An Expression of Gratitude from the Swanzey Police Department
The men and women who form the American Legion served to protect their nation on foreign soil, risking the ultimate sacrifice so that we at home can live in peace. Their generosity to the Town of Swanzey and the Swanzey Police Department once again proves their dedication to the safety of Americans everywhere, at home as well as abroad.
Thirty years ago the Chief of Police was a man named Ralph Rines. He lived on Hale Hill on a farm with his family. His wife Beulah served as department dispatcher, as there was a radio at their home. She was on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and probably did not see any pay for her efforts. It was said that when an officer was out on a call she stayed right by the radio until that officer was clear and safe again. It is hard to imagine the dedication of these two people to the Department and to the Town of Swanzey. They were always of good humor no matter who came to their door or called on the phone. Years ago, at least in Swanzey, it was an accepted practice that if one had a problem, one would go to the police officer’s home or call him his residence.
However, there were never any prisoners processed at the home; that was done at the town hall where records were kept. The chief’s office at town hall was in a small room, shared with a lieutenant, set off from a larger room used for booking purposes and other officer’s desks.
There wasn’t a very formal process in hiring officers back then. If a candidate looked honest, had a desire to work, and the Chief liked him, well, then he was handed a badge and sworn in. Early officers were not issued a weapon, uniform, cruiser or given any training and could work for about $3.00 an hour. Usually, there were about twenty-four officers on the roster.
The town was furnished with four GE, four channel radios and Plectron monitors so the officers could monitor New Hampshire State Police.
At that time NH State Police had a greater presence in town than is usual today. The department was not full time and had a much smaller population, the State Police were here much more in order to assist the local police. They usually were given the major crimes and sexual assaults because the town simply did not have the resources, training or money to handle such complicated cases.
Officers were essentially on call 24 hours a day and answered calls from their homes. The radio system mirrored the fire department numbering system. Therefore, 27 numbers belonged to East Swanzey officers, 28 numbers belonged to Center officers and 43 numbers belonged to West Swanzey officers. There were officers living in each sector of town and they were called to handle the calls that were situated in their section. In cases of accidents or calls that were more serious, officers responded for back up from other sections, often at no pay.
Eventually a Friday and Saturday night patrol was started. There were two officers in two cruisers; however, there was only one that actually got paid. It continued in this manner for years. During these patrols, at about 10:00 PM the officers would stop into one of the homes and have coffee and refreshments, then go back out on the road.
It was not necessarily a quiet time, even though the town and department were small. There was a mill in West Swanzey and a bar on North Winchester Street. That was usually good for one rowdy night a week. At that time there were groups of males that were burglarizing homes, starting fires and just running wild.
Up until the 1970 era training was minimal and officers were not required to be certified. Training amounted to the Court and State police giving some classes that they felt were important. As time went on, the State of NH made a decision to require officers to become part-time certified if they wanted to work and took steps to provide classes so that they could become part-time certified. Many officers took classes at Keene State College in human behavior as well. The classes lasted for ten weeks. All officers were expected to attend in order to continue working. Much studying was done in groups around family kitchen tables. It was a good time, as it made the officers feel better about themselves and their jobs as they realized they were at a disadvantage with the lack of training. It gave families a chance to see what was really involved with being a policeman and it brought officers closer together.
During those years, when it was time for the Cheshire Fair each year, the police department picked up its base station, and multitudes of paperwork, and actually moved to the fairgrounds for the duration of the fair. Usually a camper trailer was utilized and after the arena was built, a room was utilized there. Most officers would actually take a vacation from their regular jobs to work the fair. Some officers worked as many as 120 hours during the fair.
The Modern Era
Finally in the 1970s the town started giving an allowance for uniforms, first $25.00, then $50.00, and the officers were expected to furnish everything else. There were no cruisers provided by the town. Officers installed one of the town’s radios in their own family car and bought their own blue lights that were then installed on family cars.
The first cruiser bought by the town was in 1980, a Buick Regal. The color was a two-tone blue with Swanzey written on the side. Later, as more cruisers were provided, the way they were marked also changed.
In 1985 the American Legion provided the Town of Swanzey with a small building located current site of the department to use as the police department. It was a cute little brown building approximately 17’ x 24’ in size that had been a store at one time, then was utilized as a kindergarten. The department considered that they had really moved “uptown.” The building was remodeled a few times to meet with the growing department and new responsibilities.
There was talk at this time of forming a regional police department within Cheshire County but that was met with resistance and the plans were never formalized. Instead the police department was changed to full-time status. Our first full time chief was Brian Brown, who was authorized to hire two full-time officers and a full-time department secretary. The part-time officers were still a necessary component to make things work. We installed a computer system within a year. Things were really moving now. Within three years we had our second full time chief, Lars Ogren, as Chief Brown moved away. The department also hired additional full-time people.
The sabers started rattling now to build a new building. The first proposal was a combination Fire and Police Department to be built on land where Nanotech is now located on Old Homestead Highway. That was a million dollar plus plan, and failed to pass at town meeting, partly because of location, money and the fact that some people felt that Fire and Police shouldn’t be together. Not long after the defeat we moved into a doublewide trailer that the Town of Swanzey had acquired through non-payment of taxes. That too was remodeled to accommodate our growing department.
In 1996 we hired our third full-time chief, Eric Sargent. He, too, proposed that we were much in need of a new police station as the trailer was not large enough, nor was it safe for us or the neighborhood. The first proposal was to remodel Whitcomb Hall in West Swanzey. That failed to pass at town meeting for a variety of reason, amongst them were the cost and the fact that it was not centrally located.
The next year a new proposal was brought forward for a building to be built on the site that we now occupied. That, too, failed. A group of residents had gotten together and proposed another less expensive plan for Whitcomb Hall for presentation. That plan also failed.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” When town meeting rolled around again, still another proposal was presented for a new building to be built on the site that is currently our home. This time the presentation was successful. At the end of the town meeting, local businessman and resident, Jim Hamlin got up and proposed that his company would be willing to do work for cost and proposed that it would be good if others could follow suit. And that is just what happened. There was an outpouring of support for the department and it was able to build the new building for much less than it would have cost otherwise.
Currently, the department has been in its new building since 2000. It is safe for the staff and safe for the neighborhood. Swanzey Emergency Management has an office in the building and it is also the location of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), where training and drills are conducted. The training room/community room is also used by various service organizations in town for their meetings.
From August 2002 to December 31, 2011, Chief Richard V.C. Busick headed the department. His years of training and experiencee at a large, nationally accredited police department had allowed him to implement ideas to move the department forward in helping us serve the community better. Chief Busick retired after serving over 35 years as a law enforcement officer.
On January 1, 2012, twenty-year Swanzey Police veteran, Thomas R. DeAngelis was promoted to Police Chief.
The department continues to grow and evolve, and is a highly recognized law enforcement agency. We are fortunate to have an excellent and motivated staff who take pride in serving their community. Hopefully, the community will also become more involved with the department: A more informed community is a safer community.