Dayhoff: Change has been constant for Westminster Police Department

Around 1950, a sign character we called “Sammy Safety,” appeared at the corner of Liberty Street and West Main Street at the railroad tracks. The sign proudly proclaims “No traffic deaths since Sept. 3, 1949.”
Around 1950, a sign character we called “Sammy Safety,” appeared at the corner of Liberty Street and West Main Street at the railroad tracks. The sign proudly proclaims “No traffic deaths since Sept. 3, 1949.” (Westminster Police Department)

In September 1971, the Westminster Common Council held a committee meeting in which riot gear — including gas grenades and grenade launchers — were proposed to "update the police force to give it more effectiveness on the street." It seems that this discussion did not sit well with Westminster Mayor Joseph H. Hahn Jr., who served May 18, 1964 to May 21, 1973. Apparently, Hahn "walked out" of the committee meeting.

When Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding was appointed on Jan. 2, 2004, he was given a mandate to prepare the Westminster Police Department for the future.


The last top-to-bottom revamping of the department was accomplished, under the leadership of Hahn, by Chief Leroy Day, who was appointed after Chief Charles L. Seipp retired Sept. 30, 1966, after serving the department for over 40 years.

The only dynamic that is dependable in today's law enforcement environment is change. Make that "constant change." In today's world there are constant changes in public policies, laws, public attitudes, and expectations.

The training and education demands on police officers today are never-ending. To that end, the Westminster Police Department recently announced that another officer, Lt. Nikki Heuer, "completed her studies and graduated from the FBI National Academy in Quantico Virginia." A police news release explains, "She joined 223 other senior law enforcement officials from across the United States and 22 foreign countries in completing the rigorous course of study.

"The FBI National Academy is a 10-week residential senior management and leadership training program hosted by the FBI at their Training Academy in Quantico Virginia. The National Academy is widely regarded as one of the finest training opportunities for senior law enforcement officials in the world…"

Spaulding added: "She is now one of only four members in the history of the Westminster Police Department to complete this prestigious training program. Providing for the professional development of our command staff is key to ensuring that we are prepared to face the challenges of providing quality public safety service in today's complex and demanding environment."

One of the last sea changes in law enforcement was over 40 years ago in the 1960s and '70s. According to the department history, in the late 1960s, "Chief Day 'revamped' the police department stating it had 'no table of organization, its records were inadequate and that the officers had no rank.' He was now in charge of an eight man force…"

In the 1970s, the Westminster Police Department had 14 officers. It was also in this time period that the department began the use of portable radios. According to an old department history in my files, "Unfortunately only two units were purchased limiting the accessibility of their use … Before this new advancement in communications, officers had what was known as a 'reach button' installed in their vehicles.

"This button was connected to the car's horn and radio base station at police headquarters at City Hall. If an officer was away from his patrol vehicle, the car horn could be activated by headquarters, or after hours by the Westminster Fire Department, which would alert the officer to return to his vehicle to receive a call."


In the 1960s, calls for service were handled by a police secretary, or the mayor's secretary — who was essentially the only civilian employee in the department. After 4 p.m. and on weekends, the Westminster Police were dispatched by the Westminster Fire Department.

When I was growing up in Westminster in the 1950s, the Westminster Police Department occupied two small rooms of Westminster's City Hall and prisoners were either chained to a radiator or put in a basement storage room.

In the 1950s, "The Police Department … was actively involved in implementing and promoting an extensive traffic safety campaign along with pedestrian safety activities. Westminster was one of three Maryland cities without a fatal motor vehicle accident in 1950… A City Hall yearly report for 1949-1950 advises that most of the arrests made that year were for 'simple' assault, drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and vagrancy."

Then again, traffic safety has always been a preoccupation of the Westminster Police. "On November 12, 1857, a bailiff by the name of James Keefer lost his job for his neglect in enforcing the City Ordinance against the fast driving of 'buggies.'"

The first recorded "constable" in the history of the Westminster Police department was William Grumbine, appointed on June 20, 1839. "Constables were paid 33 ½ cents for every person apprehended. As a point of comparison, Scotland Yard was formed in 1829 by Sir Robert (Bobby) Peel, which is why many early police officers were called "Peelers" or "Bobbies." The New York Police Department was formed in 1844 — five years after the first Westminster police officer was hired. .

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.