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History

Providence 1925

"There shall be a department of State Police consisting of a Superintendent, who shall receive an annual salary of five thousand dollars; a Captain who shall receive an annual salary to be fixed by the Superintendent, of not less than twenty-five hundred dollars and no more than twenty eight hundred-dollars; a Lieutenant, who shall receive an annual salary to be fixed by the Superintendent, of not less than two thousand dollars nor more than twenty-three hundred dollars; and not exceeding twenty-one other members who shall receive two hundred dollars to be fixed by the Superintendent within the amount appropriated therefore; and the sum of forty eight thousand eight hundred dollars is hereby annually appropriated for the payment of such salaries. Upon the passage of this Act the Governor shall forthwith appoint a Superintendent to hold the office until the first day of February, A.D. 1930..."

These statutory words gave birth to the Rhode Island State Police. The General Assembly had thus authored chapter 588 of the Acts and Resolves on April 2, 1925. It was historic legislation. For the first time this state would have a highly organized, uniformed statewide law enforcement agency.

There seems little question that the structure of the department was modeled basically on the Pennsylvania State Police. The legislative intent was to create a highly disciplined, mobile police organization. The force was designed to deal with new and rapidly expanding enforcement problems, especially those compounded by the automobile.

The founding statute was unique in several ways. A particular feature was the precise manner in which authority and accountability were placed in the office of the Superintendent. One is hard pressed to identify another state which authorized the comprehensive administrative authority as that accorded the Superintendent. The General Assembly clearly decided to focus responsibility for the success or failure of the new enforcement concept in that one office. Moreover, the Superintendent, then as now reported directly to the office of the Governor. Such an administrative channel is found in only a few State Police organizations. The direct line of reporting that the General Assembly specified between the Governor and the Superintendent identified precisely both the authority and the responsibility for the administration of the Department.

The enabling statute authorized the Superintendent to appoint the other members of the Department. The enlistment of new members was for three years. A uniformed officer could be removed after a hearing, in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Department. Once a member of the force was so removed he was ineligible for reappointment. The Superintendent was further authorized to appoint men between the ages of twenty-one and forty-five. The legislation required those enlisting to be citizens of the United States and have the ability to pass physical and mental examinations in accordance with Departmental rules. The Assembly paid particular attention to the enforcement authority vested in the new organization. Members were authorized to exercise any part of the state all the powers of Sheriffs, Deputy Sheriffs, Town Sergeants, Chiefs of Police, Police officers and Constables. Importantly, they were prohibited from keeping any fees received in connection with the performance of their duty.

The founding act also dealt with the probable use of the State Police in civil disturbances. Earlier examination of other agencies identified some rather severe restrictions in the use of those forces in riot situations, especially labor disputes. The General Assembly addressed this issue but did not impose the severe constraints found elsewhere: "The Governor may command their services in the suppression of riots, but they shall not exercise their powers within the limits of any city to suppress rioting except by direction of the Governor and upon the request of the mayor or Chief of Police of any city." The foregoing statutory authority has been exercised many times in appropriate circumstances requiring a State Police presence.

The 1925 statute also authorized the Superintendent to establish headquarters and substations in such localities as deemed most suitable for the protection of the rural and suburban areas of the state. He was authorized to acquire the necessary motor vehicles, and other suitable equipment and supplies. He could sell equipment which became unfit for use, returning the monies to the General Treasurer. Strict adherence to precise fiscal policies is a specific charge found throughout the original founding statute.

Provisions of the new law also provided protection for State Police officers in the event of death or injury suffered in the line of duty. Another feature directed local police departments to make available to the State Police the jail lock up, or other place of detention during all reasonable hours for the holding of prisoners. A local official was liable to a fine for refusing such services to members of the Department.

The first annual appropriation was fixed as follows: $6,000 for the purpose of suitable equipment, $20,000 for operating expenses, maintenance and supplies, and additional authorization for future annual appropriations for the purchase of suitable equipment, operating utensils, maintenance and supplies as deemed necessary. To effectuate immediately the provisions of the Act during the year ending November 30, 1925, the General Assembly appropriated a total of $60,500. Of that amount, $32,500 was for salaries, and $14,500 for the purchase of suitable equipment, with $13,500 for operating expenses, maintenance and supplies.

The Act became effective immediately upon its passage. That action therefore identifies April 2, 1925 as the precise date of the founding of the Rhode Island State Police. The legislation further authorized the immediate appointment of the first Superintendent. That followed swiftly. One week later, on April 9th, 1925, Governor Aram J. Pothier of Woonsocket nominated Everitte St. John Chaffee of Providence to be Superintendent for the term ending January 31, 1930. The Senate confirmed the appointment. The first Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police took his oath of office and began his enormous task. As will be seen subsequent, it was a wise choice, one that would have important impact on the organization and development of the new force.

It is clear that military experience played an important role in the original organization of the nation's State Police forces. As observed earlier, Pennsylvania relied heavily on the field concepts utilized historically by the military. The combination of military organization concepts, together with former military men as the first enlistees, provided strong organizational structure and personnel discipline in the development of the State Police forces in this country.

Colonel Chaffee's selection was undoubtedly influenced by his command experience. The leadership he had demonstrated during military service would be requisite to the formation of a new and elite police agency. In selecting the first members of the Department, he would apply severe criteria to ensure that the most qualified were selected. The highly competitive enlistment process was absolutely necessary. These men would bear substantial responsibility for carrying out a totally new concept of law enforcement in Rhode Island. The enormity of the responsibility has been obscured by the passage of time. There were no precedents to follow. The people of Rhode Island had never laid eyes on a uniformed State Police officer enforcing the law in their state. It was a totally new concept of law enforcement, one that was to be severely tested on frequent occasions during the early formative years.

The foregoing idea is an important one not easily grasped. It is always a bit sad, in any organization, to hear contemporary members talk with something less than admiration about the men and women who served in the ranks in years past. The fact is that the current opportunity to follow a police career was made certain by the performance of those who served during difficult times, under trying personal conditions. It is difficult now to capture the picture of the first uniformed troopers making their appearance in the rural area of the state. There were no policy precedents to follow. There was no record upon which they could begin their service. They represented a new and untested concept for enforcing the criminal statutes throughout the length and breadth of this state. No one had gone before. They were the first. Their performance would determine the public value of the state police idea.

Such was the enormity of the challenge which confronted Everitte St. John Chaffee. Immediately after being sworn in as Colonel, he asked for a meeting with Governor Pothier at the Governor's home. The Colonel presented proposed regulations for the administration of the Department. Governor Pothier approved. Colonel Chaffee moved rapidly into action.

Benefit Street 1925

State Police headquarters opened on April 14, 1925 in the Marine Corps Armory on Benefit Street in Providence. Although the Superintendent was authorized to have an office in the State House, his military experience probably led him to establish a field headquarters elsewhere. During the next several weeks Colonel Chaffee visited other State Police departments. He inquired extensively concerning the kind of mobile and personal equipment which would best suit the purposes of the new force. A special effort was made to use equipment manufactured in this state. The original badges, collar ornaments and other such items were produced by native jewelry makers. Motorcycles would be an important factor in the mobility of the new troopers. Thus the famous Police Indian, manufactured in Springfield, Massachusetts, became part of the early history of the Department. For firearms, the Colt 45 was selected. This choice was probably influenced by the military career of the first Superintendent as well as the strong Rhode Island ties to the Colt family.

Every effort was made to enlist qualified applicants. The General Assembly had authorized an original complement of twenty-three. A selection board composed of five former army officers was organized. Instructions for applying were carried in the major newspapers of the state. Applicants were instructed to report by the counties in which they lived, beginning on April 20th. The men were warned that the mental and physical examinations would be stringent. Again, military influence was observed when it was made clear that the physical examination would be the same as that given to officers of the United States Army. Each aspiring trooper was required to present certificates from three citizens as to his fitness and qualifications for State Police responsibilities. Applicants were placed on notice that the amount of power and influence they might have would be of no interest to, nor have any effect on members of the Selection Board. This point was further emphasized when the newspaper advertisement specified that the Department would do without enlisting the original members until qualified applicants were identified.

Approximately six hundred aspirants applied for the twenty-three positions. Unbelievable as it may seem, screening procedures eliminated all but thirty whom were deemed qualified, and placed on the eligible list for appointment. From that highly selective group, twenty-three were appointed.

Early in May the recruit training program got under way in the Benefit Street Armory in Providence. All of the eager appointees had seen service in the Armed Forces. Some had left good jobs to embark on a new and untried adventure as state law enforcement officers. Then as now, the question was asked as to why one chose a career in law enforcement. Opportunities for greater compensation and shorter hours beckoned elsewhere. There has always been something more, however, which has motivated highly qualified individuals to seek such service. Whether perceived as a personal challenge or the fulfillment of personal ambition, the result has always been characterized by a sense of pride in the organization. The reward has been the satisfaction felt by those who have had the opportunity for public service in the State Police.

Training began in earnest on May 11, 1925. By that time, revolvers, riot guns, automobiles and motorcycles had been delivered. The first class of State Police recruits would undergo comprehensive training. Firing practice on the range was conducted each day. Horses were used during training, both with and without saddles. The recruits were required to complete courses in automobile mechanics. It was a reminder that each officer would soon be servicing and repairing his own motor equipment. Classroom instruction was emphasized. Long sessions were held to make certain that all understood the statutes they would soon be called upon to enforce. The famous Harvard Law School "case system" was used to impart critical elements of the criminal law. Courtroom presentations sharpened requisite skills required of each of the new members.

Wakefield 1925

Following one month of training in the Armory, the entire recruit class and its instructors traveled to a new location in South Kingstown. Further training began there on Friday, June 12, 1925. The facility was a private residence. Rustic and meticulously groomed, it was, in fact, the Chaffee summer home. A large house, stables, a garage and twenty acres of land provided an excellent training site; unique and unexpected, but welcome! All aspects of enforcement situations were simulated. These responsibilities would soon be faced in actual situations by the fledging officers. The staff and recruits settled into their new quarters, living, working and eating together. Thus barracks life early became a tradition of State Police service in Rhode Island.

Within hours after setting up the training encampment in South County, the Department lost its first member in the line of duty. On June 17th, 1925, Trooper Weber, one of the recruits, was killed instantly on a motorcycle on the Post Road. Weber, a World War I Navy veteran, had in a short time gained the respect of his fellow recruits and the academy staff. His funeral in Newport was attended by the entire complement.

A distinguishing feature of today's police training programs is the deployment of recruits while still engaged in a training academy program. The idea is to provide the opportunity for field experience while the recruit is still undergoing basic training in the enforcement sciences and related responsibilities. Ideally, seasoned officers observe the recruit in these actual enforcement situations. This observation then allows for increased training in areas where the recruit officer appears to need further education and refinement. In other words, the police trainee is exposed to both classroom instruction and actual enforcement duties before being certified for graduation from the training academy. This new approach undoubtedly has substantial merit. It is also widely used in the educational programs of many leading universities.

motorcycle patrols

The Rhode Island State Police utilized this procedure from the beginning. For example, On June 27, 1925, the first motorcycle patrols were dispatched to several areas of the state. In addition, patrols were established on Aquidneck Island as early as August. The latter were coordinated from a temporary Barracks in Portsmouth. The Portsmouth location would later become the site of a permanent installation from which enforcement activities would be directed throughout Newport County. After the field experience the recruits returned to training for further development of requisite skills.

On August 6, 1925, the first class successfully completed all required training courses. A suitable ceremony was conducted, attended, no doubt, by both State and local dignitaries. Superintendent Chaffee congratulated each of his new men. He also warned them that they faced a totally new enforcement responsibility.

The men had been issued their first official equipment. It was the best available. Most of it was manufactured in Rhode Island. In addition to their regular uniforms, the troopers were issued the following: a slicker, sheep skin coat, leather belt with shoulder strap, and related personal items. Each officer was also issued a Colt 45 revolver with a leather holster and supply of ammunition. Additionally, a riot stick, handcuffs, and flashlight were issued to each man. Two Winchester twelve gauge shotguns and ammunition were assigned to each of the designated patrol commanders.

Motor equipment would be critical to enforcement mobility. That was ensured by the acquisition of the following: one Marmon Touring Car, one Chrysler Roadster, one Buick Roadster, three Ford Touring Cars, and four Ford Runabouts. The trusty motorcycle remained the centerpiece of that first rolling stock. Ten bikes completed the motor equipment as the statewide force began its first field operation in earnest.

Colonel Chaffee was particularly proud to note that Rhode Island products were used whenever possible. As the new troopers donned uniforms for the first time they were indeed wearing home grown products. All of the cloth for their uniforms and shirts was made in Rhode Island mills. Uniform caps, belts and other uniform parts were also manufactured within the state. The Superintendent took special care to make certain that deductions were made from the salaries of each officer to meet the cost of personal equipment and uniforms.

Temporary substations were quickly established. One was opened on August 17th on Block Island and another in Arnolds Mills on September 18th. These were temporary sites designed as a response to enforcement needs during the first vacation season. The force was deployed to achieve maximum coverage in spite of its extremely limited personnel strength. It seems incredible to think now that a state force numbering twenty-three could have had any effect at all. The mere presence of troopers, however, had a strong psychological impact on potential law-breakers. The public perception of the Department's capability for swift and even-handed enforcement served to deter criminal acts. Those first troopers went into the field and established respect for the new force.

Headquarters

By the close of 1925 the Department was well established. Headquarters was located in North Scituate. Superintendent Chaffee, one captain, and one lieutenant were stationed there. The Northern Patrol, consisting of one sergeant and nine troopers, also worked out of Headquarters. The South County Patrol was quartered at the Wickford Barracks. This enforcement unit consisted of one sergeant and five troopers. There was also Island Patrol. Located in Portsmouth, it was staffed by one sergeant, one corporal and three troopers. These were the basic assignments during the early months in the field. There were, however, frequent transfers among the several barracks as troopers were shifted in accordance with enforcement problems.

As noted, the new force had used training techniques which today are presented as innovative ideas. Unique traffic enforcement procedures were also utilized. One of the techniques was used on a thirteen-mile stretch of highway in the Hope Valley area. On one end, a trooper would carefully identify a speeding vehicle, noting precisely the time the automobile had passed his enforcement station. The officer would then telephone another trooper located on the other end of the thirteen-mile stretch. The latter officer would then determine how much time had elapsed while the unsuspecting motorist had covered the distance. A rapid calculation told the trooper whether or not the driver had violated the state speed laws. Thirty years later police administrators would proclaim a "new" concept for enforcing speed laws on major highways. In actuality, radar and similar scientific devices are, in fact, a copy of traffic enforcement techniques used by the State Police during the first year of their existence.

The force had carried out its first gambling raid while the men were still in training. On July 25th, in three sections of the state, suspected gambling establishments were hit. The raids failed. The entire operation had been tipped off. Reports were received that the raids were discussed in downtown Providence hours before they took place. The State Police thus learned a lesson they would never forget. Like the prohibition raid in Burrillville forty years before, these operations had to be executed with secrecy and swift action.

The lesson thus learned served well several weeks later. In close cooperation with the Attorney General, another raid was planned and carried out from the Wakefield barracks. Colonel Chaffee gave this eyewitness account, "a speed wagon" so called, had been requisitioned for some time from the Providence Country Day School. At our Wakefield stable it was provided with plates from our neighbor Mr. Sherman. The trooper driving wore truck driver's clothes. The front and rear of the load of potatoes were concealed by sacking, and contained a Lieutenant and 10 troopers. They were in uniform, armed with sledge hammers and axes. This 1925 reproduction of the Trojan Horse went through the walls, out the back way by Mr. Sherman's and on up the road through the cities unheralded and unsuspected."

The raiding parties arrived at the Meadowbrook Country Club in Marieville. The men moved quickly to appointed positions. Once there, they hammered on the doors demanding admission. The sound of scrambling footsteps moved the raiders into action. Doors and windows were smashed to gain entrance. The raid was a complete success. The owner, employees, and 60 others were arrested and charged with specific violations of the gambling statutes. With traditional courtesy, the State Police used the "speed wagon" to transport their prisoners to the lock-up.

Block Island 1925

From the beginning, prohibition presented all types of enforcement problems. Late in the Summer of 1925, an "Off Islander" had opened an illicit liquor operation on Block Island. He dubbed the place the "Red Cock Inn". This threatened another illegal establishment bearing the romantic title "Yellow Kittens". The latter group resented the new operation on its turf. The Yellow Kittens conducted a raid of their own, wrecking the Red Cock Inn and ordering the owner off Block Island. He complied right away.

The incident was not unlike those on the western frontier described earlier. The difference, though, was the growing capability of the State Police. Even though the rolling Atlantic provided a difficult hazard, the force moved swiftly into action. What followed is best described by a news account which appeared in the Providence Journal: "The Rhode Island Mounted Police yesterday captured Block Island and made it for the first time since the enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment a part of the United States". The story failed to note that the "noble experiment" had become effective on January 16, 1920 without ratification by this state. The account continued: "A lone State Trooper guarding the erstwhile popular refreshment inn, the 'Yellow Kittens,' today constitutes the whole American Army of Occupation in sea-girt New Shoreham, which for these past five years has been virtually independent of the much discussed 'Law of the land.' Three State Patrolmen in the charge of one Officer arrived on the Island and went directly to the 'Yellow Kittens,' and that one hour later the Officer and two Troopers whisked their prisoners and a load of choice liquors aboard a Steamer May Archer bound for Newport." The writer, with tongue in cheek, concluded, "A Rhode Island Trooper clothed with state authority stands guard over the 'Yellow Kittens,' and in effect, over all New Shoreham. It begins to appear that Block Island is coming back into the Union".

These enforcement activities, and many more like them, early proved the value of a statewide law enforcement agency. The ability to strike against law breakers whenever and wherever they operated gained instant public support for the new force. Even-handed enforcement, then as now, was supported by the people who benefited from it. Public support erodes when there is a popular perception that laws are being employed selectively, and only in rare cases against those of influence and power. A continuing strength of the state force has been its willingness to confront criminals and crimes when enforcement action was required, no matter the source or dimension of the problem.

Colonel Chaffee summarized the year's activities in the first Annual Report to the General Assembly. His words give insight into the philosophy and attitude which provided the requisite strength during the early critical days and weeks when the idea of the State Police Force was being tested here: "Every acknowledgment should be made of the hard work and devotion to duty on the part of these officers and men. No Superintendent could ask for more. No hours have been too long. No road too rough and no job too tough". Further demonstrating his obvious pride in the new force, he concluded: "It should be reported that growing demands on the Department have often taxed it to be no limit. It is the history of the State Police that more and more is required of them until increased numbers follow of necessity. It is believed, however, that a small, highly efficient Department which works at capacity should be the aim of the State of Rhode Island". The concept of a relatively small, highly disciplined force has proven its merit again and again. It has justified continuing popular support for an elite cadre of law enforcement professionals.

The events of 1925 make it clear that a number of people figured importantly in the founding of the State Police. There is always, however, one individual who stands at the center of the action. He or she is the one without whom things would have been much more difficult. Moreover, it is the personality of that leader which leaves a lasting impression upon the organization.

Everitte St. John Chaffee Everitte St. John Chaffee was that person during the formative years of the Rhode Island State Police. The appointment of Colonel Chaffee as first Superintendent was not popular. The General Assembly resisted pressures to name other candidates. Its action deserves lasting credit. The members of the 1925 Legislature enacted a long statute. They confirmed a strong leader. The founding act placed substantial authority in the Superintendent's position. The Assembly obviously had decided to focus responsibility in the one individual chosen to introduce a new and yet untested enforcement idea.

There is a time for each man. It is, historically, the fleeting moment when personal biography intersects with the development or forward movement of an idea. The man was Everitte St. John Chaffee. The idea was that one of a statewide enforcement organization. The historical intersection of the man and the idea was April 9, 1925. The event was the naming of Colonel Chaffee as Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police by Governor Aram J. Pothier.

Governor Pothier was a seasoned public administrator. He had earlier served his state as Chief Executive from 1909 to 1915. He had confidence in Colonel Chaffee. It was not misplaced. He believed in the State Police. They did not disappoint him. His interest and support never wavered. He provided crucial executive leadership until his death in office on February 4, 1928.

Looking back with the clarity that the years provide, the choice of Colonel Chaffee seems natural, almost inevitable. Born in Duchess County, New York, he graduated from Yale, and Harvard Law School. He came to Rhode Island in 1904, settling in Providence. He married a Rhode Islander, Carolyn L. Peck, in 1911.

As a commissioned officer he commanded the Rhode Island Battery in 1916 on the Mexican Border. The outfit, expanded to a battalion, went overseas during World War I. As part of the famed 26th "Yankee" Division, the unit was cited for its action just north of Chateau Thierry in July, 1918. Its commander received a field promotion to Colonel. From that point on, throughout a long and productive life of public service, it was "Colonel" Chaffee.

Leadership qualities had been tempered under great stress. Personal discipline had earned the praise of superiors and the loyalty of subordinates. In retrospect, the post of Superintendent of State Police could not have gone to anyone else.

The men had been few in number. Their challenges were substantial-especially in the first weeks and months of an untested idea. Colonel Chaffee, in an account of his tenure, had called them the "Amateurs". Their public record, however, certifies that, in reality, they were Professionals.