Museum preserves police history Retired officer serves as volunteer curator of Balto. County site

August 26, 1998|By Jamie Smith | Jamie Smith,SUN STAFF

Bob Deale knows more about the Baltimore County Police Department than just about anyone -- and he's trying to bring the rest of the community up to speed.

The retired officer volunteers as curator of the Police Department's 2-month-old museum, which showcases 124 years of county crime-fighting facts and memorabilia. Most of it he collected, and he thinks it's worth a look -- even from those who have never worn a badge.

Inside the museum, in the Public Safety Building at 700 E. Joppa Road in Towson, old uniforms, photographs, pistols and parking tickets are on display.

Trivia abounds, from the year the first station was built to the former occupations of the first police officers.

And in one corner of the room, a traffic light that was among the first installed on York Road blinks green, yellow and red.

Deale, who retired in 1995 after more than 31 years on the force DTC and spends several hours a month at the museum, calls it his labor of love: a decade of suggesting a museum be opened, four years researching the history for a master's degree and a year putting the collection together.

Now, as he stands in the museum and looks at the result of that work, he smiles.

"It was worth the wait," Deale, 54, says.

Chief Terrence B. Sheridan agrees. "I just thought the museum was an excellent way of showing off the place," he says. "Law enforcement has come a long way in a mere 100 or so years."

Deale traced this history in the 1980s as a University of Maryland, Baltimore County graduate student. While working on his thesis for a degree in history, he pored over old newspapers, looked for books on law enforcement and relied on word of mouth.

His results fill the museum. Among the nuggets: When the department hired its first officers -- June 17, 1874 -- none had crime-fighting experience. Former careers ranged from blacksmith to farmer. Each officer patrolled 2 square miles of territory in 12-hour shifts and was paid $2 a day -- which, Deale is quick to point out, was pretty good money then.

Those early years in county law enforcement are recounted on one museum wall, decorated with photographs of horse-drawn wagons used for patrol, old police buildings and officers.

In one corner, standing at attention by the museum doors, is a mannequin wearing a reproduction of the first county police uniform -- complete with a stiff, plug-style hat reminiscent of the sort worn by British police. Other displays bring the history up to date.

Because the museum has no tour guide and visitors can choose whether to sign the guest book, no one knows how many have stopped by since its opening June 25 . Of the more than 100 people who put their names in the book, some appear to be interested civilians, but most identified themselves as county Police Department employees.

Deale thinks the museum -- paid for with more than $17,000 in donations and arranged by a group of volunteers -- offers something beyond nightsticks and pens that shoot tear gas. He believes it conveys the timelessness of law enforcement -- the lack of cars, radios and bulletproof vests in 1874 notwithstanding.

"Police work in general has changed to a degree, but it hasn't really changed," says Deale. "We've got a lot of modern technology, but you still have to go out and deal with people, day in and day out."

Police request that people call 410-887-5506 before visiting the museum. To make a donation, call 410-887-2278.

Pub Date: 8/26/98

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