A Look Back: The History of the Police Force, as told by the Revere Journal
With the Police Department’s new station set to open, one oft-repeated, significant fact is that the current station was built around the turn of the century to handle horses, not cruisers, and a much smaller contingent of officers.
But what was the department like in those days and before? A little history primer follows, thanks to the 1937 work ‘History of the Town of Revere’ by Benjamin Shurtleff and a history of the department printed in a booklet commemorating The Revere Journal’s 100th anniversary.
The Earliest Days
In colonial days, when the settlement that would later become Revere was part of Chelsea, all able-bodied men were called together and drilled regularly to be prepared in the case of emergencies.
As this section of Chelsea which is known as Rumney Marsh, grew, someone called a tithingman was elected. His duty? To make sure everyone made it to religious services on the Sabbath. This position remained as late as 1837.
In the mid-1800s – not long after Revere, then called North Chelsea, broke off a separate town – constables began to be elected at an annual town meeting held every March. There was no formal police department.
The principal role of the Constables (there were usually two of them) was to announce town meetings, sort of like town criers, and their pay depended on the number of meetings they warned, according to Shurtleff. The going rate was a dollar and a half per meeting.
“Sometimes extra pay was earned as in 1861 when Andrew Burnham was warned three town meetings and attended on in the evening, his pay amounting to eight dollars,” writes Shurtleff. “William R. Towle warned three town meetings that year for which he received $4.50. The next year, he warned four, received $6, and the year following that he received $9 for his services.”
The first mention of a police officer is made in town reports of 1865, when one Mr. E. Pineo received $5 for his services. It seems, in those days, that “officers” were hired by the day, probably around the time of town meetings. In 1867, for instance, Henry D. Pineo made $2.50 for a day’s police work. Samuel S. Pratt made $14 for seven day’s work. Any criminals taken into custody in those days were probably kept in flimsy jails or taken to constables’ homes until they could be arraigned.
First Police Appropriation
At the town meeting in March 1872, the first appropriation was granted: $500 – about the same amount the town paid to build a sidewalk on Broadway. The appropriation came shortly after the town adopted its new name, Revere.
A year later, ten men earned $511.50 for 170 1/2 days of police duty, Shurtleff writes. What kind of work did the men handle? Writes Shurtleff: “”During this year, there were 25 arrests for drunkenness, of which 12 were complained of and sentenced while 13 were discharged when sober or put in the care of friends. One was arrested and complained of as a common drunkard; three arrested for assault; four stealing fruit; one for breaking and entering a house; five (boys) for stealing a boat and 36 for fast driving.””
Until this time, Shurtleff notes, prisoners were locked up in two cells that had been built over an old hearse house. But in 1873, that building was abandoned and a new lockup, and police headquarters, was moved to a former engine house on Pleasant Street, behind Town Hall.
Shurtleff lists the cost of moving into the old engine house at $177.26 – a far cry from several million dollars it is expected to cost to build the new station today. Revere’s budding Police Department remained in that building until 1909, when a new station was built for a total of $22,200. Amazingly, and much to the dismay of today’s police force, that station is still in use today. (Incidentally, the original police station was converted into a dwelling many years ago and moved to Cheever Street.
A Pioneer in Many Ways
In coming years as Revere moved toward city-hood in 1915, the local department earned its share of firsts. In 1911, the town became the first in Massachusetts to acquire a motor patrol wagon. Two years later, its policemen put aside the old-fashioned high helmets in favor of the modern police cap, similar to those worn today – another first in Massachusetts.
According to an article published in a special supplement marking The Revere Journal’s 100th anniversary, the caps served as an experiment here for a few months before the men in blue went back to their helmets. But in 1921 the helmets were banished for good, and the department permanently adopted a modern version of police uniform.
By 1930, not only was the department fully motorized (before that time, one of the members of the R.P.D. most frequently memorialized in what old photos remain was Ned the horse), but It also became the first in the state to install its own police radio system.
Progress didn’t stop there. After World War Two, Lt. William Gannon organized a modern detective bureau based on FBI methods of investigation he learned at the FBI National Academy. (He would later become chief in 1967. Today his son, also named William is, fittingly, a captain.
On Jan. 9, 1952, motorists of saw a new look: on that day woman traffic supervisors appeared at school crossings for the first time, a tradition that continues today with volunteers.
Changing With the Years
As years went by, the department continued to change with the times as it ranks grew in number. R.P.D. officers were kept busy cordoning off murder scenes through the gangland wars of the 1960s. With nightclubs and strip joints dotting the city, Revere was a frequent hangout for mobsters – who often left the results of their dirty work here.
Officers also did battle with lawbreakers in clubs along Revere Beach, some of the toughest spots in the city. Veterans reminisce about days when officers who had just got off duty, piled into private cars and raced to the beach to backup colleagues who were trying to quell brawls.
A sort of dark humor also grew out of those clubs. One veteran officer likes to tell a story of the night police raced to one of the clubs on the beach on the report of a shooting. Not only was no body to be found when the officers arrived, but a section of the rug, presumably covered in blood, had been cut out of the floor and was conveniently missing.
Another time, responding to a report of a stabbing in a bathroom of one of the beach joints, officers found the walls and floor of the bathroom conveniently cleaned and disinfected by the time police got there, probably making the cleanest that the room had ever been.
Along the way, the department has suffered its share of black eyes, such as the infamous Exam scam case. But there have also been many more cases of good police work. There was heroism, too, and tragedy such as the September night in 1973 when Officer Joseph (Tito) Moretti burst into a club that was being robbed at gunpoint and was fatally shot in the line of duty.
A LongLine of Those Who Served
As with any New England community’s police force, the list of men who had led the department is a long one. Before city hood, the men who served as Chief included Samuel Pratt, Milton Ray, George H. Goodrich, Charles Rhoades, Fred Sackett, Edward H. Oakes, William A. McNeill, Chair P. Chainey and Ralph N. Butterworth.
Since Revere became a city in 1915, 11 men have sat in the chief’s chair in either a permanent or acting capacity. The chief the year the town became a city was Charles T. Bradbury. John Dyer took over in 1917, and remained as chief until January 1928, when he was succeeded by Edward J. Tighe. Tighe held the job for more than 21 years, until he was followed by Colin A. W. Gillis in 1949. Gills Himself enjoyed a long run as chief, staying on board until August 1966.
Deputy Chief Philip T. Gallo ran the department for a little more than a year until William F. Gannon, stayed as chief until 1970, when he retired and was succeeded by George P. Corbett. Corbett retired nine years later and was replaced in an acting capacity by Capt. George D. Hurley Jr. A year later, John A.
DeLeire took the reins of a then 117-member department. DeLeire’s tenure ended a few years later, at a time when the department was embroiled in some of the most controversial times. DeLeire was replaced by Edward Sasso in the early 80s.
After Sasso retired, Hurley again served in an acting capacity until his death, when Capt. James V. Russo took over as acting chief.
Russo served in that Position until February 1992, when Harold Fulton became the permanent chief. After Fulton’s retirement in October 1993, Russo again took the department’s reins, this time as permanent chief.
Under Russo’s leadership, the department has made significant strides in acquiring new technology. The police station is now fully computerized and cruisers will soon be equipped with small computers as well.
But the department is still operating out of the 1909 station. Russo and Mayor Robert Hass Jr. have made building a new police station one of the city’s priorities.
Today, the Police Department has grown in both numbers and resources. After seeing its numbers fall in the mid and late 80s because of budget cuts, the department’s rank and file is again growing, boosted by numerous state and federal grants. Currently, the department boasts 109 officers and has an annual budget of around $5 million.
The preceding story was reprinted from a special supplement to the Revere Journal on October 30, 1996. Some editorial changes were made. Our sincere thanks go to Editor David Procopio for allowing us to reprint the article.