Westminster police history going online Memorabilia recalls time when constable kept order

December 23, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

William Grumbine, the first borough constable of Westminster, earned 33 1/2 cents for every arrest he made, but only after he was required to post a $100 bond with the city before his appointment in 1839.

In Grumbine's day, town ordinances made it illegal to disturb the peace by shouting, maliciously ringing doorbells or throwing stones against any door, fence or gate. Lawbreakers were fined $1 to $5 for such shenanigans.

An updated version of such historical tidbits about Westminster Police Department will soon be available on the city's Web page.

The initial version that went online about three years ago was published in a booklet in 1988, the year Westminster celebrated its 150th birthday.

Much of the research -- old and new -- was done by Capt. Roger Joneckis and Cpl. Michael Bible, of Westminster Police Department.

A review of the revised version, which is expected online next month, is a delightful blend of facts and observations.

Serious crimes, such as "to knowingly suffer drinking, gambling or unlawful sports on the Sabbath" brought fines of $10 to $15.

Speeding -- of the "one- and two-horsepower kind" apparently was a town problem in 1839, when the speed ordinance read: "No person shall run or drive through the town of Westminster at an 'improper gait,' except in case of necessity."

Joneckis, a town police officer for 24 years, began collecting historical data in 1981 with the encouragement of Sam Leppo, who was appointed chief of police in 1976. Leppo joined the Westminster force in 1967.

Joneckis pored over old City Council minutes, documents at the county library and others found at the Historical Society for Carroll County. He also interviewed children and grandchildren former police officers, collected old photographs and called upon his recollections of officers in action on Main Street from the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Joneckis, 45, said he was fortunate to have interviewed the daughters of Bailiff John N. Weigle, who was the town's sole law enforcer in 1921 when city fathers named Arthur T. Bowers and William F. Helm as the "first- and second-assistant bailiffs -- a three-man forerunner of today's Police Department."

The term "borough" or "town constable" gave way to "city bailiff" in 1850, and Joneckis learned that in 1857, City Bailiff James Keefer's bond was rejected by the City Council for his neglect in complying with Ordinance 9, which referred to the "fast driving of buggies."

By early 1900, John Stem was named the first city bailiff/street commissioner, combining the job of law enforcement with the responsibility for street maintenance, which included repairs and placing street signs.

Joneckis found that in 1924, Sunday night patrols by uniformed officers working under the city bailiff were increased because of "sidewalk congestion."

Bailiff Weigle earned about $80 a month and provided the uniforms for himself and his assistant. Apparently the three-man force had regressed to two, Joneckis noted.

Charles Seipp became Weigle's first-assistant bailiff in 1925. Seipp later became Westminster's first chief of police, supervising six officers. He retired in 1966, after 41 years.

With Seipp on the job, officers began wearing handguns in 1927. They enforced a 1943 curfew law requiring boys and girls under age 16 to be home by 10 p.m., unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. A bell signaling the approaching curfew was rung at 9: 45 p.m. to remind juveniles to scurry home.

Most curious was the advent of police radios. Joneckis recalls seeing town officers with military-style walkie-talkies in the 1950s.

Before then, a police secretary at City Hall handled calls for service during the day and fire dispatchers on East Main Street handled calls after 4 p.m.

"A lamp, which was suspended from a wire over the middle of Main Street, would be switched on from inside the firehouse," Joneckis said. "Its yellow bulb would flash, alerting town officers to stop in to find out where they were needed."

After World War II, much attention was given to traffic safety, said Bible. Crossing guards had come into vogue, and Westminster earned American Automobile Association recognition for pedestrian safety for having no fatal accidents in 1950.

Joneckis and Bible plan to continue collecting police memorabilia, especially photographs, badges and uniform patches.

They hope to keep updating the Web page, which can be reached through the Internet at: www.carr.lib.md.us/westcity/polhist.htm.

Pub Date: 12/23/98

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