In 1880, Irving R. Henry from North Carolina, homesteaded 130 acres of land which he purchased for $1.00 an acre. Captain O. S. Porter purchased the land from Henry and then sold it to Henry Morrison Flagler, the founder of Standard Oil and the Florida East Coast Railroad, for $30,000 dollars.
Flagler desired to keep his resort of Palm Beach free from commercialism. On February 4, 1894, he moved the businesses which dealt with his railroad operation from the Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach to the 48 block area he had purchased on the west side of the lake.
The town to the west was to be the living quarters for his beach employees, the commercial center for the area, and the terminus of his railway. Canvas tents and shanties were erected for the workers. Because these structures caught fire easily, the first public service organization developed in the area was the “Flagler Alerts,” a group of volunteer fireman under the direction of J. E. Phillips, President. The pumping station and the few fire hydrants installed did little for fires a month apart which burned down the buildings on the south sides of Banyan and Clematis Streets.
On November 5, 1894, 78 people met at the “Calaboose” (the first jail and police station located at Clematis St. and Poinsettia, now Dixie Hwy.) and passed the motion to incorporate the Town of West Palm Beach in what was then Dade County. The town council quickly addressed the building codes and the tents and shanties were replaced by brick, brick veneer, and stone buildings.
On incorporating the town, the council provided for an elected Town Marshall who was charged with keeping the peace and acting as tax collector. At the incorporation meeting, W. L. Torbert was elected Town Marshall over J. D. Ross, with a salary of $60.00 a month, an upper income for the times.
In the 1890’s on Banyan Street (1st Street for many years before its original name was restored), numerous saloons, gambling houses, and “dens of iniquities” flourished day and night. By law, saloons in West Palm Beach had to close from twelve midnight until four-thirty, and all day on Sunday. The saloon owners of Banyan Street petitioned the town council to allow the saloons to remain open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. W. L. Torbert, the only Town Marshall, found it difficult to enforce the law on a street where open gambling and ladies of easy virtue were the main attractions..
Marshall Torbert was assisted in his efforts to control the activities surrounding the saloons on Banyan Street by the many Churches built in West Palm Beach during this time. Union Congregational Church was built at Datura and Olive, two blocks to the south. Saint Ann’s Catholic Church was built at 3rd Street and Olive, two blocks to the north. Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, a Methodist Church, and the first two black churches, Tabernacle Missionary Baptist and Payne Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, were built within a few blocks of the area. The church bell in the Methodist Church was used as an alarm for the Town Marshall and the “Flagler Alerts” in case of a fire.
On the corner of Banyan and Olive was a saloon run by two Englishmen named Blythe and Papworth. Working as a bartender at the saloon was a man from Texas known as Sam Lewis. Lewis reportedly had killed several men and came to this area to escape detection. Blythe and Papworth sent Lewis to work another bar they owned in Lemon City, now part of North Miami, on Biscayne Bay. John F. Highsmith, former Dade County tax collector, frequented the saloon and had a bad habit of playing poker. Highsmith was reportedly an honest and honorable tax collector, never losing a dollar of the county’s money.
On one occasion, Highsmith and his nephew had a quarrel with Sam Lewis. Highsmith, unarmed, and Lewis, carrying a rifle, went into the street. Heated words were exchanged and Highsmith extended his arms at full length, telling Lewis to shoot if he thought it was an honorable thing to shoot an unarmed man. Lewis shot, killing Highsmith instantly. Highsmith’s nephew began to run and Lewis shot him in the back, killing him instantly. Lewis fled to the Bahamas.
Florida authorities contacted the Bahamian authorities to have Lewis arrested. Lewis threatened to kill the Bahamian authorities, so they turned him loose. Lewis returned to Florida to the Biscayne Bay area where a woman took him in and gave him shelter. A sheriff’s posse discovered Lewis’ hiding place and ordered him to come out and surrender.
The posse knew that Lewis was heavily armed. Lewis called out that he would surrender without trouble if a deputy came out alone to meet him. A deputy sheriff named McGregor answered this offer. Lewis killed the deputy without provocation when he approached. The posse later captured Lewis alive.
Many people wanted to lynch Lewis when he was captured, but he was safely transported to the old Dade County jail located in Juno Beach. Friends of Lewis at the West Palm Beach saloons made plans to rescue him. They knew he would be found guilty when the circuit court convened in six months.
The night before they planned to free Lewis, a lynch mob formed on the streets of West Palm Beach. The mob, consisting of 12 heavily armed men, left by boat on Lake Worth. Arriving at a dock in Juno Beach, they walked north on the railroad tracks to the courthouse yard. The lynch mob exchanged gunfire with the jailor and a deputy, killing the jailor while the deputy fled. The mob pulled Lewis out of the jail, carried him to a telegraph pole in the courthouse yard, and lynched him. They then riddled the body with bullets.
On the way back in the boat, the lynch mob made a solemn oath that no one reveal the names of those involved in the lynching. The leader of the lynch mob was reportedly a leader in the community and well known to C. C. Chillingsworth, a pioneer and attorney in West Palm Beach.
In 1895, things were better for the town. The population was now 1,228 residents. With population growth came a rough and tough mixture of newcomers. The Town Marshall’s salary was increased to $75 a month. A night policeman, who received $45 a month, was added. The night policeman’s duties were to light the lanterns on the lamp posts and check businesses for open doors and windows. During this time, the Mayor, Town Clerk, and Treasurer received additional bonuses in their salaries based on the convictions in Police Court.
In 1896, J. D. Ross was elected Town Marshall with a salary rolled back to $50 a month. A 10 percent salary reduction was imposed for all unserved warrants, which totaled $5. Ross was allotted a bounty of 25 cents for each impounded dog and bonuses, on a percentage basis, for all convictions in the Mayor’s court. The population was now 1,928 people and property in the town was valued at $133,926.
The continued influx of people to the Town of West Palm Beach was due mainly to land acquisitions and construction of resort hotels by Henry Morrison Flagler. Flagler continued to develop areas to the south along the route of his railroad, leading to the rapid growth of areas such as Boynton Beach, Linton (later named Delray Beach), Boca Raton, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami.
The Marshall and his deputies continued as the law enforcement agents through the Charter of 1903, when the town was abolished and the City of West Palm Beach was born. West Palm Beach was within Dade County until 1909, when Palm Beach County was created and the city was declared the county seat.
In 1917, the West Palm Beach police force consisted of eight men headed by Town Marshall Frank H. Matthews. Members of the force were Charlie Hughes, Ernest N. Malphurs (Chief of Police, 1925), C.O. “Pete” Pierce, Charles P. Metcalf, Joe Padgett, (later Chief of Police in Boca Raton and father of George Padgett, who rose to the rank of Chief of Detectives), H. E. “Bert” Seaman, and Fred M. Brannon.
In 1919, the city council changed the position from Town Marshall to Police Chief and created the Police Department. Frank H. Matthews, the last Town Marshall, was elected the first Chief of Police that year, posing proudly for a portrait in his new police chief’s hat.
The permanent population of West Palm Beach in 1920 was 8,659. During the Winter season it almost doubled. West Palm Beach was one
of the most prosperous and fastest growing cities in the State of Florida because of the tourist trade. Even the start of Prohibition didn’t
dampen the spirits of the visitors. Of course, there were plenty of people willing to provide “spirits” to the visitors, along with
gambling and other vices.
In September of 1921, West Palm Beach changed its form of government from Mayoral to City Commission/City Manager, one that lasted for 71 years.
The earliest known recorded documents of the City of West Palm Beach Police Department are complaint log books. These large ledger books document assignments given to the officers and the outcomes. When an officer received an assignment or happened upon a situation, an entry was made in the log books.
- Uniform Cap and badge
- Twisters (a wrist control device also known as a “come-along”)
- Copy of Rules and Regulations
Equipment issued to each officer in the 1920’s included:
In the early 20’s, the duties of the West Palm Beach Police Officer were pretty much as they are today, though the methods and equipment of the times were different. The police officer would answer the call for police service by traveling to the location on his “wheel” (bicycle). Buildings were checked by officers during their tour of duty. If a door was unlocked, the owner of the business would be contacted to respond to the police station with the key so the building could be locked. Officers were responsible for checking the street lights and notifying the power plant when a light was out. They were also required to hang red lanterns to warn the motoring public of hazards ahead, such as fallen trees or holes in the roadway.
Traffic officers were responsible for the enforcement of traffic laws. Many motorist were cited for speeding while traveling 25 miles per hour. Accidents were also handled by traffic officers, and settlement of the damages was usually agreed upon by the parties involved. Accidents where vehicles collided with “wheels” were the most common type of accident.
A curfew of 10:00 P.M. was enforced by officers when complaints were received about juveniles being out that late. Complaints of horses, cows, mules, and chickens running at large were handled by having the owners of the animals “look after them closer.”
During the research of this history, Mrs. Zella Verner was interviewed in her residence in Brooksville, Florida. Mrs. Verner, the widow of Andrew Marshall Verner, has been identified as the oldest living spouse of a former West Palm Beach Police Officer. A. M. Verner was one of three brothers on the Police Department during the early 1920’s. H. T. Verner was, at one time, the Chief of Detectives and Newton Verner was an officer.
A. M. Verner was on the Department from 1924 until the mid 30’s. Mrs. Verner told how A. M. and his dog, Fido, would make the rounds in the area north of Banyan Street. Fido was very protective of A.M. and would go everywhere with him. On occasion, A.M. would take Fido into the Grand Theater on Rosemary Street and the two of them would sit in the back of the “picture show.”
Zella Verner and a friend were heading to Connie Mack Field on March 18, 1925 to meet A.M. and attend the Police Department Picnic. Arriving at the field, Zella observed all of the police officers hurrying off in the direction of Palm Beach. Mrs. Verner and her friend went to the edge of Lake Worth on the West Palm Beach side and watched as the Breakers Hotel and the Palm Beach Hotel burned to the ground.
One of the most important aspects of the Police Department in 1927 was the operation of the traffic division, which had arranged a system for controlling large volumes of traffic, reducing the number of accidents. Persons operating a motor vehicle in the City of West Palm Beach were required to obtain a drivers permit from the Chief of Police at the Police Department, which was located on the ground floor of City Hall at the northeast corner of Datura and Poinsettia(Dixie Highway).
It was unlawful to operate a vehicle of any kind on the streets of West Palm Beach without a license. Traffic laws dealt with parking violations, u-turns in the middle of the street, parking for longer than 5 minutes in front of the Post Office on Datura Street, and, most of all, exceeding the City-wide speed limit of 25 miles per hour.
On September 16, 1928 a very strong hurricane roared through Palm Beach County, destroying the areas around Lake Okeechobee. The officers’ families and others rode out the destructive winds of the storm inside the city jail built in 1921 at the corner of Rosemary and Banyan Streets.
According to Mrs. Verner, officers from the West Palm Beach Police Department went out to the Glades area and assisted the local residents after the massive destruction caused by the hurricane. Mrs. Verner said her husband was out near Lake Okeechobee for days. Officer Verner assisted with the mass burials at the cemetery at 27th St. and North Rosemary Avenue and at 25th St. and Tamarind Avenue. Almost before the area could completely recover, the stock market crash of 1929 heralded the beginning of the Great Depression and the end of the Roaring Twenties.
During the depression, all but the basic services of Police, Fire, and Utilities ended in the City of West Palm Beach. City employees were paid in scrip, which was accepted in lieu of currency at local stores because the City had no money. Even with the wealth of Palm Beach nearby, the area suffered along with the rest of the country.
Recreational activities and sports were two of the many ways people spent their time. West Palm Beach had one of the best-known small club boxing centers in the nation. Strong interest in boxing was led by the wealthy of Palm Beach, which included E. F. Hutton, former husband of Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post. The rich developed “fight stables,” one of whom was Phil O’Connell, who became a prominent lawyer and political figure in West Palm Beach. Another was Trapper Nelson, a hermit who lived on the Loxahatchee River in Jonathan Dickinson State Park for many years.
The first boxing arena was outdoors, located on the north side of Banyan Street just west of the present day First Union Bank. The fights were later held in an indoor arena on the north side of Clematis Street at the F.E.C. railroad crossing, which eventually was enlarged to hold more than 2,000 spectators. Many of the spectators at the Clematis Street arena were the Palm Beach crowd who would fill private boxes around ringside.
With the diamond and fur clothed Palm Beachers came diamond and fur thieves. Gangsters from the northern mobs traveled through the area. Moonshiners and smugglers worked up and down the coast.
Some said that what made the “Roaring Twenties” roar was the Thompson submachine gun in the hands of the gangsters. In the 1930’s, the police department decided it was outgunned by the bad guys and purchased their own “Tommygun.” Sixty years later, that Thompson still resides in our armory, a permanent part of the department’s historical collection.
Robert W. “Bob” Milburn was elected Chief of Police in 1932. It was during his tenure that tragedy came to the West Palm Beach Police Department with the loss of our first two officers killed in the line of duty. Jack Grace Wadlington was killed while working traffic at Butler Street and Dixie Highway during the Sun Dance Festival on March 31, 1935. Lewis Allen Conner was shot and killed by an armed robbery suspect at 1322 Henrietta Ave. on August 7, 1937.
During the mid 30’s, Grace K. Morrison became convinced the Palm Beaches needed a larger airport to accommodate regularly scheduled passenger and airmail flights. Just west of the city limits between Belvedere Road and Southern Boulevard, a small airfield became an airport named after it’s founder, Morrison Field.
Shortly before the start of World War II, Morrison Field was converted from a civilian airport to a military air base, officially becoming an air base on February 28th, 1940. Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Morrison Field had expanded to over 1000 acres and was the main air base for protection of the southeastern United States. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Morrison Field became part of the Air Transport Command, processing aircraft and personnel for overseas duty.
The establishment of air bases at Morrison Field and in Boca Raton resulted in large scale residential construction, reviving Palm Beach County from the effects of the depression. Many of the veterans who served at Morrison Field decided to make the West Palm Beach area their home. Nearly 1,000 homes were built near the airport. With the increase in population, West Palm Beach needed more effective law and traffic enforcement.
Jack Thompson became Chief of Police in 1942 after Bob Milburn was called to active military duty. The police department became the center for civil defense in the city. In order to protect the essential services of the fire department, the police department assigned one riot shotgun to each fire station so the firemen could protect themselves from saboteurs!
The police station was still located near City Hall and the Fire station at the northeast corner of Datura and Dixie serving a department continuing to grow: 27 Officers in 1943; 70 by 1948. More technical equipment was being utilized by officers. New quarters were needed to house both people and equipment.
With the end of WW II, the former U.S.O. building in the 200 block of 2nd Street became available. In 1948, it became the new police station. Soon after, Trueman P. Matthews was elected Chief of Police. Trueman was the son of the first Chief of Police, Frank H. Matthews. He was a police officer in Palm Beach before being elected Chief in West Palm Beach. Trueman Matthews was the last chief elected to a two-year term. He was responsible for having the term of office for Chief of Police changed to 4 year terms.
Trueman Matthews has been described as a visionary who made the first substantial changes in the department. Chief Matthews changed the uniform from blue to tan. With the new uniform came a new shoulder patch which prominently displayed the palm tree of South Florida. Chief Matthews also hired the first black police officers in the city.
Segregation was still part of life in the south. Officers William Boone Darden (Chief of Police in Riviera Beach in the 1970’s), Primus Green, Dwight Bolen, and A. Harley Wilson were set up in their own precinct house, the old jail at Rosemary and Banyan Street. They were assigned to patrol the area north of Banyan to 23rd Street between the FEC and Seaboard railroad tracks.
Vehicles used by the officers during this time were Fords and Nashs. Neither had air conditioning. To cool off during the hot summers, officers would get ice from the ice house on 3rd Street and put it in a bucket on the floor under the air vent. Former officers had mixed reviews as to the effectiveness of this system, much preferring today’s air conditioning!
Chief Trueman Matthews died suddenly in December of 1950.Lt. William Locklear, who had been on the department since 1936, was
named Acting Chief. Locklear remained Chief for approximately three months and lost the position of Acting Chief on a Florida Supreme Court Ruling
Richard “Dick” Allshire was elected Chief after a lengthy political battle. Allshire was a Sergeant on the department during the 1920’s and
’30’s. Because of the acrimony of the election and certain accusations that were made, a West Palm Beach Police Department Commission was
empaneled. Some of their findings will sound familiar to many officers, regardless of which era they served in, such as:
- The Traffic Office was cramped.
- More clothes lockers were needed for officers.
- The showers were in poor condition.
- The radio tower wasn’t working and calls had to be dispatched from a car in front of the station.
- Two cars were in bad shape and should be traded in.
- The dispatcher is too busy answering telephones and radio reports to adequately meet the public.
On the arrival of seven new police cars to cover the 15.4 square miles now populated, the city was divided into five patrol beats from the
previous four. The fast-growing southern area of the city was broken up into two beats. No. 1 beat from the south city limits to Southern Blvd.;
No. 2 beat from Southern Boulevard to Okeechobee Boulevard.
The police car in 1951 was the Plymouth Cranbrook four-door sedan. The annual report published as part of the Palm Beach Post-Times in 1952
showed the car with the school patrol at St. Juliana’s Church and School.
In February 1953, L. J. “John” Alge became interim Chief of Police. During John Alge’s tenure, 79 officers were assigned to the four
divisions of the Police Department, Administration, Detective, Traffic, and Patrol.
The Detective Division included the Identification Bureau and was responsible for all plainclothes details, burglary and theft
investigations, and other criminal law violations. The Traffic Division was in charge of handling vehicular and pedestrian traffic, safety and
accident prevention education, school boy patrol, and marking the curbs throughout the city. The Patrol Division was the backbone of the
department, covering the city 24 hours a day with both motorized and foot patrols.
In 1954, Chief R. W. Milburn was reelected after returning from active military duty as a Colonel. The educational process for the West
Palm Beach Police Officer had begun. Officers were required to attend a Police School sponsored by the Florida Peace Officers Association and the
State Department of Education. Classes were given in old military buildings at Morrison Field. Officers were required to attend a four year
course before receiving a diploma.
The parking meter division was transferred from City Hall to the Police department. A 240-strong school boy patrol aided the 88 officers on
the department control traffic around schools. The department got an indoor pistol range where officers held weekly firearm instruction and
Retired officers provided the truth about the “indoor range.” The indoor pistol range consisted of a narrow hallway adjacent to the
lieutenant’s office. Officers would fire their weapons, mostly 22’s because of the nature of the range, down the narrow hallway into a
backstop area. Bullets would occasionally strike a wooden beam and ricochet into the lieutenant’s office, landing on his desk. Luckily, OSHA
wasn’t there to inspect this “facility!”
In 1955, more new police officers are hired, bringing the West Palm Beach Police Department to an all-time high of sworn personnel. The
organizational chart included one Captain, three Lieutenants, ten Sergeants, three Detectives, 56 Patrolmen, one identification Officer, one
payroll and records clerk, one clerk typist, one paint machine operator, one work detail crew chief, 12 crossing guards, and one custodian.
In 1957, there were 1,811 accidents in the City of West Palm Beach. Thirty of the accidents involved police vehicles, 23 with patrol
cars and seven with motorcycles. Police vehicles traveled 862,516 miles while protecting the citizens of West Palm Beach. Officer Fred Treadwell
took 75 of the 500 school patrol boys to Washington, D.C. for the annual convention.
On November 22, 1958, Chief Milburn announced that Winifred Holden (Winnie Moree) was appointed as a policewoman in the Detective
Bureau, working the shoplifting detail and the Identification Bureau. Holden had been a clerk with County Solicitor Charles Nugent’s office.
Chief Milburn announced he needed 8 additional patrolmen to fill out the force. Starting salary for patrolmen and policewomen was $65 a week.
Through donations of friends, Chief Milburn bought uniforms for the 27 officers of the Reserve Force he established in 1956. The Reserve Officers
attended training classes taught by officers, local attorneys, and judges. The Reserve unit was thought to be the first of its kind in the south.
Matthew Thomas became the first black reserve officer that year, rising to the rank of Lieutenant.
Tragedy struck on March 28, 1959, when Officer F. A. “Al” Tatum was killed in a motorcycle accident. A civilian motorcyclist
collided with Tatum while he was escorting a funeral procession on Parker Avenue.
Nearing the end of his second term, Chief Milburn faced the City Commission. They were proposing to reorganize the department and
rename the chief “Director of Public Safety.” Chief Milburn countered by stating “The people elected me to run the Police Department.” Eventually, Milburn agreed to have an efficiency check done on the entire Police Department. When the question of which would be better,
an appointive chief or an elected one, Milburn refused to answer.
Some say 1960 was the beginning of a new, more professional era for the City of West Palm Beach and the Police Department itself.
The battles with City Hall over the question of an appointive versus an elected Chief would be laid to rest for 20 years with the election of William M. Barnes as Chief of Police. During the campaign, all the candidates agreed the Chief’s position should be appointive rather than elected, but they differed on how to do it and who should do the appointing.
Under the command of Chief Barnes, the Police Department continued with the education and training process instituted by Chief Milburn, with a greater emphasis on mandatory training for all sworn officers. On May 1, 1960, Chief Barnes created an inspections and training division under the direction of Lt. Joe Macy. Officers of the department accumulated a total of 17,730 hours of training during the year.
The police service in Palm Beach County, not just the West Palm Beach Police Department, was upgraded through increased recruit training, supervisory training, and in-service training. Chief Barnes was instrumental in obtaining a law enforcement curriculum at Palm Beach Junior College leading to an associate degree. Lieutenants Tu andNue of the Vietnam Civil Guard, studied American policing with the West Palm Beach Police Department in September of 1960. After completing their studies, Nue and Tu returned to the rice paddy patrols of South Vietnam.
The national average for major crimes of violence, such as murder, robbery, rape and aggravated assault, was showing an increase. The City of West Palm Beach showed a decrease in these crimes from 1959.
The department continued to work closely with the 18 schools in the city to provide a safety program to get children to and from school. Under the direction of the safety officer are 500 school patrol members and 17 part-time school crossing guards.
The total budget for the Police Department in 1960was $707,400.00. The actual expenditure by the department in 1960 was $687,526.00.
In January of 1961, Chief William Barnes and Palm Beach Police Chief Homer Large were invited guests at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. The Chiefs were invited as Honorary Detectives to serve with the Washington Metropolitan Police Force.
In March of 1961, one of the most important decisions by the Chief of Police and the City Manager involved changing the standards for hiring West Palm Beach Police Officers. In order for West Palm Beach to attract officers in the competitive job market of the time, a request was made to lower the height requirement from 5’9″ to 5’8″. In his argument for the change, Chief Barnes stated “The days of the strong back and weak mind police officer are over. We are now looking for police officers with good heads on their shoulders”. For all the officers on the department who have to “look up” to others, you can thank Chief Barnes!
Joe Macy was the first West Palm Beach Officer to attend the F.B.I. National Academy under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover. Macy received the first John Edgar Hoover Medal for excellence in the study of law enforcement at the F.B.I. Academy.
Officers of the department were taught self-defense tactics in the form of Judo presented by the F.B.I.. After receiving instruction, seven officers from the department received certificates of completion which allowed them to teach other members the art of self defense. Judo instructors for the West Palm Beach Police Department in April of 1961 were Lt. Dan West, Lt. Joe Macy, Sgt. Henry Suarez, Detective Ed Post, and Patrolmen Robert Ilsley, Ed Auditore, and Pat Hickey.
Also in May of 1961 , a request for three Jail Matrons was made to help with the female population at the overcrowded city jail located in former Air Force buildings at the Palm Beach County Airport. Because of the conditions at the jail, police officers were bending over backwards trying not to put women in jail.
In November of 1961, Sergeant Sam Trent and Patrolman John Hefling were involved in motorcycle accidents. Trent was escorting a funeral procession and Hefling was struck by a driver making an improper turn. Sgt. Trent was wearing a helmet, recently made part of the uniform, which saved his life. The helmet was shattered and debris was found embedded in it.
Another incident highlighting the need for wearing a helmet in Florida happened to Officer Walt Stevens in December 1961. While escorting a funeral south on Flagler Drive, a passing motorist swerved to let the funeral procession pass. In swerving, the motorist struck a palm tree with coconuts in it. The jarring of the palm tree caused the coconuts to fall and strike Stevens on the helmet. Stevens only injury was a bruised knee.
In December, 1961, word was received that Hoang Huu Tu had been killed in action in the City of Dinh-Tuong. Tu left behind a wife and four children, the fourth born while he was training in West Palm Beach. Tu had opposed the war in his country, disliking the fact that brother was fighting brother, but sadly admitted it had to be done.
In December of 1961, the first Harbor Patrol boat owned by the Police Department was received from the Sheriff’s Office.. The Elbee was a 30 foot, twin engine craft kept ready for water emergencies at the City Marina on Flagler. Selected men were trained in the operation of the boat for rescue operations. Prior to the Elbee, the first harbor patrol boat actually belonged to Detective Tommy Morris.
During 1961, the officers attended 25,883 classroom hours of training. By the end of the year, 90 officers held 160 or 200 hour certificates for police training from the State Department of Education. Thirteen officers were enrolled at Palm Beach Junior College. The West Palm Beach Police Academy trained 84 officers from other county departments and conducted an 8 week basic training program for Sheriff’s Deputies
On occasion, West Palm Beach police officers were required to substitute for high ranking officials in the Sheriffs Office on a “loan” basis. On two occasions, Lt. Henry Baumhauer was “loaned” to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to assist with day to day operations while high ranking Sheriff’s officials were required for Grand Jury investigations and during transition periods from one sheriff to another.
The majority of shoplifting arrests in West Palm Beach were made by Detectives Winifred Holden and Winifred Sadler. The “two Winnies” worked surveillance, investigation, and arrest of shoplifters who plagued the downtown merchants long before the Palm Beach Mall was built..
The entire Department received recognition for its outstanding performance while involved in the security of President John F. Kennedy and his entourage during frequent visits to this community.
In October of 1962, all West Palm Beach officers operating police vehicles were required to wear a safety belt. The cruisers delivered in 1962 were equipped with seat belts for the first time.
Vice Agents broke up a major counterfeiting operation headed by John Grafton Gray of West Palm Beach, a former Palm Beach County and State lawmaker, and Lloyd Dyal of Tampa, Florida. After observing Gray put a suitcase on a bus bound for Tampa, Lt. Eugene McCann, Sgt. William Eaton, and Secret Service agents rode the bus to Tampa and watched as Dyal picked up the suitcase containing $200,000 in counterfeit twenty dollar bills.
During the 1963 fiscal year, the police department made many new advancements towards modern policing. Polygraph operators conducted 101 tests. A ballistics and handwriting expert, C. E. Matthewson, was added to the Detective Division. Previously, all ballistic and handwriting evidence was sent to the F.B.I. in Washington D.C. What once took weeks to get results could be accomplished in just a few hours.
A “Mobile Crime Lab” vehicle was added to the identification section. The 1963 Chevrolet panel van was equipped with a two way radio and all the necessary equipment to conduct “on scene” crime scene investigations. Sergeant John Jamason, Sgt. Carl Howard, and Police Photographer Ray Wendt equipped the truck for on-scene identification work. Kits for determining fingerprints, blood stains, plaster casting for footprints and tire tracks, and equipment for first aid and rescue operations were all contained within the “laboratory on wheels.”
In 1963, West Palm Beach had the only professional law enforcement agency in the State of Florida according to some published accounts. The department was cited year after year for being one of the highest rated police departments among cities of similar size. Success for these outstanding accomplishments was attributed to the selection of personnel, the many hours of regular and specialized training, and use of modern enforcement methods. In its fifth year of training emphasis, the academy training given to the average member of the force was raised to 420 hours. The public had a police force ready for any situation that arose.
The West Palm Beach Police Department began 1963 on a humanitarian note when five nurses from Philadelphia wrote Chief Barnes and requested to spend the nights of their vacation to West Palm Beach in the police station. The nurses had scraped together enough money for transportation and meals, but not enough for overnight accommodations. Not wanting to see the nurses spend their nights in jail, arrangements were made to have them stay at the George Washington Hotel (now the Helen Wilkes Residence Hotel), free of charge.
On hearing of the nurses’ desire to visit West Palm Beach, many local businesses chipped in to help make their stay an enjoyable one. The five day “Dream Vacation” by the nurses received national attention and may have sparked interest by others to vacation in West Palm Beach. All because of a letter written to the Chief of Police.
In September, 1963, narcotics cases were becoming widespread. On one evening, two males walked up to a house on Hibiscus Street. One of the subjects had a cat under his arm. After they were found in possession of a dozen marijuana cigarettes, the two subjects were escorted out of the apartment by Lt. Gene McCann and Det. Sgts. Eaton, Case, and Auditore. After receiving a confession from one of the defendants, the detectives went back into the apartment and seized about one pound of raw marijuana. The arrested spent the night in jail, the officers went home, and the cat enjoyed milk given to him by Sgt. Auditore.
In September of 1963, the pistol range located on the west side of Tamarind at 5th street was closed because of a stray bullet that was found inside the home of Bessie Taylor at 1342 Sixth Street. The stray round had come from a submachine gun used for a demonstration class at the range. This was the same Thompson submachine gun purchased in the ’30’s, and probably the last time it was used!
Also in September 1963, 234 new badges were received by the Police Department replacing the less colorful badges of old. Lt. Wendell Miller was credited with the new badge design which bears the City seal in the center.
On November 19, 1963, Richard G. Morrison was observed by Patrolman Richard Englehart trying to open a safe containing $12,000 during a burglary at Walgreen’s Drug Store in the Palm Coast Plaza. Morrison was identified by Englehart through a photo line up. Morrison was subpoenaed to West Palm Beach by a Solicitors subpoena at which time he was positively identified by Englehart. Morrison had been identified as the man who turned state’s evidence against police officers in Chicago which lead to sweeping reforms within the Chicago Police Department.
Morrison had admitted to participating in numerous burglaries committed with policemen in Chicago. Morrison was freed by a local jury on the burglary charge at Walgreen’s. During the trial, Chicago police officers came to West Palm Beach to ruin Morrison’s testimony.
In March of 1964, Morrison was shot in what was described as a gangland-type shooting in Chicago. Morrison’s shoulder was shattered, but he survived. Police officers were said to have been guarding his room closely while he was recovering after surgery. Morrison had been scheduled to testify in Chicago on March 14, 1964 in connection with the police scandal.
November 22, 1963 became the blackest day in the history of our country with the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States. Police Chief William Barnes and Palm Beach Police Chief Homer Large were sent by their respective cities to represent the citizens and pay last respects to “a warm and human person” as described by Chief Barnes. Less than a week before his assassination, President Kennedy was in Palm Beach County, escorted to the airport by Chief Barnes and members of the department.
During the latter part of 1963, Commissioner George Williams called for the closing of the city jail located in an old Air Force building at Palm Beach Airport. Williams was appalled at the conditions within the jail, stating “although it is clean, it is very inadequate.” The jail facility included two large “bullpens” with about 24 beds in each, six cells for “white women or persons with contagious diseases,” and “one room for Negro women prisoners” with six cots in it. The drunk tank measured 6 by 12 feet, with no windows, no toilet, and heavy steel doors.
Barnes had been asking for a new jail for years, putting himself on record disclaiming responsibility for the jail because it was outside the city limits. The jail was leased from the county after City Judge Beatrice Fitterer ordered the old jail on Rosemary closed in 1960 because of its poor conditions.
On March 31, 1964, Police Chief William Barnes defeated Captain Robert C. Clark to keep his position. Plans for a new Police Complex, which would house headquarters, the jail, and courtroom facilities, were presented and won approval of the City Commission. It was the hope of many that “things will be better when we get in the new station.”
In August of 1964, Sergeant John Casey became the first West Palm Beach Officer to attend the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville.
The Reserve Force, comprised of 34 men, accumulated 3,833 hours of duty. The help was gladly accepted by the regular force members. The Reserves were also required to attend training classes so they would have full arrest powers and be able to carry weapons.
In December of 1965, the West Palm Beach Police Department moved its operation from 2nd Street to the new, modern and enormous police complex at 901 Datura Street. The cost of the police complex was $846,546.01. Completion and occupancy of the building had been delayed two months by labor disputes and late arrival of the furniture. The old police station and courtroom on Second Street, the jail on First Street and Rosemary, the Palm Beach Airport jail, and the police academy could all fit on the first floor of the 52,000 square foot, thoroughly modern law enforcement complex.
The move also saw the end of segragated police stations. We were no longer the “police department” and the “black precinct.” The West Palm Beach Police Department had become headquarters for all officers.
Also in 1965, the City of West Palm Beach Police Department was cited by Florida State University’s Criminology and Corrections Department and Governor Hayden Burns as the best municipal police department in the State of Florida. The basis for the recognition was the exemplary education and training provided by the department, not only to its members, but also to members of other departments statewide.
The major increase in service provided by the West Palm Beach Police Department was in the incarceration of prisoners in the new jail facility. The jail received 5,469 prisoners, 679 of which were women. Two hundred prisoners were from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, 82 from the Town of Palm Beach, and nine were Federal prisoners. The kitchen in the facility prepared 74,376 meals.
The Municipal Court was located on the east end of the station. Municipal Court Judge Beatrice Fitterer heard 24,604 cases, of which 15,902 were traffic and 4,061 criminal offenses.
1967 saw us pay tribute to three officers killed in the line of duty. On February 10, 1967, Officer C. Lee Wagner was killed when his motorcycle collided with a vehicle in front of the Palm Beach Post Times on South Dixie Highway. On April 6, 1967, Sgt. William H. Fletcher and Officer David R. Van Curler were shot and killed by a deranged man at 45th Street and Broadway.
The late sixties saw civil unrest in many parts of the country related to the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement. Palm Beach County and the City of West Palm Beach were not immune. The area around the Hut Restaurant at South Flagler and Chase Street became known as “People’s Park,” with large groups of young people congregating and open drug use.
The ’70’s proved to be another era of change for the West Palm Beach Police Department. Gone are the major investigations into moonshine and gambling operations. Here to replace them are drug violations. Two out of three drug arrests were for marijuana abuse. Heroin and cocaine were available in the community, but in lesser quantities. Other crimes increased as addicts struggled to get cash for their next “fix.”
Rock and bottle throwing incidents became commonplace in 1970. Riviera Beach saw a major civil disturbance that resulted in some businesses being burned. West Palm Beach had a labor dispute just outside the city limits at a car dealership construction site on Okeechobee Blvd.
Calls for service increased from 35,000 in 1970 to 55,000 in 1971. West Palm Beach was becoming a “Big City”, with big city problems of traffic congestion. Traffic, once a headache during the “height of the season,” had now become a part of everyday life. Over 3,550 accidents were investigated within the city limits. Traffic fatalities reached 13, more than double the previous years total.
Events at the West Palm Beach Auditorium required police services. On a few occasions, wrestling spectators got out of hand requiring police action to restore order. No serious injuries were received by police or civilians, but the wrestling matches were cancelled for a period of time. When the matches were resumed, the crowd seemed more self-controlled.
Racial tensions were lessened in 1971. Only one major confrontation occurred in the summer of 1971. The entire department was mobilized on four consecutive nights for disturbances in the 700 block of Rosemary Avenue. The problem was a group of drug dealers who had moved from another part of the county and settled on Rosemary Avenue.
According to the annual report of 1971, the drug dealers’ stay was short lived. Walking beats were begun on Rosemary Avenue and Northwood Road to prevent the drug dealers return. These officers had personal contact with the citizens in the area which helped reduce tensions.
West Palm Beach Police in 1972 were very busy answering 60,000 calls for service that required 17,000 written reports. Of 7,019 arrests, 1,970 were for public drunkenness. Public intoxication was declared a sickness and not a crime in October, 1974. Other facilities were opened, such as C.A.R.P. (the Comprehensive Alcohol Rehabilitation Program), to handle the inebriates who could no longer be placed in jail.
Special Tactical Anti-Crime (TAC) Teams were initiated to address increases in purse snatches and residential burglaries. A detail was started to patrol the city water catchment area to prevent vandalism, drug abuse, indecent exposure, illegal dumping, and illegal hunting. The department developed a bomb squad, no doubt in response to the actions of some radical anti-war groups across the nation.
1973 saw the last session of the West Palm Beach Police Academy. The Criminal Justice Institute at Palm Beach Junior College assumed the duty to train police officers. The coordinator of the new academy was retired Inspector Joe Macy. The classroom in the station could now be used exclusively for in-service training.
In 1973, officers no longer were required to type every report. A new handwritten report system allowed reports to be completed on the street. Only reports for presentation to the State Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution had to be typed.
In January of 1974, the Police Benevolent Association was recognized by the West Palm Beach City Commission as the bargaining unit for West Palm Beach Police Officers. President of the Palm Beach County PBA was Ronald Sowers; Vice President was Theodore Griggs.
The 1974-75 budget request was $3,244,742.00, an increase of $500,000 from the previous year. City manager called the budget request conservative. The major reason for the increase was the cost of gasoline and oil products. !974 was the height of the gas crisis, with prices skyrocketing and supplies short. Gas siphoning was the major theft problem that year.
In November of 1974, West Palm Beach was the starting point of one of the most heinous mass murder suspects in American history. John Paul Knowles began his crime spree by abducting a tourist who managed to escape in Palm Beach. Knowles then abducted a woman from her home in West Palm Beach, leaving her in a motel room in Fort Pierce the following day. Knowles then abducted a Florida Highway Patrol Trooper and a salesman in Perry, Florida. He then fled into Georgia.
Knowles was the subject of a massive manhunt in Georgia, eventually surrendering to a hunter. Knowles refused to tell authorities where the Trooper and salesman were. Knowles’ lawyer had access to tapes which may have provided the location of the abducted men, but he refused to tell law enforcement officials where the tapes were. Five days after the crime spree began, the hostages were found by hunters 20 miles south of Macon, Ga. They had been tied to a tree and shot.
In December of 1974, Knowles was shot and killed while trying to escape by Sheriff Earl Lee of Douglas County, Georgia. The shooting of Knowles was justified according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
In November 1974, Officers of the West Palm Beach Police Department were involved in a hostage situation at the Nag’s Head Pub, 2381 Palm Beach Lakes. James C. Mitchell fled from Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) officials, entered the restaurant, grabbed a waitress, and held her hostage for four hours. A local psychiatrist told officers that Mitchell did not really want to kill the hostage, even though he said he would. The psychiatrist said “No harm was meant.” Mitchell had been arrested by FDLE on warrants from North Carolina, where he was wanted for rape and kidnapping. Mitchell meant no harm in the North Carolina cases either, we guess.
The mid-seventies saw a marked increase in crime that produced instant cash; purse snatching, robberies burglaries and larcenies. The economy was in a recession that began with the gas crisis. The results of unemployment were prevalent in West Palm Beach.
The term “selective enforcement” became popular to describe the efforts of police to combat the crime problem. West Palm Beach Police were utilizing small tactical units drawn from the patrol division to handle specific crimes in specific locations. It became clear citizens would have to become more involved if crime was to be controlled.
On June 30, 1975, the department saw another first. Officer Vivian D. Tromblay was hired as the first female uniformed road patrol officer. Until she was hired, all other female officers were hired directly for plainclothes investigative assignments.
In 1977, a revision of the Florida Constitution eliminated city courts throughout the state. In 1978, the former courtroom became a meeting room for the newly-formed Crime Prevention Unit consisting of one officer, Sgt. Jim Kirk. The first crime prevention activity for patrol officers was the issuance of Crime Prevention Warnings, commonly called “CPW’s.” CPW’s were placed on cars and commercial buildings officers found unsecured or inviting to criminals.
On March 14, 1978 the decision to have an appointive rather than an elected Chief of Police was given to the public to make. The public voted for the change to appointive Chief after heavy endorsement from Chief William Barnes. Barnes had been the elected Chief of Police since 1960. He had been in favor of the appointive Chief in an attempt to maintain professionalism in the Police Department. Chief William M. Barnes announced that he would retire effective March 27, 1980.
In the late 1970’s, an armed homicide suspect barricaded himself in a house in the south end of the city. The department had a riot squad with little training for such emergencies, and it proved not to be enough. Luckily, the incident ended without any further harm to citizens or police officers when the suspect committed suicide. The department decided it was necessary to train personnel in nontraditional police tactics to deal with similar incidents in the future.
Sergeant Jerry Winebrenner and Officer Robert Mooney were sent to the FBI SWAT school in Quantico, Virginia. Upon their return from the school, they formed the first Special Weapons and Tactics Team. The original SWAT team consisted of two five-man entry teams and two sniper/sharpshooters. Training was conducted on a monthly basis and encompassed firearm proficiency, tactical movement, and rapelling skills.
Applicants for Chief of Police included seven members of the West Palm Beach Police Department, Inspector William Eaton, Major John Jamason, Captain Marvin Mann, Captain James Griffin, Captain Jack Boccanfuso, Captain Wayne Gunderson, and Lt. Mike McClure. A total of 150 applicants nationwide vied for the position.
In March of 1980, the list of candidates for the Chief’s position was whittled down to three: Major John Jamason, Police Chief David Walsh of Colombia, Mo., and Lt. Col Warren Atkins of the St. Louis Police Department. On April 14, 1980 City Manager Richard Simmons selected Major John Jamason to become the first appointed West Palm Beach Police Chief. The selection was endorsed by a majority of the officers on the department.
The Fire Department moved into a new fire station at 4th Street and North Dixie in June of 1981. Sometime after that (and we promised we would never tell how long after!), an inventory was done of old equipment in storage. Much to their surprise, a shotgun was found. The firefighters who found it had no idea how it got in their equipment. Afraid it was stolen or worse, they called the police department.
After more than forty years, the police department’s ’97 Winchester riot shotgun had come home. The firefighters working the central fire station during World War II were apparently so fearful of invasion they put the shotgun in a trunk full of seldom-used equipment. This trunk was moved from the old Datura and Dixie station to the fire station at 2nd Street and North Dixie. Apparently, the equipment wasn’t needed there, either, because the trunk was moved to the new fire station untouched. We want to thank the West Palm Beach Fire Department for “pack-ratting” equipment they didn’t need or we wouldn’t have an original riot gun in our collection!
Under the leadership of Chief Jamason, the department began trying different approaches to deal with the increasing crime problem. One of the first steps taken was the acquisition of a Police K-9. “Cliff Von Der Liferhaus” (“Cliff”) and his handler, Officer William Fraser, began their duties during the early part March, 1981. The same month, “Salto Von der Hechtenbach” (“Sultan”), after being delayed in a snowstorm in Berlin, arrived in the states and began training with his handler, Officer Mike Pontieri. The City Commission passed a law making it illegal to interfere with a police dog, affording them the same protection as their human counterparts.
In May of 1981, facing a law suit over the conditions at the jail, the Commission voted unanimously to allow the Chief of Police to close the jail. The jail was opened again in November of 1981, but only for the filming of the movie Love Child, starring Amy Madigan and Beau Bridges. The film was about a female inmate in Broward County who bore the child of a jail guard, but refused to name the father.
Chief Jamason changed the color of the uniform worn by the West Palm Beach Officer from the old tan and brown to navy blue. Captain James Griffin is credited with designing a new shoulder patch to replace the palm tree patch. The police cars were repainted from all-white to a more-traditional black and white. Officers began wearing the blue uniforms in June of 1981. These small gestures led to an almost overnight increase in morale among the officers on the department.
In December, 1981 the 911 system began in the City of West Palm Beach. A few “bugs” had to be worked out of the new system, but it soon proved to be an indispensable asset for the citizen and the police.
December of 1981 also saw the conclusion of the first major narcotics trafficking investigation conducted by the department. Agents of the vice squad under Sgt. Jim Wood, assisted by members of the TAC Team and other officers, had spent seven months investigating a former football coach from Palm Beach/Twin Lakes High School. The investigation lead to applying for and receiving a court order to conduct a telephone wiretap on the suspect. The investigation concluded with arrests and the seizure of a kilo (2.2 pounds) of cocaine that was destined for the streets of Detroit.
In January of 1982, Governor Bob Graham worked as a West Palm Beach Police Officer during his first “workday” of the new year. Governor Graham reported to roll call on the day shift and then spent the morning patrolling with Officer L. G. “Cowboy” Harvey in downtown West Palm Beach. The Governor then walked the Palm Beach Mall beat with Officer Joe Gioia. An entourage of FDLE agents, Chief Jamason, and Sgt. Greg Parkinson, accompanied the governor for protection purposes. It turned out to be an uneventful day for the governor and the City of West Palm.
In October of 1982, Chief Jamason took a step in the attempt to fight increasing problems with prostitution, gambling, and narcotics when he permanently combined the Vice and Tactical units into the Special Investigations Unit. The combination was made to enhance the departments ability to get into more sophisticated types of investigations. The new division was headed by recently promoted Captain James Gabbard (now Police Chief of Vero Beach) and consisted of 11 officers.
1983 and ’84 saw several high-profile homicides related to drugs. Businessman John Trent and a Palm Beach physician, Dr. John Freund, were arrested for the stabbing death of an employee of Trent’s who delivered narcotics to them. A retired City building inspector was doused with gasoline and burned to death after a robbery attempt at the pawn shop where he worked. Drive-by shootings become prevalent in the drug areas.
On January 21, 1984, we lost our seventh fellow officer killed in the line of duty. Officer Robert D. “Bob” Edwards was killed in a traffic accident at 36th St. and North Dixie Highway.
All that had happened took its toll on Chief John Jamason. In August, the Chief announced he was retiring October 2, 1984 after 24 years with the department. He expressed his hope that his successor would be one of the many qualified officers from within the department.
Applicants from the police department were Inspector Marvin F. “Mickey” Mann, Captain James Gabbard, and Lt. Jerry Winebrenner. Retired Captain Jack Boccanfuso also put his hat in the ring for the Chief’s job. The search for an interim chief caused a split within the department which City Manager Richard Simmons felt would hurt the officers seeking the top job.
When Jamason left for vacation two weeks before his scheduled retirement date, City Manager Richard Simmons sought an old friend to step in and take charge until the selection process could be finished. Former Police Chief William Barnes returned to office on October 2, 1984, on five month contract. Upon hearing of the imminent return of Chief Barnes, veteran officers were overheard cautioning rookie officers to wear their hats, stay on their beats, answer their radios, and be aware on the midnight shift. The reason for this was found on a poster bearing an 8 x 10 glossy of Chief Barnes and the inscription “God is back, and is He pissed.”
In March of 1985, George Siegrist, Chief of Police in Clarksville, Tennessee was selected to be the first chief appointed from outside the department.
Chief Siegriest deployed a new concept in policing soon after his arrival. He placed a five man team consisting of SWAT officers in service to combat street level drug dealing. One of the tactics used was calling code enforcement to inspect the buildings where drugs were being sold. By bringing pressure to bear on absentee landlords, it was hoped the drug dealers would be kicked out.
This first team was so successful that a second unit was formed. For two years, this TAC unit was extremely successful in suppressing street level drug dealing. In addition to the primary mission of drug suppression, the department was able to have a ready response unit in service for 16 hours a day. This concept was copied by several local municipal and county police agencies.
To assist in the fight against drugs, the department decided to acquire a narcotics K-9. In late 1985, Officer Chris Fahey was selected to attend the U.S. Customs Canine School in Virginia. After three months of intensive training, Officer Fahey and his new partner, a black Labrador Retriever named “PT”, hit the streets. The value of the narcotics sniffing abilities of PT was soon proven with numerous seizures of narcotics and money from drug dealers.
Chief Siegrist promoted participation of the department in the annual Police Olympics competition first attended in 1982. New equipment was ordered for the gym. Officers were encouraged to improve their physical fitness. Chief Siegrist also began to look into the possibility of obtaining accreditation of the department from the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies.
Chief Siegrist resigned in March of 1987. Major Ronald Albright was named interim Chief of Police while a replacement was sought. After a five month search, Billy R. Riggs of the Miami Police Department became Chief of Police in August, 1987. Chief Riggs inherited a department ranked by the FBI as number one in crime for cities of similar size in the United States. The statistic was misleading because it was based on resident population. Chief Riggs made it known the number of people served everyday far exceeded the number of people who actually lived in the city. Even so, there was still a serious crime problem.
Chief Riggs had to spend a tremendous amount of time reviewing policy and procedure, meeting with city officials, and planning the changes he would have to make. Many officers never saw him his first few weeks on the job. This gave rise to jokes about the “invisible chief.” Two detectives had their picture taken with their arms around an empty chair. Posted on the wall, the caption under the photo read: “Detectives with Chief Riggs.” Chief Riggs still has the photo in his scrapbook!
Walking beats, most of which were discontinued in the early ’80’s, were reinstated. A renewed emphasis was placed on crime prevention programs. In conjunction with the PBA, higher education benefits for officers to attend college are included in the contract with the City.
The department moved forward in its pursuit of accreditation. Lieutenant Jim Spatara and Accreditation Manager Ron Moses form the Planning and Research Unit. It is their job to assure the accreditation process is completed. The department instituted the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in 1988, coordinated by juvenile officer Rick DeCarlo. He and officers Art Apicella, Luis Perez, Jerry Wells, and Delsa Bush become the first trained D.A.R.E. instructors in June. Each is assigned to a school to teach kids the truth about drugs. Instruction on how to resist peer pressure to try drugs and alcohol is a cornerstone of the program.
On August 22, 1988, Officer Brian H. Chappell stopped a vehicle for speeding. Within moments, he was killed by a single shot fired out of the window by the driver, an escapee from a prison work release program. Officer Chappell was the eighth officer killed in the line of duty. Let us hope and pray he is the last.
In March of 1989, a new communications center with computer-aided dispatch was placed in operation. The new $6.2 million system was designed to reduce response time for police and fire units and reduce the potential for human error. A computerized central records systems was installed at the same time.
The state-of-the-art radio communication system included Mobile Data Terminals installed in the cars. This system linked the police vehicle to national, state and local criminal justice information systems. An officer could now enter an inquiry on a car or person on the computer terminal in the patrol car and get a response in seconds.
Again, space in the headquarters building became non-existent. The communications center and Information Systems occupied all the former courtroom space, including the previously unused second floor courtroom expansion space. The classroom used for driver improvement classes when city courts were in session had long ago become office space. The former academy classroom had been divided in half, the other half becoming offices. Planning began for a new police station complex to carry us into the 21st Century.
Efficient use of resources prompted the department to investigate alternative ways to police. A system to free road officers of minor report writing known as Differential Police Response (DPR) was put in place. Minor reports are taken over the phone by civilians or injured officers on light duty assigned to DPR.
Civilian Police Aides were hired to investigate minor accidents and parking complaints. Their duties were expanded to include taking minor reports, such as lost or found property and abandoned autos. Of the first five Police Aides, four came from positions inside the department: George Franklin was a Prisoner Control Officer, Chris Robinson and Chuck Taylor were Parking Enforcement Officers, and Mike Shea was a Cadet. Shea and the fifth Aide, William Taylor, eventually became police officers.
In the late 1980’s, Officer Brad Fidler bought a car that turned out to be the same Plymouth Cranbrook sedan as the police cars of 1951. He and Lt. Gary Robinson began restoring the car, with the idea of creating a reproduction of the police car. The department purchased the car as part of the Centennial preparations, turning the project over to Sgt. Richard Siciliano, an experienced car restorer. The car was finished in 1993 and will be used in parades and other events throughout the centennial year and well into the future.
In March, 1990, West Palm Beach became the 140th Law Enforcement Agency in the nation and the 20th in the State of Florida to become accredited. The process took three years, culminating in a one week on-site assessment in January of 1990.
Implementation of innovative programs begun in the 1980’s continued. February, 1991 saw the implementation of the Community Oriented Policing program. This program was developed for the department in the Patrol Division by Captain Eugene G. Savage, the first black officer to achieve that rank. Officers were assigned in three neighborhoods to start: Northwood, Dunbar Village, and Grandview Heights. The program has continued to expand, reaching twenty officers and areas by the end of 1993.
In March of 1992, ground was broken for the construction of the new police complex at 601 Clematis Street. The 18 million dollar project will begin a new era for the Police Department. The new station will be twice the size of the Datura Street station: 106,000 square feet compared to 52,000 square feet in the old one.
On October 1, 1992, the Truancy Interdiction Program (TIP) began operating on the campus of Sable Palm School. The target was to reduce truancy by 11 to 16 year-old students. Parental involvement and school follow-up are part of the program. Funded by a grant, the program has served over 1,300 students and their parents through May of 1994. Police departments from Lake Worth to Jupiter have brought truants to the center. The program has resulted in a reduction in juvenile crime and an increase in school attendance. The program has proved to be a model for the State of Florida and the nation.
On December 6, 1992, the Patrol Division implemented a four days on, four days off schedule negotiated by the PBA. The work days are 11 1/2 hours, but the officers love the four days off. The schedule is simpler to manage and results in more officers on the street at any given time. It also allowed each patrol car to be assigned to only two officers instead of being shared among several officers. This resulted in a sense of pride in the patrol car. Maintenance costs are down and the patrol cars haven’t looked this good in years. The city benefitted from a reduction in overtime expenditures, too.
The economic recession of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s finally caught up with the City of West Palm Beach in 1993. Not since the depression had lay-offs of police personnel been a possibility. In July, they became a reality. Sworn positions had not been filled in months, leaving twelve unfilled openings. These positions were eliminated. Two Assistant Chief and two Captain positions were eliminated.
It wasn’t enough. Civilian positions created in the 1980’s to free sworn personnel for street duty were eliminated. Some positions just disappeared. Sworn personnel assumed the duties of others. The Police Aides were laid off. The Accreditation Manager was laid off. Communications personnel were laid off. Clerical personnel were laid off. The Police Cadet program begun in 1965 was eliminated. Some civilian and sworn appointed positions had salary rollbacks from five to twelve percent. Positions were eliminated from theTraffic Division and Criminal Investigations to fill Patrol and C.O.P. Citywide, 103 positions were expected to be cut. It was a tough time for everyone.
But we came through. The beginning of the Centennial Year of 1994 saw improvements in the financial condition of the city. Pay cuts and raises that were held back were returned. The new police complex occupying a full city block between Clematis and Banyan west of Rosemary is nearly finished. Some of the positions that were eliminated may be restored later this year.
The West Palm Beach Police Department will be celebrating the Centennial by wearing replicas of the original town marshall’s badge until New Years Day, 1995. By doing so, we honor everyone who has come before us. We look forward to the future and hope we, too, leave a legacy of service, pride, and honor that begins with this book.