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From constables to bailiffs to chiefs, a history of Westminster policing

More than 90 years ago — on Dec. 6, 1920, to be precise — the Westminster Common Council approved the appointment of two additional "night patrolmen" to the ranks of the Westminster Police Department.

According to an old file copy of the history of the Westminster Police Department, "It was felt that there existed inadequate protection due to the number of frequent 'robberies and bank holdups.' "

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The first recorded "constable" in the city's history was William Grumbine, appointed June 20, 1839 — just two days after the city passed its ordinance establishing town constables, according to the police history account.

"Constables were paid 33 1/2 cents for every person apprehended. … They would work from their homes and walk to handle any calls for service."

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"Borough Constable" was the title given to law enforcement officials during the early period of Westminster's incorporation.

A history of the department reports that it was "on May 20, 1850, Westminster's law enforcement title of Borough or Town Constable changed to 'City Bailiff,' with Mr. Elias Yingling being appointed as the City's first Bailiff. The title of Bailiff, referring to law enforcement officials, continued until 1979."

Although the records are somewhat unclear, it appears that it was a three-man force for much of the 1920s. The two "night patrolmen" assumed their duties on Dec. 22, 1920, at a pay rate of $60 a month.

The first mention of the officers being armed does not occur until July 5, 1927, when the bailiffs requested "to obtain a gun …"

This was just a few years after the first mention of a uniform. The records note that it was discussed during a May 1924 council meeting that "officers should be in uniform when on duty. … A uniform procurement order (came) on June 24, 1924.

When Westminster was first incorporated on Feb. 5, 1819, there was no mention of a police department or a police chief. The only charter offices set forth were that of six commissioners, a burgess, a clerk and "one judge to hold the first election for burgess and commissioners."

The office of a "street commissioner" was added to the 1838 and 1856 city charter. The responsibilities of street commissioner and "police chief" were one and the same until May 1927.

However, it was not until 1946 that the designation "police chief" first appears in city records, and the city bailiff in 1946 earned between $132 and $140 per month.

Today, the department's authorized-force is 45 officers and, a Westminster officer starts at about $37,000 a year," according to articles in The Eagle and the Baltimore Sun.

During this holiday season, say a prayer of thanks for the work of our Westminster police officers, public works personnel, and firefighters. These men and women are working hard, away from their families, to keep us safe for the Christmas season. God bless them for their work.

When he is not Christmas shopping, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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