusual.         

     There are those who enjoy restoring and owning vintage automobiles, and within the last thirty years some antique car enthusiasts have established specialized clubs dedicated to restoring and preserving antique police cars.  It was a member of one of these clubs who contacted Bob VanNieuwenhuyze, (pronounced Van-new-enheiz), a retired Deputy Chief of the Smithfield Police Department, about a rumor concerning an old Smithfield police cruiser that might hold certain possibilities.   

     Bob enjoys antique vehicles, and owns a fully restored1972 Dodge, Polara, so when he heard that an original antique patrol car from his department might be for sale he had to investigate.

     On a day in early March of this year, he and a friend traveled to West Greenwich and spoke to an elderly man about the possibility of an old police car being on his property.  Sure enough, the rumor was true.  Sitting in an area thick with brush, was a 1971 Ford, Custom 500, with a large emblem on the door which in bold letters read “Smithfield Police”.       

The passenger side door after being rescued and cleaned.

     The car had a black and white color scheme, which hasn’t been used by the department since the early 1970s.  It was, by all indications, the oldest surviving Smithfield police car in existence, and perhaps one of the oldest surviving police cars in the state.  If it could talk, imagine the stories it could tell about the calls it had responded to. It had patrolled in a time when the town’s population was half of what it is today; when Richard Nixon was president; the Vietnam War was raging; and before Route 295 was completed and turned Smithfield into a bedroom community. 

     The car had a numeral 6 on the front fender, indicating that the police department had at least six cruisers at the time.

     Bob had hoped it could once again cruise the streets of Smithfield, but unfortunately it was well beyond restoration, for it appeared the car had been sitting on the same spot for forty-plus years, and the bottom had completely rusted away due to sitting on the ground for so long. 

     And over the years the car had become a dumpster for rusted auto parts.  Furthermore the windows, windshield, and driver’s side door were gone, thus allowing the weather and wildlife to take a toll on the interior. 

    The back of the car was pushed inward indicating that at some point it had been hit from behind, which could be the reason it was retired from service.  In any case, at some point it had been sold for scrap and wound up in West Greenwich.   

     Bob was told it was fortunate that he’d come when he did, for the car had been scheduled to be removed and sent to a crusher a week earlier, but there’d been an unexpected delay.  After some discussion with the property owner, Bob managed to acquire the passenger side door with its vintage Smithfield police emblem, and the trunk lid, with the word “police” across the back.  Shortly after their removal, the once proud cruiser was sent to be scrapped and recycled to one day come back in another incarnation, perhaps, if Fate allows it, as another police car, and hopefully not as a kitchen appliance. 

     Bob has been able to do some research on the car and has discovered that the department had three 1971 Fords in its fleet, and based on a metal emblem on the trunk, this particular one came from the former Notarantonio Ford dealership in North Providence.   

     Bob has since cleaned and polished the door and trunk lid, and plans to use them as wall art in his “man-cave”.  Perhaps one has to be interested in police history to understand the significance of these relics, for they are two of the most interesting and unusual pieces of Smithfield Police memorabilia to be found anywhere, and Bob is glad to have rescued them.    

 

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