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History of the Portsmouth Police
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The Portsmouth Police Department
Information Received From: Jim Garman, Town Historian
Prior to the Formation of the Portsmouth Police Department
Prior to the formation of the Portsmouth Police Department, the Town utilized "Town Sergeant's" and "Special Constables". In 1873, Asa A. Anthony was the Town Sergeant followed by Benjamin Tallman for the next seven years.
In 1876 there were 6 “Special Constables”. The number of Special Constables varied each year from about 3 to 7. In addition as Portsmouth moved into the 20th century there came to be Constables for various Town issues such as Bird Constables, Dog Constables, Tramp Constables and others. It would seem that the constables were able to handle law enforcement in that way prior to Chief Deegan being appointed in 1921. Even then, Chief Deegan was assisted by Police Constables for a number of years.
By 1891 the Town Sergeant was Walter Dyer and there were 7 Police Constables. In the early 20th century the Town Sergeant was often Owen Reilly. Before 1921 if there was a serious case, such as a murder case in 1909, the Newport Police did the investigation. In addition the Rhode Island State Police (founded in 1925) helped out later, especially in the raids on illegal gambling at Island Park. Also, during the Prohibition era (1919-1933) the Internal Revenue Service and the US Coast Guard were active in their pursuit of “rum-runners” here……and there were a LOT of them!
Portsmouth Police Department Officially Formed
The Portsmouth Police Department began on May 9, 1921 when William J. Deegan was appointed as the first Chief of Police. The appointment was made by the Portsmouth Town Council and Chief Deegan earned 30 cents per hour as his salary. In the late 1800's, prior to the appointment of the town's first Chief of Police, a Town Sergeant was responsible for law enforcement in Portsmouth. He was assisted by a number of Constables whom it would seem were either appointed by the Town Council or elected during the annual financial meeting.
Chief William J. Deegan: 1921-1934
- 2 August 1923
- Chief W. J. Deegan and Officers Birtwhistle and Smoot raided McCorrie Farm-seized illegal booze
- 7 September 1926
- Gang raids in Island Park
- 12 March 1934
- Death reported of William J. Deegan, Chief of Police-salary had been $150/month
- Chief of Police appointed, Benjamin Phillips
Quick Note: Prior to World War II the police used their own cars
Chief Benjamin Philips: 1934-1961
- Chief Phillips was the only policeman until 1942
- 1942 he got his first police car
- salary in 1941-$1,88/year
- 2nd policeman appointed in 1942
- station was in his home at 405 West Main Road-his wife Kathryn took calls
- 2 March 1960
- Chief Phillips asks for 2 more policemen-only had six men to cover the town-newly-developed dial phone system will not enable operators to call “to various officers homes when there is no one on duty in the police office”.
- Office needs to be manned at all times
- Traffic problems that will be created with the building of the Raytheon plant will require more traffic supervision.
- Also asking Town meeting to provide a small amount of money to fix up a police station in the Quaker Hill School-need is great because present quarters in the Town Hall are inadequate.-Police officers will do the work.
Chief George W. Wood: 1969-1969
May 31, 2019
- Chief Thomas F. Lee - Grand Opening of the new Portsmouth Police Department Headquarters