Origin of the Department
The Middleborough Police Department was “born” on March 1, 1909. On that date Town Meeting authorized the appointment of a Chief of Police. Prior to that time, public safety had been handled by a loosely organized night watch system administered by a three-person appointed “Committee for the Suppression of Crime.” It was a system of constables and night watch officers, reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses, to provide public safety exclusively in the downtown area. The formal organization of the Middleborough Police Department took place on March 12, 1909, with the appointment of Harry W. Swift as the first Police Chief.
Although the department was formally organized in 1909, technological innovations came slowly. Keeping up with the trend towards motor vehicles early in the last century, the department added a motorcycle, not an automobile, for department use in 1925. This apparently, according to records, was used only for traffic enforcement. Patrol in those early days was done on foot. Calls for service from the outlying districts of town led to the hiring of an automobile from a local company. Much mention of this fact is made in the early departmental reports, with the recommendation that an automobile be purchased by the town. The practice of hiring an automobile, however, was to continue for many years.
The second motorized addition to the department was an ambulance purchased in 1934. Although primitive by today’s standards, it was a leap forward in providing transportation for the sick and injured in those early years. The ambulance service has since been privatized. It was not until 1936, the same year that the department occupied its new police station, that the first “cruiser car” was added to the department’s fleet. Today, the Town maintains a fleet of “cruiser cars”, and has come full circle with the addition, through the use of grant monies, of two motorcycles along with two all-terrain vehicles to respond to calls for service all over town.
The way citizens of the Town have been able to contact the Police Department has also changed dramatically over the years. Telephone communication with the department began with the installation of a telephone in both the police station and Chief Harry Swift’s residence. Over the years much praise and thanks are given, in various Chiefs’ annual town reports, to the telephone operators in town. This was a far cry from today with the department’s use of Enhanced 911 service, multiple phone lines, and computers that provide almost instantaneous identification and response to calls for service.
Police communications has also changed with the advent of newer technology. In 1917, the first “call box” system was installed to provide communications among officers. It consisted of telephones at the Four Corners, Everett Square, the police station and the Chief’s house. In 1930 this system was replaced by a new Gamewell System of telephone call boxes. Many older townspeople today can probably remember seeing the blue light boxes in various locations on Center Street and the downtown area. When the station’s desk officer needed an officer to respond to a call for service, he would switch on the blue lights. Upon seeing the lit blue lights, the beat officer would proceed to the nearest call box, open it, and communicate by telephone with the desk officer. This system continued to serve downtown beat officers and the town adequately until the late 1960’s when it was replaced by hand-held portable radios. The first two-way radio system between “cruiser car” and the police station went on line in 1945. Today, with the advent of mobile data terminals in cruisers, and computer assisted communications, the Department has instantaneous contact with each other and other agencies throughout the USA and Canada.
History of the Police Station
The police department had for many years been quartered in the old Peirce Academy building. In 1932 the Peirce (pronounced “purse”) Academy was razed to make way for the current United States Post Office building on Center Street. The police department was then housed in a vacant storefront on North Main Street.
The Peirce General Store, because of its location next to the Fire Station and opposite the Public Library (both new buildings at the time), along with its’ proximity to other central locations, made it desirable as a new home for the police department. Discussions to that end began in 1932 and culminated in a Town Meeting vote on April 8, 1935. At that time the “Committee on New Police Quarters,” of which then Police Chief Alden C. Sisson was chairman, recommended that the Town purchase from the trustees under the will of Thomas S. Peirce, the Peirce Grocery Store property on North Main Street and remodel the building into quarters for both the Police Department and the Fourth District Court of Plymouth County.
The town voted to accept the recommendation of the committee, and at the same town meeting, voted to appropriate a sum of money for the purpose of purchasing and remodeling the building. The original estimated cost of renovations was $46,000, but like many other renovation projects before and since, conditions developed requiring additional monies.
The total cost of the new police station and courthouse as it stood in 1936 was $65,000. Of that total, the Town of Middleborough contributed $38,500; the United States government as a Public Works Administration project contributed $20,700; and the Peirce Trustees contributed $5,800.
Most of the alterations were done to the inside of the building. The exterior is essentially the same today as it was in the days of the store when owned by the Peirce family. The exception is the south end of the building which previously consisted of horse stables and is now enclosed.
When the building was dedicated on September 1, 1936, it was noted by then Town Manager and Clerk of the Building Committee H.J. Goodale, “it seemed fitting that the old Peirce Store, in which the fortune was accumulated which later became the Peirce Fund, and which has been of so much benefit
to the Town, should be remodeled into quarters for the Police Station and for the Fourth District Court, thus converting it into a memorial to the Peirce family.”
Structurally, the building remains largely unchanged in the intervening 61 years. A major change, in use, has been the departure of the Fourth District Court to a new building in Wareham in 1978. At that time the police department took over the courthouse wing and occupied it as administrative office space. There have been many minor interior changes to the police station since, many of which were financed, in part, by the same Peirce Fund that provided for the original building.
There have been many changes in the makeup and numbers of personnel since Chief Harry W. Swift and a handful of dedicated part-time officers provided service to the town. In fact Chief Swift, in his first annual report to the town in 1909, recommended the size of the police department be increased. This, he said, was due to the fact that the “west end” of town in Everett Square was not receiving adequate protection, as the beat officer was already walking 15 miles on his beat downtown.
Through the years the use of professional full-time police officers has increased. In the early 1940’s, due to World War II, the regular force of full-time and special part-time officers was augmented by the creation of an Auxiliary Police unit. The use of specials and auxiliaries continues to this day.
In recent times, the Middleborough Police Department proved not to be immune from money problems that beset many work forces. This resulted in layoff of six permanent full-time officers in 1991. Other significant personnel events that have occurred were, in 1973 with the appointment of the first officer of color, and in 1977 with the appointment of the first female officer.
There have been twelve Chiefs in the 100 year history of the Department. They are: Harry W. Swift, 1909-14; Louis Hathaway, 1914-19; Smith T. Sharples, 1920; Alden C. Sisson, 1921-49; Charles E. Rogers, 1949-54; William E. Gardiner, 1954-63; Lawrence Carter, 1964; Harold E. Tower, Jr., 1965-66; William E. Warner, 1967-95; Arnold C. Salley, 1995- 2000; Gary J. Russell, 2000-2009; and Bruce D. Gates, 2009-2014; Joseph Perkins 2014-present.
The makeup of the police department has changed over the years, with the addition of a deputy chief and a captain at different times. Both positions have since been eliminated. The current makeup of the Department consists of the Chief, lieutenants, sergeants, detectives, school resource officer, and patrol officers.
The Middleborough Police Department today is technologically competitive with any similar sized police department. It is staffed by dedicated, professionally trained men and women officers ready and able to provide the best possible service to the Town as it moves forward in the 21st century.
Researched and written by
Lieutenant David M. Mackiewicz