The Evolution of Policing in St.Thomas
The development of the St.Thomas Police Service has paralleled the growth and prosperity of the community it serves. Since the establishment of trade and commerce and the settlement of families in this area in the 1800’s, our community required the most fundamental and necessary element of society, that being, security and public order – the mainstay of any community that allows all other elements to flourish.
The establishment of our community stems back to 1804 when Colonel Talbot first settled in this area. Between 1809 and 1824, Talbot Road was built, businesses and trade were introduced, a Masonic Lodge, a Church and the first resident missionary was built. Individuals and families settled in the area and local government was elected. The nucleus of our community had been formed.
Following British tradition, the responsibility for policing was delegated to municipal council who had the authority to establish and govern policing in the community. The evolution of our police force accompanied the advancements in local municipal administration. By 1852, when St.Thomas was incorporated as the Municipality of the Village of St.Thomas, the governing authorities passed a by-law appointing our first two Police Constables – Richard Willis and Robert Cusack. Since that time, the police constable has been the consistent link with the community. To the present day, the front line officer remains the nucleus of our organization with all other positions existing to support them in the delivery of services to the citizens.
There have been many changes since 1852, yet the foundation of the St.Thomas Police Service has remained the same. In 1888, Police Chief, James Fewings, published a book of rules and regulations based on the principles and goals held by Sir Robert Peel. Fewings’ book outlined the main objectives of “crime prevention, security of person and property, and the preservation of public tranquility” which are still pertinent today. His “Police Instruction Book” as it was titled, was the first written guideline for our front line officer. In 2001, our rules and regulations were revised to address today’s issues such as victim’s assistance, emergency response services and administration and infrastructure, but the core issues of crime prevention, public order maintenance and law enforcement are still fundamental.
The qualifications to be a police officer have changed somewhat in the last 150 years, yet the importance of education was evident in the 1880’s. Chief Fewings outlined the qualifications of a constable as possessing the general knowledge of police duties, an able body, be no shorter than 5’10” in stature, good tempered, and able to pass examinations in reading, writing and arithmetic. He stated that “a quiet, determined manner will induce by-standers to assist” and that reading writing and general improvement of his mind was important for promotion. Of course, back then, women did not serve as police officers.
The first female member of the Police Service joined in 1918. Mrs. Annie Taylor served as a civilian matron for the cells and her purpose was to search female prisoners. She was paid an annual salary of $25.00. A police Constable was paid $960 a year. For decades, the only females employed by the Police Service were civilian matrons, clerks, dispatchers or secretaries. The record books indicate that several attempts were made during the 1940’s to demonstrate the need for female police officers. The Home and School Committee of the Women’s League in 1942 submitted a proposal to the Commission of the day outlining the advantages of a women serving as a police officer, but the motion was defeated. It was not until 1986 that our first female police officer was hired.
The introduction of employment equity legislation in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s resulted in the hiring of more female and visible minority officers than at any other time in our history. Today, our police service is reflective of the era in which we live. Greater equality has been achieved and officers are hired and promoted based on qualifications and abilities instead of gender, race or religion. Today, two female Sergeants, eight female Constables, and fourteen female civilians serve on the Force. Sergeant Judy Kowalczyk is the first female Sergeant to be assigned to supervise a specialized unit – Criminal Investigations Branch, having served in this capacity since 1999. In a profession that continues to be predominantly male, it may be a few years yet before females reach the highest ranks in the organization.
Equipment, budget, salaries, transportation, communications, record management – the way our services are provided to our citizens – have changed drastically over the years. In the 1800’s, the annual operating budget was $1,750.00. In those days, officers were selected for their size and strength as well as their courage and honesty. Their weapon of the day was a “baton” or “night stick” which they had to buy themselves.
By 1898, the Force had increased by one Constable to a compliment of five. In addition, for special events, the City would hire special Constables at a rate of $1.50 a day to supplement the regular force. The clothing allowance for the winter of 1898 was $111.50. The Chief was allowed a $22.00 coat, the Sergeant wore a $20.00 coat and the Constables wore a $19.00 coat.
In 1902, Constables earned $50.00 per month while the Sergeant earned $60.00. The mode of transportation at that time consisted of two bicycles and foot patrol. Shifts were determined by seniority. The junior constable worked straight night shifts. The early 1930’s saw modernization in spite of the depression. Revolvers became standard equipment; the shorter six-day work week with two weeks of holidays and free uniforms were introduced by 1935 at which time the force consisted of seven men. A patrol car was purchased in the late 1930’s but the force remained at a sworn strength of 7-9 men. The Chief and one man were in the office, one was on his beat, and one was in the cruiser. As the patrol car did not yet have a radio, the constable driving it had to go past the City Hall every 45 minutes. If the centre blind in the southwest window was down in the daytime or if it was up at night, the Constable had to report in.
The salary in 1933 was $100.00 per month for a constable based on a six-day workweek at ten hours per day. Due to the depression, City salaries were actually lower than in 1929 as a result of the hard times when all civic salaries were severely cut.
In 1940, Constable Wilf Whiteman, who later became the Chief of Police, became the first member of the St.Thomas Police Force to be sent away for formal police training. In the 1940’s, patrol cars were equipped with radios. This was the beginning of a long series of technological improvements including “walkie-talkies”, telex machines and extended telephone communications.
In 1971, the Police Headquarters was moved from the basement at City Hall to its present location in the Justice building at the corner of Curtis and St.Catherine Streets. This building continues today to be shared by the Provincial Courts and the Police Service.
In May of 1978, the compliment of the Force totaled 46 sworn members including 35 constables, 8 sergeants, one staff sergeant, a Deputy Chief and Chief Ted Cohoe. In addition, nine civilians were employed as clerks and radio dispatchers. As a young constable, the opportunities within the organization were somewhat limited. In those days, a constable would be deployed on foot patrol for the first four or five years of their career and would occasionally be lucky enough to be given a cruiser if manpower shortages or workload necessitated the need to take a beat officer off the beat. Many retired or veteran officers would be able to recall longing for the day when they were “senior enough” to be assigned a cruiser on a regular basis. Even today, the beat is an excellent training ground for developing a young officer. Because a cruiser physically creates a barrier between an officer and the public, interaction with the public is limited. Such is not the case on the beat. A young officer soon learns that in order to deal effectively with the public, you need to learn to be able to talk on your feet.
The greatest changes in policing, both within our organization and in policing in general, have taken place during our most recent history – the last 25 years. Of these, the greatest changes have occurred in the selection of officers, the training and the impact of technology on how services are delivered.
During the 1970’s, the Police Act required an officer to have a grade 10 education. Prior to this time, the majority of the members of the force met the minimum standard; few had graduated from grade 12.
In the sixties and early seventies, hiring was still largely based on size and strength. The late seventies brought a change to recruiting priorities with an emphasis on education and physical fitness. Today’s applicants are usually graduates of both community college courses such as law and security and graduates of university. It is not uncommon for applicants to respond to hiring ads from across Canada and as far away as Great Britain. Applicants are in excellent physical conditioning due to a lifestyle today that emphasizes better eating habits and exercise.
Training of a police officer today differs drastically from the past. A generally accepted practice in the 1970’s was that formal training not be given a high priority. Unlike today, it was unusual for a constable to receive any formal police training at the Ontario Police College until well into his career. The priority given to training greatly increased in the late 70’s and early 80’s and today, the members of the St.Thomas Police Service are some of the very best trained officers in Canada. Provincial Policing Standards now mandate that initial formal recruit training be conducted within six months of commencing employment. The initial recruit training so begins a career of annual re-qualifications including use of force training, firearms, CPR and first aid as well as specialized continuing education in police courses such as forensic identification, breathalyzer technician training, accident reconstruction and traffic enforcement training and criminal investigation training, to name a few.
Another significant impact on policing over the last twenty years has resulted from the tremendous technological changes that we have experienced. From the days of telex machines and party line telephone systems, we have advanced to an era where state of the art communications including radios, telephones, cell phones, pagers, fax machines, computer systems, the internet, etc. allow us to communicate with other agencies. Police radio equipment now allows us to communicate with all police agencies within the Province; computer systems link us locally, provincially, nationally and internationally. Information is available and exchanged unlike any other time in history. This increased knowledge and communication capability allows the police officer of the 90’s to link similar incidents and track down criminal activity far more efficiently than ever before. Just like the invention of many modern conveniences, the improvements to police communications and equipment has provided more time to concentrate policing efforts towards proactive community based policing initiatives. Partnerships between the police, the business community and the general public have developed, enhancing the way in which we, the police service, serve the community.
The compliment of today’s police service consists of fifty-seven sworn members, thirteen civilian staff including four cadets and two Special Constables to provide services to the courts. Of those sworn members, ten are female members and we have one husband and wife team. Our uniform division consists of four platoons which each includes a Staff Sergeant who is in charge of the shift and a Sergeant who provides road supervision to our patrol officers. Each platoon has a police communicator who provides dispatch and telephone response duties. Our Criminal Investigation branch consists of a Sergeant and five investigators. This unit is responsible for major criminal investigations, intelligence gathering and drug investigation. One officer attached to our Criminal Investigation Branch is assigned to our local Crime Stoppers program as its coordinator.
The Support Services component of the Service includes three officers assigned to court services; one community service officer, one crime prevention officer and one community resource officer. Their focus is education. The community service officer spends a great deal of time in the local elementary schools providing programs designed to address topics such as street and bicycle safety, stranger awareness, bullying, shoplifting, drug awareness and anti-violence. The Community Resource officer enhances the Adopt-A-School program and our beat patrol program. Like the Community Service officer, the Crime Prevention officer focuses on education and the prevention of crime. Many programs, such as Neighbourhood Watch, Variety Store Watch, Hospital Watch, Block parents, anti-shoplifting, robbery prevention, STEP – or Seniors Taking Extra Precautions, and a variety of other programs are aimed at raising public awareness to assist in preventing crime. As well, trauma counseling and victims assistance programs are available through the cooperation with various agencies within the City. Several years ago, a new program called the “Most Wanted Crusaders” program was started in our community. Its purpose is to enhance already existing community service and crime prevention programs by increasing our presence in the community and making police officers more approachable, especially to our youth. The Most Wanted Crusader program emphasizes the need for the police and the public to work together and with this program, we are asking the youth in the community to be crusaders against crime, crusaders against drugs, crusaders against theft. The support for this initiative has been overwhelming from the financial assistance provided by many local businesses to the response from the children, teens and adults in the community. This is but one example of the excellent community support the Police enjoy within this community.
Our Police Service is fortunate to have tremendous community support. Our involvement with the community in proactive efforts started many, many years ago by officers now retired like Constable Hank Davie – our first Safety officer, and Community service/Crime Prevention officer, Constable Larry Rabbitts. Expanding on the efforts of Constable Davie, Constable Rabbitts spent many years working with the schools, the businesses and the various community groups establishing many of the partnerships and many of the programs and serves we offer today.
In January 2000, in an effort to enhance and continue the positive relationships established at the elementary school level by our past and present community service officers, an Adopt – A- School program was introduced to the high schools. This program involves officers who have volunteered for the assignment to attend their “adopted” high school and to interact on an informal basis with students and staff. This non-confrontational interaction promotes positive relationships between the students, teachers, parents, and police. This program has received positive feedback from the entire school community. It is not uncommon to see police officers walking the halls of our high schools, participating in sporting events or graduation ceremonies, attending school council and parent/teacher meetings or providing lectures to classes on a variety of legal issues, drug or alcohol abuse or on policing as a profession.
The St.Thomas Police service is dedicated to meeting the ever-changing needs of the community. To that end, in the fall of 1999, a community survey was distributed to 1000 homes in St.Thomas. The purpose of the survey was to provide the general public with the opportunity to communicate their views about policing, police programs, to evaluate the community priorities and to indicate the level of satisfaction with the policing services provided by our Service. We wanted to know what is important to you – the citizens we serve. The survey demonstrated that the community overwhelmingly supports its Municipal Police Service. It also provided us with important information that assisted us in identifying and confirming the issues that concern the citizens of St.Thomas.
This information was instrumental in the development of our 2001 – 2003 Business Plan. The business plan, with established goals, objectives and performance indicators, will allow us to assess our ability to meet the ever- changing needs of our community.
We are proud of our history and will continue the tradition of providing the highest level of professional, effective and economical police services to the citizens of St.Thomas.
In 1852, the Village of St. Thomas appointed its first Constables. Since then, one police officer has been killed in the line of duty.
On Monday, May 7, 1934, Colin Clair McGregor, age 28 years, was shot while attempting to execute a warrant for the theft of a bicycle at 17 Queen Street in St. Thomas. Constable McGregor subsequently died of his injuries at Memorial Hospital, leaving behind his wife, Muriel (23 years) and two young sons, Raymond Edward and Colin Wayne.
Funeral services were held on Thursday, May 10, 1934 at 2:00 p.m. at P.R. Williams & Son funeral home and Colin McGregor was laid to rest at the St. Thomas Cemetary. It was reported that this was the largest funeral ever accorded anyone in the City. The route of the funeral was lined with hundreds for whom there was no accommodation at the funeral home and hundreds more waited at the cemetary for the service there. An honour guard of officers marched with the coffin carried by pallbearers – Constable Thomas Ryckwood, Constable Harry McCart, Constable George McIntyre of the St. Thomas Police Department and Constable Harry Noakes, Constable Rex Caverley and Constable McBride of the Ontario Provincial Police. Honourary bearers were Judge D.C. Ross, Mayor Angus W. Johnson, Police Magistrate, C.F. Maxwell and Chief of Police William M. Ketchabaw.
Chiefs of Police and officers from Chatham, Paris, Brantford, Hamilton, Tillsonburg, London, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Windsor, Sarnia, the RCMP and the OPP attended the service. Tributes were received from relatives, friends, colleagues and representatives of government, businesses and other emergency services from across the province.
Fred Temple (21 years) and his father, Frank, were arrested and charged with the murder of Colin McGregor. At their trial, the father and son were found guilty and were subsequently hanged in a double execution on June 27 in the yard of the Elgin County courthouse.
A plaque honouring our fallen hero, Constable Colin C. McGregor, adorns the front lobby of our Police Headquarters. A City street was named in his honour in 1992 and to the present day, the Colin C. McGregor Memorial Scholarship to the University of Western Ontario is awarded annually to deserving students.
LET US NEVER FORGET
Ontario Police Memorial and The Officer Down Memorial Page – Canada: www.odmp.org/canada/