1901  H. Allen Sheldon is paid $10.00 to move the lock-up building across the street to the town hall lot. In addition, the town pays $1.50 to the William Read & Sons Co. for billy clubs.

1903  The town purchases Chief Swain a coat and helmet for $12.00. This is the first recorded indication that the chief of police is wearing a uniform.

1904  The public is able to “call the police” for the first time after townspeople vote to have a telephone placed in the police chief’s home.

1908  The town buys an “automatic pistol” from the Iver Johnson Co. to be used by its police officers. The term “automatic pistol” used in the annual town report is a misnomer, as the Iver Johnson Co. did not make an automatic (aka semi-automatic) pistol in 1908. The name probably refers to a break-top revolver that automatically ejected spent shells when opened. The Iver Johnson Co. referred to these revolvers as “Safety Automatics”.

1912  Chief William E. Swain resigns to become chief of police in the neighboring town of Reading. Walter A. Hill appointed as the town’s fourth police chief. He would serve as chief until his death in 1932. Also, the town pays $27.50 for uniforms, buttons, caps, badges and uniform repair. This is the first recorded indication that Wilmington’s special police officers are wearing uniforms. Previous to this date, special officers probably wore plain clothes, carrying only a badge to identify themselves. In previous years, it was neither fiscally responsible nor financially possible to outfit officers that might perform police duties only one or two days out of the year.

1914  This year marks the first time that police expenses exceed $1000.00, topping out at $1047.68. In addition, Chief Hill submits the first written report of police activities to appear in the town’s annual report. Among other things the report indicates there were twenty-two people arrested for twelve different crimes ranging from assault and battery to working on the Lord’s Day.

1915  First recorded arrest for violation of new automobile laws.

1916  First indication of the use of an automobile for police duty. Annual report shows that $39.50 was paid for “auto hire”. This amount continues to increase and be paid for in many subsequent years indicating a definite need for a “police patrol car”.

1917  The town pays $13.50 for traffic signals for the intersection of Main and Church Streets.

1918  Automobile violation arrests increase to six and $16.82 is expended from police budget to maintain and repair traffic signals around town.

1919  Police erect traffic signs about town for a cost of $5.00. Entire police budget exceeds $2000.00 for the first time.

1920  Wilmington’s first recorded drunk driving arrest is among the twenty-nine traffic related arrests for the year.

1921  Albert Butters is listed in the annual town report as Sergeant of Police. This appears to have been a temporary position, as reference to the rank was not made again until 1938 when a permanent rank of sergeant is created.

1922  Former Chief William E. Swain dies. The town adopts the Rules and Regulations for the Government of the Police Department in May of this year. This twelve-page document describes in detail the duties of the chief and special police officers. It describes how the department will function and provide police services and gives the Board of Selectmen the power to “govern and control the department in its business and affairs”. Also in this document, reference is made to holding prisoners in “the police cells at the firehouse” indicating that the town’s original lock-up building was no longer in use. In addition, five motorcycle officers from the new, uniformed State Constabulary (the Massachusetts State Police) are quartered at the out-of-use West District School. The sub-station is equipped with a radio and telephone and the officers are assigned to patrol the area’s rural state roads.

1925  Throughout the Prohibition era, “liquor raids” are common across most of the country. Wilmington’s rural setting yet proximity to Boston make it an ideal place for illegal liquor production. Chief Hill and special officers along with State Constabulary officers and federal prohibition agents conduct a number of these raids. One of the largest hauls in the area occurred this year when 4500 gallons of “moonshine” was seized from a home on Parker Street. In addition, this year saw the first annual Wilmington Policemen’s Ball is held at the Grange Hall.

1927  Soon after the highway garage is built on Adelaide St. the police lock-up is moved once again. Two portable cells made of flat iron bars bolted together are placed in one of the garage bays and a police officer remains on duty there when prisoners are being held.

1930  The town appoints it first regular police officers, Albert Butters and Harold Lock. The department roster now consists of three full timers (a chief and two officers) and twenty special police officers. In addition, the town begins to rent office space in the Wilmington News building on Main St. in the center of town. Local headlines read: “Police Department Establishes New Headquarters In Center” and “Police Remodel Old Ames Block To Make Place For Modern Police Station -To Have All Night Duty- New Police Car Purchased”. Although the cells are still located at the highway garage, the police department now has office space to take calls and conduct business. Also, the town purchased a 1930 Ford Tudor Sedan, its first police cruiser. It was decorated with the letters WPD and was equipped with a spotlight and siren.

1932  Chief Walter A. Hill dies while in office and Harry J. Ainsworth is appointed Wilmington’s fifth police chief, serving as such until 1947. In his first annual report, he describes the new police station and the improvements that have been made to it. He mentions specifically the ceiling being whitened, the walls and floors being painted, the addition of a waist-high business counter, the addition of a sink and toilet, and the donations of a roll-top desk and typewriter. However, the most important addition was the placing of two portable cells in the rear of the quarters with iron gratings over the windows. This eliminated the need for a second officer to be on duty at the highway garage when prisoners were being held. Chief Ainsworth concluded his report by writing: “With the renovation of the police station at such a low cost, the appearance of the station has increased a hundred fold, and brings to all persons entering, an air of dignity”.

1933  Prohibition is repealed and soon “gin joints” begin springing up around town. By the late 1930s police are regularly called to places with names like the “Ritz”, the “Black Kat”, “Phyll’s Cafe, “Jack’s”, “Huntley’s”, “Madeline’s”, “Ann’s Duck Farm”, and the “Rainbow”. Barroom brawls, after hours drinking, public drunkenness, illegal liquor sales, liquor theft, dancing, gambling, and noise complaints keep the department busy. Special officers are often called on duty to assist the lone regular officer working overnight.

1934  An additional regular officer is added to the department roster and, in the words of Chief Ainsworth; “It has enabled me to inaugurate a patrol system to police the outlying districts of the town during the late night hours and also for checking up on stores and places of business in all sections of town”. Another major change and improvement in the police department was the introduction of ambulance service. The ambulance, a 1934 Lincoln Sedan, was purchased at a very reasonable price from a Mr. Edgerley of Reading. The surplus balance from the purchase donations was used to start an ambulance fund at the Mechanics Bank. This revolving fund would pay for the upkeep and operating costs of the ambulance. Although under the control of the police department, the ambulance was garaged at the firehouse on Church St. Also this year, the department experienced a place in the national spotlight with the “Kelley Hill Murder”. This gangland-style slaying was finally closed two years later when Chief Ainsworth traveled to Wisconsin and brought back the third and final perpetrator to stand trial.

1935  Wilmington’s new patrol car is equipped with a radio to receive calls. Information was telephoned to the State Police barracks in North Reading whom in turn teletyped a message to the State Police headquarters in Framingham who would broadcast a message to Wilmington’s patrol car. Tedious and time consuming by today’s standards, this was considered a breakthrough in communications in 1935. This year also saw the establishment of a Red Cross First Aid Station at the police station and the building of a pistol range in the basement of the town hall.

1936  The Wilmington Police station is equipped with a radio, enabling direct communication with the State Police headquarters in Framingham. In addition, officers are equipped with new firearms, Smith & Wesson, Military Model .38 caliber revolvers.  Also this year, the department’s ambulance and personnel are dispatched to assist those injured and displaced by the “Lowell Flood”.

1938  Police vacate their rented Main St. office and begin using space at the east end of the highway department garage on Adelaide St. as a police station. In addition, Officer Talbot Sidelinker is promoted to sergeant becoming the department’s first permanent ranking officer other than the chief. Also this year a devastating hurricane rips through town. All regular officers and special officers are called to duty as dozens of trees, telephone poles, and electric wires are downed and many homes and businesses are damaged. Police log entry describes, what was actually a hurricane, as the “Worst Wind Storm in the History of Wilmington”.
1939  After chasing down and capturing an armed robber, who held up the Mechanics Savings Bank for the second time, Officer Francis Hoban is awarded a Medal of Valor from the Board of Selectmen. In addition, he is given a medal from the American Legion, cash rewards from the bank and town, and personal congratulations from Middlesex County D.A. Robert Bradford.

1940  The Acme Cement and Lumber building adjacent to McIntosh’s hardware store on Church St. is rented and converted into a police station. The building provides both office space and a garage bay for the department’s ambulance. The clapboard building was painted white and a lighted, blue police globe was hung above the front door. Sgt. Sidelinker invents and patents a leather holster that allows a shotgun to be carried in the police cruiser. According to local reporter Richard F. Davis, the zippered leather case “…which allows speedy grasping of the weapon while driving with one hand has aroused the interest of a number of other departments”. In addition, Officer Francis Hoban is promoted to Deputy Chief. The department complement now consists of a chief, a deputy chief, a sergeant, two patrolmen, and twenty special officers subject to call.

1941  The department’s original ambulance is stripped of equipment and taken out of service. A new 1941 Cadillac ambulance is put into service. This purpose built vehicle is one of the most advanced and best equipped of any area police or fire department. This year also sees the position of police chief placed under civil service classification.

1942  In the first full year of U.S. involvement in the W.W.II, Chief Ainsworth forms an auxiliary police force consisting of forty men to aid in the defense of the town. The police department provided badges and nightsticks and the officers purchased their own uniforms. They were given weekly instructions and training by the chief and were used extensively, patrolling various parts of the town, enforcing dim-out and blackout regulations at night, and acting as air raid wardens. Also, this year the ambulance and police personnel were dispatched to Boston to aid in the Coconut Grove fire disaster. Ironically, four Fitzgerald brothers from Wilmington and Wilmington schoolteacher Mildred Rogers were among the 492 who perished in the blaze. In addition, the town adopts a pay scale and work schedule for the department’s officers. The deputy chief and sergeant being paid $38.00 per week and the regular patrolmen being paid $36.00 per week, with all officers working a 48 hour week, having one day off in seven. The police department also begins to register bicycles in the town. License plates, made at the state prison, along with certificates of registration are issued by the police department for twenty-five cents.

1943  Due to regulars and specials being called to service in the war, Chief Ainsworth appoints all auxiliary officers as special police officers so they could perform the duties of regular police officers, if needed. In addition, Myrtle Shaw and Viola Staveley are appointed as the department’s first police matrons. Also this year, the state police update their radio system and change their broadcast frequency rendering the cruiser radio obsolete and unusable. Due to shortages and wartime restrictions, a new radio was not acquired until the following year.

1944  A new radio is installed in Wilmington’s police cruiser and calls are relayed through the Reading Police Department’s radio system.

1947  Chief Harry J. Ainsworth resigns to become the chief probation officer at the Fourth District Court in Woburn. However, he continues to serve as town constable until 1959. Deputy Chief Hoban becomes acting chief and heads the department until the late fall of 1948. Also this year, large parts of New England, including Wilmington, are scorched by out of control forest fires. The entire police force, consisting of twenty-four officers (regulars and specials), is called to duty. Officers worked around the clock and assisted firefighters, provided traffic control, helped evacuate residents, manned the ambulance, manned the fire station, and patrolled the town looking for fire outbreaks.

1948  Paul J. Lynch is appointed as Wilmington’s sixth police chief and serves as such until 1979.


NEXT: 1951-2000