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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 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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Deputy Chief Adam Radzimirsky (Bridgeport Police Dept)
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