Stoughton Police Department Early History

"Gives Fine, Efficient Service"

From the 80th Anniversary Edition of The Stoughton News-Sentinel, November 6, 1941.

In  the beginning of Stoughton there was no real Police Department and only the larger cities had jails. The smaller communities got along very well with their stocks as most of the crimes against the laws of the town were what the modern individual would call misdemeanors. Such crimes included a few drunks, transaction of business on Sunday, seeking leisure on Sunday, not attending church, and making a public disturbance. Stoughton, much the same as other smaller communities of that ay, had no crime problem, and thievery, murder and other heinous rimes were almost unheard of.

Every community such as Stoughton had a constable, whose main duty vas the serving of warrants issued by he Selectmen. These warrants were for the calling of special meetings of he voters and for warning out unwanted citizens. This practice of "warning out" was begun in 1692, when Stoughton was still a part of Dorchester, when a law was passed concerning the residence of unwanted residents. If such a person happened to reside in Stoughton, and any complaints were made to the selectmen, it was then their duty to issue a warrant telling that person that he had a certain limited time in which to move. However, if the unwanted person happened to have lived here for a period of three months the selectmen could do nothing about the matter. The time limit was changed to a year in 1700 and in 1767 it became necessary for a new arrival to be voted upon at town meeting before he became a legal resident. This practice was brought back to its original form of warning put within three months in the year 1789. 

Another branch of police work was brought out in 1698 when a law was parsed which prohibited the killing of deer between January 1 and August 1. In this way the first game wardens were brought about, the first in Stoughton being Robert Redman and Elkariah Billings, two of the earlist settlers.  They are also had control of the issuance of bounties on wildcats, wolves, squirrels, blackbirds, and crows. The game wardens of that day soon became subject to much ridicule and about the time of Stoughton's incorporation the position was usually given to the oldest man in the town.

The tithing man was the nearest thing to a police officer which the own of Stoughton had in its beginnings. He was partly a constable had partly a corrector of public morals. His duties were to see that no driving was done on Sunday, except in case of life or death; that no disturbances were created by any merrymaker, that none took walks and that everyone attended church services. He admonished some for heir habits and brought others to he village squire, who would sentence them to a period of repentance n the stocks. The first stocks were built soon after the incorporation and were placed in the section of own known as Packeen Plain, now he Springdale section of Canton.

The first constables were Phillip Liscomb for the north part of the town, and John Hixson for the south part, both being elected at the first town meeting in 1726.

Extending through the years the work of the Police Department became greater and greater and it finally- became necessary to install two lockups, or jails in Stoughton enter and in East Stoughton. The first record of the Stoughton Center lockup was in the 1858 Town Report, when the sum of $54.63 was spent on its upkeep. Mace Gay was also the only constable of Stoughton and received the magnificent sum of $30.30 for his services during the year. In 1860 it became necessary to build a lockup in East Stoughton and this was done at a total expense of $145.00. The lockup in Stoughton Center was on land belonging to an undisclosed individual and the town had to pay a rental fee of $25.00 per year for the privilege of keeping the lockup in that spot. In 1864 the lockup in East Stoughton was found to be inadequate and a new one was constructed at a cost of $119.04. The first increase in the number of constables came in 1867, when three men, M.H. Ballou, Hiram Gay and Hiram Littlefield were each paid $25.90 for their services during the year. The upkeep for the two lockups during this year amounted to $55.68.

During the next few years little change was made in the work and expense of the police forces of the town. In 1868 the small sum of $15.90 was expended for salaries and upkeep of the lockup, while in 1871 the sum of $75.50 was expended for salaries alone. This added expense for salaries came about through the practice of giving a bounty for every tramp that was locked up and warned out of town. The first lockup in Stoughton Center was at an unknown location, but in 1873 a new lockup was built and located in the present parking area to  the A. and P. Store [now Pacheco Hardware in 2007], directly behind the Odd Fellows block. In the next few years the expenses of the Police Department became greater and greater as every tramp in this section seemed to make a visit to the Stoughton lockup. The constables were paid a bounty of twenty cents each for every tramp and they really brought every one of them in for at least one night's lodgings. In 1875 John Geary was constable and lockup keeper and received the sum of $30.00 for his services. He increased this sum to $349.04 by bringing in 847 tramps to the Center lockup and 71 to the East Stoughton jail.. The situation reached its height in 1876 when the police of Stoughton received $790.55 for bringing in tramps to the two lockups. This year found 2247 tramps being lodged, the largest number ever to appear in the records. The next year found five constables being appointed to make sure that all tramps were kept from the village. The five constables were M. H. Ballou, Cornelius Geary, Lysander Wood, David Forsaith and James Butler. In this year a new lockup was built in Stoughton Center on the same site as the old one and the number of tramps brought in was reduced to 1625.

The first real beginnings of an organized Police, Department, with regular salaries and established posts, was formed in 1878 with the appointment of six special police officers. These men were David Forsaith, A. W. Meade, Hiram Parker, A. W. Skinner, Elbridge C. Ross and Lysander Wood. They received the huge sum of $5.00 per week for their services and were paid from money obtained from liquor licenses. The tramp situation again reared its head in that year as 20 70 were brought in during the year. The special police in 1879 expended a sum of $940.00 for wages, $404.87 for the lockups and additional sums for tramps and for bread and crackers for the tramps.

One of the largest departments in the history of the town was had in 1880 when 16 special police officers were appointed. The town also took note of the tramp situation in this year by appropriating the sum of $250.00 for their care. The history of large police departments was short lived and gradually diminished. The first stated report of the Police Department in the Stoughton Town Report was made in 1883 with David Forsaith signing the report. During that year the police expended the sum of $1,008.50 and made the following report concerning the number of cases during the year:

Number of convictions


House of Correction


Fines and costs




Assault and battery


Disturbing the peace


Keeping liquor


Breaking and entering


Violation of town bylaws




Cruelty to animals






Illegal sale of liquor 


Keeping unlicensed dog 


In 1884 the Stoughton Police Department had six regular men on duty and had one special police officer. During the year they spent $1,070.00 and arrested 155 persons, most of the arrests being for drunkenness. It was a noticeable fact that I practically all arrests resulted in convictions and that through all the succeeding years the arrests for drunkenness far exceeded arrests for any other cause. David Forsaith made the reports for the Police Department from 1883 until 1886 when the very well known Richard Vanston began signing the reports. He first became a member of the department in 1880 and continued in that capacity until his death in 1925. A noticeable fact concerning the annual report of the Police Department was that they were signed, for the Police Department and not by the Chief of the Police. Richard Vanston was also the chief of the Fire Department during this year and continued in that capacity until 1891 when the voters of the town finally voiced their displeasure to such an extent that Mr. Vanston was forced to give up one of his executive positions. He still remained a member of the Fire Department, however, and remained such until late in his life. The courts and the police worked together very well in the early history of the Police

Department as can be seen from the fact that in 1891 a total of 121 convictions resulted from 134 arrests. This record was bettered in 1895 when the three members of the department made a total of 120 arrests and obtained 116 convictions.

In 1895 the system of probation was first mentioned with several first offenders of not so serious crimes being given suspended sentences over a probation period. Richard Vanston signed the 1899 report of the Police Department as Richard Vanston, Chief of Police, the first time a chief of the department had been mentioned. It was also in this year that the department was cut to two regular men, with Richard Vanston as chief and James Pye as keeper of the lockup. James Pye was also the chief of the Fire Department at this time.

The first juvenile cases to be brought before the courts in Stoughton were in 1908 when a series of petty crimes were perpetrated by youngsters under 16 years of age. The first juveniles arrested for more serious crimes and sentenced to terms in the reformatory were in the following year. During this period the citizens of the town began to question the right of the police to arrest individuals without warrants, and in 1914 the matter came to a head. In the 1914 town report the Police Department had printed a summary of the town by-laws, the duties and regulations governing the Police Department, the health regulations which were enforced and a summary of the lawful arrests without warrants. This clarified the matter to such an extent that no further complaints were heard.

About this time the duties of the police force became much greater due to the influx of automobiles and from the greater number of people that owned the rather new invention. Several cases of speeding were brought before the courts and in 1917 it was finally decided that the department needed a car of its own to keep up with the times. The first car was purchased in this year and was kept until 1922 when the second car was purchased.

Increased traffic brought much additional work to the department in the following years and in 1920 Peter J. McGarvey was appointed to the regular force, making three permanent men in the department. This was the first increase in the personnel of the department from the year 1895, when Richard Vanston and James Pye were appointed as regular officers. Charles Robinson was also appointed soon after this but he died shortly afterwards and the vacant position was not dilled until after 1925.  In 1920 the department expended the sum of $259.00 for the upkeep of the police automobile and also spent a great deal of money on the installation of traffic signs throughout the town.  These traffic signs were placed at all points entering the town and a maximum speed limit of 15 miles an hour was set.

In February, 1925, Police Chief Richard Vanston died, and following a Civil Service examination Peter J. McGarvey was appointed the chief, which position he has held ever since.  Since his appointment  the department has taken on many new duties and its responsibilities have increased to a tremendous degree. New officers have been added when needed, with Louis Swanson being appointed to the regular force in 1924, Sidney Morey in 1925 and appointed Sergeant in 1930, Timothy Roach in 1926, Fred Lowe in 1928, Duncan Fleming in 1929 and Thomas Mara in 1937.

In 1926 the local department added a motorcycle to its equipment but discontinued using it in 1931 following an accident in which Duncan Fleming was seriously injured and the cycle practically wrecked. The many traffic problems concerning Stoughton Square were solved in some manner by the erection of two traffic beacons in 1926, taking the place of the red lanterns which were hung on small wooden barriers before this time. These lanterns were always being destroyed and it was finally decided that it was necessary install the beacons. Numerous traffic signs have been installed through the succeeding years and parking lines and pedestrian lanes painted in the streets. Placing of signs at intersections making them through ways was begun in 1932, with signs being placed at the corner of Prospect and Seaver streets and Walnut and Prospect streets, making Prospect street a through way. In 1933 Pleasant street was made a through way when signs were placed at the corner of Pleasant and Central streets. Signs were placed at Pleasant and Prospect streets in 1939 and at Walnut and Park streets in this year. In 1940 signs were placed at Lincoln and Pleasant streets, Morton and Plain streets, and in other years signs were placed at School and Washington, School and Pearl, School and Canton, Lincoln and Washington, Central and Washington, und Central and Pearl. These signs have made Pleasant, Washington, Pearl, Prospect and Plain streets through ways and make it necessary to stop before entering them.

Today the Stoughton Police Department has its own headquarters in the Town House and is noted as one of the most efficient departments in this section. It has five regular men on duty at intervals through the day and night, has one intermittent regular and 14 special policemen ready for duty. It is completely equipped with a cruising car and all other necessities that are completely standardized. The cruising car was installed with a one-way radio in 1934 and is always tuned in to the state police barracks, in Bridgewater. It was an outside phone system that was installed in 1931, with, four boxes located at Pleasant and Washington streets, Porter and Washington streets. Masonic building on Wyman Street and by the Catholic Church on Canton street.

Its jail is located in the basement of the Town Hall, where it was moved 1927. At that time the old jail was torn down and the steel cages were shipped to the town farm, where they have been ever since. The new jail has modern steel cages with complete toilet facilities and is always kept in the best of order.

Since the first beginnings of the Police Department the lockups have only been moved twice, the first time being from the first unknown location to in back of the Odd Fellows building and the second time to the Town House. This was not so, however, with the police headquarters, for they have been moved many times. The first office was in the old jail building, then to the old town offices quarters, again to the Town House after it was built, and then to the present quarters in the old G. A. R. rooms. When the quarters were first moved to the town house the room was shared by several officers, including the assessors and registrars of voters, but in 1937 it was found that the quarters were becoming too crowded, and %s a room was soon vacant they moved to the present quarters.

The local Police Department has the distinction of being one of the first departments in the state to be placed under Civil Service. In 1911 the Civil Service law concerning Police Departments was passed, and in 1912 the local department was placed under its restrictions. In 1913 the office of Chief of Police was also placed under Civil Service. Today the local department is exceptionally active with very few residents realizing the tremendous amount of rather dull routine work that is done each day. Beginning with the daylight shift at 8 o'clock one may find an officer in the station checking over the mail and any records which need to be filled out. He then goes on traffic duty in the square and at the schools and from there will appear court, on any cases that are to be brought up. At noon he is back at the schools directing traffic and following is back in the square for duty. Investigation and filing work is done between times, with the evening and night officers coming on duty at four, eight and midnight. The night officers inspect all buildings two or three times, seeing that all doors are locked and that nothing is amiss. They also make several trips throughout the town in the cruising car and direct traffic in the square when necessary. Together with all their other duties they keep complete records of every case brought before them in several large filing cabinets. They have a day book in which each officer makes a complete record of all his activities during his time on duty, begun in 1927. This record is now in Book 56, and as each book has 300 pages it is easily seen that complete records of the department have been kept the past few years. The department also keeps a check on the outlying camps owned by out-of-town residents and has a file containing their names and addresses in case of any trouble. A complete weather report from January 1, 1927, has been kept in the day book us notes concerning this are made several times a day. The department has a blood donors' list at its headquarters, and has been of valuable assistance in transporting donors to and from hospitals.

The cruising car is turned in every year for a new model, as it travels in the neighborhood of between 32,000 and 40,000 miles a year. This has been practiced since 1937 when it was found to be the cheapest method. New traffic regulations were drawn up in 1938, and were approved by the Attorney General of the state, and Stoughton now has a modern up to date set of traffic rules. The present force consists of Chief Peter J. McGarvey, Sergeant Sidney Morey, Patrolmen Louis Swanson, Timothy Roach, Duncan Fleming, Thomas Mara. Reserves: Jerome Flynn, 1938; William Hilferty, 1932, now in the United States Army serving as a second lieutenant; Ellis Smith, 1934, recently in the service; Fred Lowe, 1928, resigned in 1937 and was reappointed, is now serving as first lieutenant iri the U. S. Army. Special officers of note are Charles Shields and Elliot H. Willis, both of whom are real old timers and served many years before any of the present force. William Hodges,  1938, and Mike Roach, 1928, are the only other two uniformed men on the force. The other special officers are on restricted duty at schools and public buildings or have been appointed for some special purpose.

Stoughton today is very well policed and has a department that is modern in every manner. Its men are capable, its equipment is good, radio keeps it in touch with other departments of the state, and though its duties are many and varied, oftentimes incurring the dislike of many residents, its work has made Stoughton a safe town in which to live and a poor town for transgressors of the law. Its advance from the first meager beginnings has been due to the efforts of its members through the years, and should continue to prosper and become of even greater value to future generations.

Stoughton Police Department Chiefs

David Forsaith, 1883-1885                             Richard Vanston, 1885-1925                   Peter J. McGarvey, 1925-


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