A Bit of History of Westfield’s Police Department

BeeLines - April 17, 2018

By Marybelle Beigh, Westfield Town & Village Historian

A Bit of History of Westfield’s Police Department, and a Photo

HELP! Please Identify the Policemen and Auxiliary Policemen in the Photo!

Several years ago, (perhaps about 2010), Robert Gunther, our then-and-current Westfield Police Chief, asked your Westfield Historian for some information about the history of the Westfield Police Department.

My reply, “There seems to be very little information about the history of the police department in our official History of the Town of Westfield book or the files at the library. But, I will start collecting what I find when doing research on other topics and some day will attempt a coherent history for you.” (Well, the file folder only contained a half-dozen articles located over the next few years, and then your historian moved to Silverton Colorado and resigned from office as of 2014, but was reappointed in 2015 after returning to Westfield at the end of 2014.)

Fast-forwarding to early February 2018, one of my neighbors at Edgewater Condominium Community is Father Al Clody, who is the Chaplin of the Westfield Fire Department, and also a faithful reader of BeeLines, cornered me, saying, “missed you at the meeting last night!”

“WHAT meeting?” was my surprised response! Apparently, Alan Holbrook, a volunteer fireman, and Village Trustee, and some other active citizens in our community, had come up with an idea to create some sort of visible tribute to our local First Responders, something like the Lincoln-Bedell park, statues, and information plaque. At the organizational meeting in February, it was suggested to include the Westfield Historian in future meetings, as a resource. This has been accomplished and has also become an excellent resource of historic photos, contacts, and research for the historian.

Last week, Barry Meleen provided Vince Luce, Village Clerk, with an older (circa 1960s) photo of a group of regular and auxiliary Policemen in Westfield, in which only Meleen’s grandfather is identified. He is Robert Peterson, at the extreme right side of the back row; Peterson was police chief in 1952. It is believed that Peterson was the first Police Chief.

Following is an initial rough history of the Westfield Police Department that has been located to date (April 17, 2018), and the research is continuing.

When the Town of Westfield was organized in 1829, Lyman Redington and Robert P. Stetson were appointed constables at the Westfield’s first Town Meeting, April 7, 1829. For about 60 years, constables were the only law enforcement officials the town had until about 1890 when storekeepers in the village organized and hired a night watchman. William Wratten was chosen and served until his death in 1913, being succeeded by James Shaw and others, but they were paid by the storekeepers, not the town or village, so not officially a policeman. As late as 1952, there was still a night watchman post held at that time by Joseph Trippy, but it is unknown when this position was discontinued. Currently, part of the policemen’s “beat” is to check all businesses, public buildings and churches throughout the night.

The Village organized the Westfield Police Department in 1924, when the new fire hall on Elm Street was constructed with the jail in a part of that. In 1924, Peter Larson was hired as the Village’s first police officer. According to the History of the Town of Westfield book, Part I (1802-1952), in 1952, Robert Peterson was police chief, and there were four other police officers – Burdette Anderson (my step dad!), Frank Trippy, Leo Weiss and Russell Leon.

Apparently, the Town of Westfield still had constables in 1952: Milton Van Cise, Joseph Trippy, Salvatore Caruso, and Lee Waite. Justices of the Peace in 1952 were: R.H. Breads, H.H. Taylor, O.A. Ottaway, and R.A. Owens. The office of Police Judge was established in 1928, and Louis Fuller was elected and served until 1953 (I think), followed by Anthony Rizzo.

In 1974, a new police station was created in the Southeast corner of Eason Hall. Floyd Black followed Robert Peterson as Police Chief in 1968.

A brief history of the auxiliary police, written circa 1988, explains that “the Auxiliary Police unit is a “spin-off” from the War Emergencies Act, or Civilian Defense (CD), [circa]1942…” After WWII, many returning veterans signed up for CD Auxiliary Police.

The original functions of Auxiliary Police were traffic control and guard duty if needed. Ralph Breads, as town justice, took on CD responsibility, appointed by the Town in 1952 as the first CD director.

Chief Robert Peterson, about 1951, believed there was a greater need for the Auxiliary Police than just a call our for Civilian Defense, so in early 1952, an Auxiliary Police charter and By-Laws were drawn up. Peterson requested that the Town board buy uniforms for Auxiliary Police.

From 1952 to when the Auxiliary Police history was written in 1988, some other activities included: road blocks during snow storms and floods, train wrecks, Barcelona Pier opening and Harbor Days, Fireman’s Ox Roast, Parades, Arts and Crafts Show. In February 1988, there were ten members of the Auxiliary Police: Albert Wainwright, Cedio Gizzi, Melvin Saigeon, Richard Rotunda, William Ottaway, John A. Ellis, Daniel Hess, William Reid, Carl Tressler, David Mellors. At that time, Vinnie Calarco was CD Director, Chief of Police was Sam Arcadipane, Town Supervisor was David Ross, and Village Mayor was Linda Dunn.