The late 1600’s saw the Town of Gloucester under Puritan laws and there was a public whipping post and stocks in the area of where the YMCA is now.
In 1799, Isaac Elwell was appointed Inspector of Police. This was a term first used in Boston 14 years earlier to describe the men appointed to keep track of the night watchmen who patrolled the city after dark watching for fires. Constables assisted Elwell and other men who followed him as Inspector of Police until about 1847 when a petition was received by the Selectmen asking for some additional policemen to assist the Inspector of Police. Around 1850 the first night police were used. Only a few of the policemen were paid as the rest either served without compensation or were only paid for working during special occasions.
In 1873, a city ordinance establishing a police department was put into effect with nine officers under the leadership of City Marshal William Cronin. Police officers in those years had to concern themselves with stopping runaway horses and wagons and also had to extinguish the gas lamps that were downtown. The biggest danger was a fire and these men had to be very alert while walking their beats to be quick to raise the alarm at the first sign of a fire. To be appointed as an officer required a vote by the Municipal Council after having their name put forward by the Mayor. Even after the state created civil service you still had to be confirmed by the Mayor after passing the test. The biggest political post was that of City Marshal as it seemed whenever a new mayor was elected, and the city then held yearly elections, a new City Marshal was also appointed as the Mayor wanted ‘his man‘ to run the police department.
The first officer in “citizen’s clothes” was used around 1880. Police officers in those times were usually big burly Irishmen and had to be pretty tough as they handled most calls alone. The officer had to respond to the problem, handle it, and if there was to be an arrest made, cuff or control the person and then go to the nearest call box to summon the horse drawn wagon for transport to the lockup. The first sergeant, William Alphen, was appointed in 1902 and police protection also expanded to the outlying areas of Lanesville, Magnolia and East Gloucester and these men had a tougher time because if they needed any assistance they had to wait for help to arrive on the electric trolley car or a commandeered horse and wagon. The pay of an officer around that time was about $19 a week with one day off every 15 days worked. There was no mandatory retirement age and one officer, Martin Williams, was still working at the age of 85.
In 1916 a motorcycle was purchased and horse patrols that were used in the Brier Neck area were eliminated. In 1917 a combination motor patrol/ambulance was bought and the old horse drawn wagon was sold. One officer on each shift was assigned to drive the car as few people had licenses. A civilian was hired as a “chauffeur” an worked 12 hour shifts in what was a non civil service city position. The chauffeur was also known as the ‘driver’ and dressed like a police officer and also made arrests.
In 1923 a “female protective officer” Mabel Cauffman, was hired and she patrolled the parks and theaters and counseled young women to keep them from going wrong. She didn’t wear a uniform but dressed ‘as a lady’ keeping her badge hidden until needed. She was paid the same amount as a patrolman. She worked until 1932 when she went to Philadelphia and was never replaced.
During the years of Prohibition there were many spectacular shootouts between police and rum runners all over the city keeping the department pretty busy. The first lieutenant was appointed towards the end of 1925 and about the end of the 1920’s an officer earned $1825 per year and had one day off every 8 days.
Around 1933 a siren and red flashing light was installed in the police cruiser and thankfully so as previous to this, one of the officers in the car had to stick his head out the window and blow his whistle to get traffic to move out of his way. A one way radio system was installed and the first boat for harbor patrol was purchased in 1936. In 1938 the slate board that was used to list the names of arrestees and lodgers was replaced with a loose leaf style book. Lodgers were people who had no place to stay and spent the night in the cellblock. The phrase “wipe your name clean from the slate” was used after a case was finished. In the 1940’s a two way radio was purchased and installed in the police boat. During the hours of 9 pm to 4 am a second cruiser was put on the road. In 1943 officers were making $5.50 a shift, with no overtime pay for extra hours worked.
The City Marshal position was abolished at the end of 1954 and John J. Coyle became the Captain Commanding of the Police Department. In 1962 Captain Coyle became the city’s first police chief after a bill was passed by the State legislature which also gave him the job for life. In 1968 ‘walkie-talkie’ portable radios were used by the beat officers and drugs started to become a new problem faced by police. In 1970 patrolmen were making $7500 a year and looking for a 4 and 2 schedule In August of 1973 the department moved into a new $1.2 million police station-courthouse complex.
Emergency Medical Training came in around 1975 and in 1976 the first uniformed woman police officer was appointed to the position that now paid $11,436 a year. In 1979 there were 1872 arrests made by the department. and a DARE program was started. Semi-automatic weapons replaced the six-shooter type the department had used since its inception and bicycle patrols started being used in the summer of 1995. The 911 system was installed in 1997. Computer dispatch and report writing replaced the hand-written log books that had been used since the 1800’s.
In the year 2010 and beyond the department has added K-9 officers, ATV’s, motorcycles, a license plate reader and other modern accessories to move the department into the future.