The first official Police Department

The first inception of a Police Department for the City of Bridgeport was through a bill enacted on January 7, 1837. The “Night Watch” Bill, as it was referred to, was the first recorded action in an effort toward the protection of life and property in Bridgeport. Soon thereafter, on October 17, 1837, the Court of Common Council appointed 25 special constables to “preserve the peace”. The constables would make the rounds or “patrol the streets,” as had their predecessors, hence the acronym cops (constables on patrol). They had the authority to make arrests, but received no salaries with the exception of expenditure reimbursements that were levied by the court.

On May 6, 1848, the first “police station” or watch house was established in the cellar of a building located on the north corner of Bank and Water Streets. Later, the constables worked out of the basement of the city hall building. By 1861, the city charter allowed for fifty constables, although in actuality they only had 38 constables.

The first Chiefs of Police

Thomas P. White was installed as the first Chief of special constables in the City of Bridgeport (which now had a population of approximately 40,000) on December 12, 1865. A few months later, William E. Marsh was appointed the first Chief of both police and constables on April 12, 1866. In 1872, Wakeman W. Wells, a 1st sergeant of the Republican Army post in Stratford (1847), was appointed as the first Chief of police and special constables of East Bridgeport with a complement of 41 men.

The chiefs received no settled salary but they could petition the Watch committee monthly or quarterly for compensation. The Watch committee had agreed to pay reasonable compensation for time spent in the performance of duty. Additionally, on November 11, 1861, Bridgeport had appropriated $120 to furnish each cop a uniform, cap, belt and shield, which was then considered to be the property of Bridgeport.

The first Board of Police Commissioners

The first Board of Police Commissioners for the City of Bridgeport was formed on April 15, 1869 and consisted of four elected officials; E.E. Hubbell, George E. Wheaton, John Knowles and H. R. Parrott. Eleven days later, the common council adopted an ordinance to appoint a Chief of police, a captain, two sergeants, and not less than ten nor more than twenty men. Also, in the ordinance, there was to be appointed special police: neither less than ten nor more than thirty. The salary of the chief was fixed at $100 per month; Captain, $80; Sergeants, police and constables, $75. A special legislative act in 1889 consolidated all factions of Bridgeport (which also included parts of Trumbull and Fairfield) into one homogeneous government to be known thereafter as the City of Bridgeport. Capt. John Rylands, who succeeded William E. Marsh as Chief of police, was appointed on December 19, 1889 and took office on January 1, 1890. Political unrest culminated in 1895 and the incumbent police chief, Rylands, was slated to go but he refused to step down. The Police Board, compiled of eight men, was evenly divided for and against his removal. The political factions in power found a solution by prevailing among the state legislature to abolish the office of chief of police, thereby abolishing also, Rylands.

The first Superintendent of Police

The office of superintendent of police was inaugurated and Eugene Birmingham, who at the time was a Captain, was positioned in office on April 23, 1895. Chief Birmingham, the department’s first Superintendent of Police, headed a department consisting of two captains, two lieutenants, ten sergeants, 77 patrolmen, and three detective sergeants. By 1913, the personnel strength had grown to four captains, nine lieutenants, nine sergeants, 130 patrolmen, one clerk and twelve doormen. He served as superintendent of police until his sudden death (of unknown causes) on April 8, 1916.

The first city police officer killed in the line of duty

The first city police officer to be killed in the line of duty was 33 year-old Ellsworth G. Dietz. Officer Dietz worked under chief Birmingham’s command and was assigned to Main Street and Fairfield Avenue, directing traffic. On March 8, 1910, an armed deranged maniac named Gustave Mueller, shot and killed him at approximately 11:15 am. The fatality climaxed a series of chases and gunplay in which Mueller had demanded $400,000 from Bridgeport Savings Bank (later known as People’s Savings Bank) at Main and State streets. Mueller was later committed to Middletown State hospital.

Installation of modern police signal system

The police department, an integral part of city government, was being utilized more and more. All police officials recognized the fact that to respond to the most urgent calls with greater efficiency, it was desirable to have the latest and most approved equipment. Consequently, under the leadership of Superintendent Birmingham, the installation of a police signal system was contracted. The National Electric Manufacturing Company of Milford, Conn. completed the installation in the year 1896. Thirty signal stations with devices for recording signals were constructed at headquarters and at the stables where the horses and wagons were kept. The same year, the city saw the necessity of adding to the Police Department a patrol wagon. Also several bicycles were adopted as one of the adjuncts necessary to the operations of the department.

The keeping of records

A second precinct, that had opened in 1886 and whose jurisdiction encompassed the whole of the eastern area of Bridgeport, was located at the corner of Walter and Green streets (it was later located on Artic street and Caroline Street in 1930). This precinct was where the first blotter was recorded: thirteen years later. Surprisingly, the keeping of police records was not part of the duties of the officer in charge mainly because; comparatively speaking, crime and lawlessness were practically unknown in Bridgeport. Most street disturbances were the result of liquor (there were approximately 153 saloons in Bridgeport at that time). There was no evidence of systematic keeping of records of what took place in the districts.

The Board of Police Commissioners, realizing that it might be valuable to keep records of incidents in such a large district, ordered that such blotters be established. The officer in charge of the 2nd precinct wrote the first blotter, on May 4, 1899. Lieutenant William Anderson wrote on the blotter that day, “Officer Glenn brought in two boys for being absent from school. I gave them a talking to, and they promised to return to school this afternoon. I sent Officer Finnegan to the school in the afternoon. The boys were George Serey and Percy Waugh.” (Signed) Lieutenant Anderson.

The Police Department gets a new building

As previously mentioned, police headquarters was located in the basement of City Hall (now known as Mc Levy Hall) until 1900 when Bridgeport constructed a new building at 398 Fairfield avenue. The department of charities also shared the building, which cost the City of Bridgeport $125,000. The building was known as the Police and Charities Building. In that same year the bicycle department evolved, which perfectly adapted to Bridgeport’s park like terrain and was a relatively inexpensive form of transportation for the force. A third precinct opened up on State Street and Howard Avenue on August 1, 1907. By 1914, the mounted bicycle force graduated to Indian motorcycles and then later, to Harley Davidsons; this eventually gave way to the introduction of the automobile patrol.

The personnel strength in 1913 consisted of 166 men. The department continued to increase from year to year, keeping up with the growth of the City of Bridgeport, whose population had increased to 200,000. By 1918, just five years later, the department strength had increased to one Superintendent, one Assistant Superintendent, eight Captains, seventeen Lieutenants, twenty Sergeants, one clerk (with rank of Captain), one assistant clerk (with rank of Sergeant) twelve doormen, one Matron, and 243 Patrolmen.

Superintendent John H. Redgate

Superintendent Patrick J. Flanagan

John H. Redgate succeeded Chief Birmingham on June 1, 1916 and served as superintendent until his retirement on July 7, 1920. Patrick J. Flanagan, a lieutenant that was installed in office on July 15, 1920, succeeded him. Superintendent Flanagan served in this capacity until his sudden death (heart attack) on December 13, 1927.

By 1930, the salary of the Superintendent of Police was $4,400 a year, Captains $2,640, Lieutenants $2,400, Sergeants $2,160 and patrolmen $1,840. A municipal statistics report to the Wickersham Committee on Law Enforcement and Law Observance, dated August 21, 1931 was submitted by then Superintendent Wheeler. The statistics from municipalities across the nation were then submitted to President Herbert Hoover. The Committee used the report titled “The Cost of Crime”, a 650-page document, in an effort to draw attention to the nation’s bill for crime. In Bridgeport, the cost per capita was $5.11 for each man, woman and child. The yearly cost for Bridgeport was $750,333, Hartford $939,436, New Haven $855,830, Waterbury $426,377 and Stamford $222,377.

Superintendent Charles A. Wheeler

Perhaps the most influential Superintendent of Police for the department was Charles Augustus Wheeler. He was promoted to the Superintendency on December 19, 1927. Born in Bridgeport on October 8, 1875, he was the son of Charles Augustus and Rose Dunn Wheeler. He joined the Bridgeport Police Department on May 15, 1901, promoted to Street Sergeant on April 1, 1913 and to Lieutenant on June 1, 1916 and he was assigned to create the Traffic Division in that capacity. Due to his exceptionally fine work as the first head of the Traffic Division, he was promoted to the rank of Captain, commanding the Division on January 15, 1917. He also commanded the second precinct in June 1920 and later the third precinct. By May 15, 1936, he had completed thirty-five years of meritorious police service to the City of Bridgeport.

Wheeler had been the first driver of a Police Automobile Patrol Wagon in Bridgeport. He took an avid interest in the mechanics of the automobile, taking a course in automobile mechanism at the Locomobile factory and becoming an expert automobile mechanic and operator. His first act assuming command as superintendent was to replace the motorcycle (the primary mode of transportation) with the automobile. He felt that motorcycles were a liability to the police department that caused numerous accidents resulting in permanent injury to police officers.

Due to the efficient and competent manner in which he conducted the affairs of his department, particularly in matters pertaining to Traffic Regulations and his efforts in creating a Uniform Traffic System throughout the country, he attracted the attention of other Police Chiefs throughout New England. Shortly after his promotion to Superintendent, he was elected President of the New England Association of Chiefs of Police. This election was a great honor that followed his previous election as Secretary of the State Police Association of Connecticut.

On December 19, 1932, exactly five years after his appointment to the Superintendency, he was elected President of the famous worldwide organization, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). This position was and is, the highest office within the ascendancy of all the Police Department heads in the entire United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, China, South America and the Philippines. The present Connecticut Chiefs of Police Association owes its origin to the efforts of Superintendent Wheeler, its formation conceived under his leadership as President of the IACP.

During his tenure as President of the IACP, Wheeler was instrumental in the formation of the first Emergency Crime Commission. He also formed the Committee Against Racketeering (later taken up in Congress and enacted into a Federal Law). At Washington, Colonel Moss, head of the American Flag Association, presented Supt. Wheeler with a Medallion at a large gathering of those interested in the suppression of crime and its problems. This honor was presented only once a year to the one person who had done the most to prevent and delete crime in this country. The only other police official to have received such an award was the honorable J. Edgar Hoover.

The first radio patrol police cars in New England

In his diligence and foresight to combat crime, Superintendent Wheeler was at the forefront to have radios installed in police vehicles. This was a crucial innovative step in modern policing efforts and the first of its kind in New England. Then candidate-for-mayor, Jasper McLevy, who balked at the $4,000 expense, vehemently opposed that endeavor. Fortunately, after having been presented with the results of considerable study and experimentation, Mayor Edward T. Buckingham approved the purchase.

A preliminary check of the city had revealed that there were no ‘dead spots’ for radio reception and the usage of 30 kilowatts (raised from the originally suggested 15 kilowatts) was deemed ample enough to cover the Bridgeport area within a ten-mile radius from headquarters (on Fairfield avenue). On September 7, 1933, D’Elia Electric Co. Inc., 1336 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport (the contractor), installed the radios in ten police cars. This courageous first step in modern policing efforts for combating crime earned him the title of  “Father of Police Radio in New England”.

The Fairfield County Police Training School

Superintendent Wheeler was also instrumental in the formation of the Fairfield County Police Training School. It was established on April 6, 1928 for the instruction of municipal police officers of nearly all towns in Fairfield County. It was proposed to give each student policeman a course consisting of ten lectures, lasting approximately 45 minutes each, on police related subjects. The subjects then were similar to the subjects officers are taught today: Police Functions, laws of arrests, traffic rules and motor vehicle laws, public contact and patrol duties, methods of thieves, crime preventions with methods of arrests, gathering of evidence and witnesses, court procedure, first aid, criminal identification, and public morals.

The school gave two sessions a day and cost the city $200 yearly to operate. Each participating town paying one dollar for each officer enrolled met most of the expenses. The City of Bridgeport allowed 200 bluecoats, Stamford 60, Norwalk 20, Greenwich 17, Stratford 12, Darien 10, Westport 7, Shelton 6, New Canaan 2 and Fairfield one. Superintendent Wheeler also introduced the science of fingerprinting to the Bridgeport Police department, replacing the antiquated Bertillon method of identification, when he brought in the FBI to set up and train his personnel.

The first policewoman

Furthermore, under Superintendent Wheeler’s management, the first policewoman, Ida Bentley, was installed on June 6, 1932. Formerly a switchboard operator for the police, Bentley’s duties as a clerk in the Detective Bureau included being a liaison with the Juvenile Court as well as handling all cases involving women. Another first under Wheeler’s command was the hiring of the first police matron, Annie Brannigan on August 16, 1933.

The second and third police officers killed in the line of duty

The second and third police officers killed in the line of duty in the City of Bridgeport were Sergeant Thomas Kearney and patrolman Wilfred Walker. They were both shot to death on September 30th, 1935, after confronting a late night burglar, later identified as Frank Palka. Palka was subsequently convicted and died in the electric chair at Wethersfield State prison on April 12, 1938.

By 1936, the personnel strength of the police department totaled 248, which included one superintendent, six captains, 16 lieutenants, 25 sergeants, 36 detective sergeants, six doormen, and 158 patrolmen. The city’s population according to a 1930’s federal census was 146,716.

At a meeting of Trustees of Police Relief Fund held on July 26, 1943 Superintendent Wheeler, citing declining health problems, requested and was granted a retirement. The retirement was effective on September 1, 1943. Suffering from “emotional arthritis” and heart condition, Wheeler died two years later (February 23, 1944) in his home at 75 Bunnell Street, Bridgeport.

The first Civil Service Appointed Superintendent

Mayor Jasper McLevy, in his all out effort to abolish the patronage system that had dominated the political force in the city of Bridgeport, instituted a Civil Service committee in 1934. The Civil Service system was empowered to test for entry-level and promotions in employment within the City of Bridgeport. Therefore, as a result of an exam, the first Superintendent of Police to be appointed solely on the basis of personal merit was Captain John A. Lyddy. He was sworn in on September 21, 1943.

Superintendent Lyddy joined the Bridgeport Police Department on May 31, 1917. During his tenure, Lyddy instituted many modern policing techniques, such as a new radio dispatch system. He started community service operations, including the Police Athletic League (P.A.L.), and he also founded (and was Treasurer for many years) the Police Benevolent Association (PBA). Prestigiously, he also advanced to the rank of Vice President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Lyddy held great interest and concern for his men. In May 1944, he published and distributed a monthly paper he entitled, The Spotlight. He wrote “This paper is published by the Bridgeport Police Department with the permission of the Honorable Board of Police Commissioners for the edification and entertainment of the men of this department….” As Editor-in-Chief, Lyddy used the publication to inform, amuse and recognize the men in the department. After serving Bridgeport for over 43 years, he retired on November 1, 1960.

Three more Police Officers Killed in the line of Duty

By 1950, three more police officers had died while in the performance of duty.

On April 12, 1942 Patrolman Thomas M. Mahoney, 32, (the fourth officer killed in the line of duty) was operating a police motorcycle when he collided into the rear end of a parked car on Madison Avenue. His right leg was so badly injured that it had to be amputated from above the knee. Complications set in and he died at St. Vincent’s Hospital on September 21, 1942. On May 18, 1946 Officer William V. Tickey, age 46, attempting to direct traffic, was struck by an automobile on the corner of Union and Orange Street. He died from the effects of his injuries on May 29, 1946. Four years later, motorcycle Officer Leroy Dunn, age 37, died on August 13, 1950 from a fractured skull sustained when his police motorcycle hit a pothole in the road that threw him 8 to 10 feet away. They were the fifth and sixth officer, respectively, to die in the line of duty.

First African American to join the Bridgeport Police Department

On December 12, 1950 the police department hired its first African American, 29-year-old Army veteran, William Austin Piper. He retired on August 19, 1977 with 27 years of faithful service.

First “from the ranks”

Succeeding Lyddy, was Joseph A. Walsh. He was appointed Superintendent of Police on March 29, 1961. He was the first police officer in the City of Bridgeport to come up from the ranks from Patrolman to Superintendent of Police, all through the Civil Service system.

Joseph A. Walsh was appointed to the Police Department on December 21, 1941, at the age of 25. But because he was a member of the Army Reserve, he was called to active duty on December 22, 1942. After courageously serving his country, he was discharged from the Army in 1945 as a First Lieutenant and returned to the Bridgeport Police Department.

As a patrolman, Walsh was assigned to the second precinct. Three years later, in 1948, he was promoted to Sergeant and assigned to the Detective Division, where he excelled as an investigator. It was said that he could figure out what phone number a person was dialing just by listening to the dial turn! In 1953 he was promoted to Lieutenant and to the rank of Captain in 1958.

Superintendent Walsh, an ardent advocate of police professionalism and resourcefulness, established a number of modern innovations in the department, including the canine corps, Tactical Squad and Mobile Patrol. He instituted a complete re-alignment of all major divisions of the Department prior to moving to the new Police Headquarters (currently located at 300 Congress Street) in 1966, which resulted in an efficient, centralized organization. Superintendent Walsh is also credited with establishing a computerized Records system that is renowned by the law enforcement community as the most efficient in the state. Affectionately known as “Boss”, he retired on October 5, 1988 with almost 47 years of dedicated service to the City of Bridgeport.

Two more Police Officers killed in the line of duty

On October 13, 1969, motorcycle Officer Arthur Salthouse, age 27, was returning from a parade in the town of Stratford, CT when he struck a rut in the road. He later died from his injuries. Most recently, 33 year-old patrolman Gerald DiJoseph was shot and killed on a routine motor vehicle stop. The operator of the vehicle shot him on November 28, 1980.

Reestablishing the position of “Chief”

Following Superintendent Walsh’s retirement, the City of Bridgeport (under the administration of then Mayor Leonard S. Paoletta) reestablished the position of Chief of Police with a newly voted referendum. Two years later, after an extensive nationwide search, Thomas J. Sweeney was sworn in as Chief of Police on September 14, 1990. He previously served as the Deputy Commissioner of the Westchester County (New York) Police Department and Director of Staff Services for the Yonkers (New York) Police department.

Chief Sweeney’s career also included stints as a police officer in Portsmouth, VA and as an administrative specialist with the Kansas City, MO Police Department where he was, in part, responsible for a landmark research project in preventive patrol and response time. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Manhattan College and a Master Criminology degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He is also a graduate of PERF’s Senior Management Institute for Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Executive Institute. He has undertaken consulting and training assignments in over thirty police departments throughout the country and has several publications, the most recent of which has been the chapter on the Patrol Function in the 1990 edition of the ICMA’s Local Government Management. He left the Bridgeport Police Department on July 16, 1999 to assume the position of Chief of Police in Glastonbury, CT.

Bridgeport’s First African American Police Chief

Wilbur L. Chapman
. He is a former Commissioner for the New York City Department of Transportation, appointed by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on June 19, 1998. Prior to that appointment, Chief Chapman served as Chief of Patrol, the Police Department’s largest bureau, for 29 years. His duties included command of all uniform and civilian personnel assigned to the Patrol Services, Special Operations Division and the Resource Management Section.

Chief Chapman joined the New York City Police Department in March 1969 and began his career as a patrolman in the 23rd precinct in Manhattan. During his tenure he also worked in the 26th precinct (Manhattan), the Personnel Bureau, and Patrol Borough Queens. He also served as the Executive Officer in the Police Commissioner’s office and the Commanding Officer of the 81st and 113th precincts, the Applicant Processing Division, the 12th Division of Patrol Borough Brooklyn South and the Recruitment Section.

Born and raised in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Chief Chapman graduated from Newtown High School in Elmhurst and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Manhattan College. He is also a graduate of the Police Management Institute at Columbia University. Chapman later moved to Queens with his family. He has two daughters, Leslie and Lisa, and has been an avid Jazz musician for 38 years.


At the age of 52-year-old, Wilbur L. Chapman was sworn in as Chief of Police for the Bridgeport Police Department on August 31, 2000. He was the City’s first African American Police Chief.

Special Acknowledgements

Deputy Chief David G. Boston (Bridgeport Police Dept - Retired)
Patrolman John Galpin (Bridgeport Police Dept - Retired)
Detective John Kennedy (Bridgeport Police Dept - Retired)
Patrolman Peter Keogh (Bridgeport Police Dept - Retired)
Attorney Raymond C. Lyddy (Son of the late Superintendent John Lyddy)
Ms. Christine Walsh-Mitchell (Daughter of former Superintendent Joseph Walsh)

Deputy Chief Adam Radzimirsky (Bridgeport Police Dept)


Black Rock: A Bicentennial Picture Book, A Visual of the Old Seaport of Bridgeport, Connecticut: 1644 to 1976, Black Rock Civic and Business Men’s Club, Inc. CT, 1976

Bridgeport Public Library, Historical Society; History of the Police Department of Bridgeport, Ct, The Relief Book Publishing Company. 1892

Danenberg, Elsie Nicholas, The Story of Bridgeport,The Bridgeport Centennial, Inc. CT. 1936

Grimaldi, Lennie, Only in Bridgeport 2000: An Illustrated History of the Park City, Harbor Communications, Inc. CT 2000, First Edition, 1986, Second Edition, 1993

Palmguist, David W., Bridgeport A pictorial History, The Donning Company/Publishers, VA. 1981, Revised 1985

Rules And Regulations of the Police Department, City of Bridgeport, Conn. 1924

Schwarzkopf, Fred, City Clerk, City of Bridgeport, CT Manual 1936

Wilcoxson, W.m. Howard, The History of Stratford Connecticut 1639-1939, The Brewer-Borg Corp, CT 1940

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