The History of the Plymouth Police Department
The Plymouth Police Department wishes to thank Town Clerk Laurence Pizer and Mr. James Baker of Plimoth Plantation for their assistance with this project.
The first Western European law enforcement function in North America was performed by one Joshua Cooper, who was appointed a “constable” for the Plymouth Court in 1633. While his position was what would today be considered a “judicial” function rather than an “executive” one, he did enforce the orders of the court. Constables were appointed through the 1700’s, often serving unwillingly.
The first appointments of police occurred in 1861, when Captain Peter Smith and Captain Josiah Baxter were appointed as “day and night police.” In 1865 the town budget showed several constables serving the court. At this time there were several entries pertaining to persons being paid a dollar a day for providing police services. Captain Josiah Baxter in that year was paid $109 for 109 days work. Others were paid some lesser amounts for police and night watchman duties. In 1871 the town budget shows the first line item for “Watch and Police” at $949. More officers were added by appointment in 1875.
In 1899 the Plymouth Police Department submitted its first Annual Report to the Town. Chief of Police B.F. Goddard reported 120 arrests for the year ending 31 December 1899, 63 of which were on warrants. Seventeen of the arrestees were minors.
The most common offenses committed in Plymouth that year
Chief Goddard reported that the Board of Selectmen had appointed seven constables, of whom four were also appointed as regular police officers. Many domestic quarrels were resolved “without resort to court prosecutions.” Many persons under the influence of liquor were “assist[ed] or sen[t] to their homes…” Licensed druggists were inspected, as were the express companies.
Chief Goddard also reported that “one-half of the population of the town are located north of Chilton street, and that probably two-thirds of the entire business of the town is transacted in the same section…” He closed by seeking an appropriation for the year 1900 of $3500.00.
In this same Annual Report may be found the Report of the Committee on Better Accommodations for Town Officers. It took to task our first police station in the basement of the 1749 Court House. The report states that “immediate action” is needed because the present town house is “not only inconvenient but totally inadequate to meet the wants of the town.”
“The police…have no office, and the members are obliged…to sit around the furnace in what is little better than an open cellar…Into this dark and dreary den the authorities of other towns are introduced to confer with our chief of police.”
“To the lockup cells no words of condemnation are too strong to be applied. Warm enough in winter because of their proximity to the furnace, they are for one-half of the year chilly and damp and without a ray of sunlight to cheer and comfort those confined in them…The committee invite the voters of the town to visit the cells and judge for themselves whether they are such as the dictates of humanity can approve.”
The committee’s plans for rehabilitation included “a police office, four cells constructed of iron lattice work, a brick stack supporting the safe and forming a closet for the deposit of seized articles…” This was obviously delayed, as a 1911 newspaper item reported that the State Board of Health had condemned the police station. “It will soon be up to the town to provide more sanitary quarters than those afforded by the basement of the town house, where cells are dark and ventilation is none of the best.”
In 1875, the department suffered its first line of duty death when the same Captain Josiah Baxter first appointed in 1861 was shot while trying to arrest a domestic abuser. In 1946 Officer George S. Bell was shot and killed while searching for an itinerant farm worker wanted for the murder of his wife. In 1965 Officer Paul Murphy was found unconscious at the base of a flight of ice-covered steps. He died a short time later at a Boston Hospital. All three of our line-of-duty deaths are memorialized on the walls of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, in Washington, D.C.
Later, we moved to the current Plymouth County Commissioners Building, on South Russell St (see photo to the left below). The original bars of the cellblock can still be seen in the first-floor windows.
In 1968 we moved to 25 Russell Street, where we stayed until September of 1995 (see middle photo below). This building currently serves as the Carpentry Shop for the Department of Public Works. Built when the department had an authorized strength of 28 patrol officers, the designers built in a large safety margin by leaving room for twice that number. Unfortunately, by the time we left, the department had almost 100 officers.
Modifications to the original design included the addition of a second floor to house the Records and Detective Divisions and the removal of the firearms range to use the space for evidence storage.
Our current headquarters is at 20 Long Pond Road (see photo to the right above). We moved here in September of 1995. Conference rooms, training rooms, storage space and offices are provided in sufficient number for the department to perform its daily operations.
Today the Plymouth Police Department is comprised of 128 full time police officers and 40 other full time and part time employees.