The Tunkhannock Borough Police force marked its 120th birthday Thursday morning with an open house.
On hand were most of the current force including Chief Keith Carpenter, and former chiefs Rick Rosengrant and David Ide, now Wyoming County’s chief detective; and former officers Jim Neary – now in the county’s probation office - and Ned Sherman, now Wyoming County’s Sheriff.
Today’s force of three full-timers and four part-timers is a far cry from when the police force was first organized in 1897 with the creation ordinance mandating the department shall consist of “one chief and not less than two officers.”
Thomas M. Harding was the first chief.
Officers were paid $1 for each arrest, 50 cents for each person taken to jail, 15 cents for serving a subpoena, and six cents per mile round trip, in an era when automobiles had not yet entered the local scene.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1914 that the first automobile violator was cited. Then, the speed limit was 15 miles per hour and the fine for speeding was $2.50.
Three years later, the speed limit in the borough was dropped to 12 mph, because of the increasing number of cars on the road and fears that people were not slowing down enough for crossing train traffic from the old Montrose Railway, and Lehigh Valley lines.
It’s not clear when Tunkhannock Borough got its first police car, but 60 years ago last month, a “new weapon” was added to the force – a combination siren and blinker light.
Future chief Rosengrant was a youngster then, and guesses he was probably just as excited as most kids are today when both go off in a parade, or worse yet, when their parent gets pulled over.
Rosengrant, now 66, looks back on his 26 years of serving the people of Tunkhannock as an honor.
He joined the borough force in 1974 when Ernest Winnie, a World War II veteran who had served at Pearl Harbor, was chief.
Rosengrant said when he joined, it was at the start of an era in which education was essentially mandated to bring all police agencies statewide up to a common standard.
He said he had seen all sorts of changes from filing a police report on a manual typewriter with carbons, to an electric typewriter and then computers, with each new addition adding a level of accountability.
When he retired in 2000, he said Tunkhannock had a drug problem, and the usual garden variety of crimes such as breaking and entering, larceny, drunk driving, deserting, reckless driving, and assault and battery were a problem then as well as today.
Across his 26 years, the borough also had two homicides.
On the other end of the spectrum, Rosengrant noted on Thursday, “When I started there were parking meters in town and I remember going out every Wednesday emptying them.”
With Fitze’s on one end of the block and Fassett’s on the other, and a Rexall Drug store and Gable’s Bakery across Tioga Street, Rosengrant said, “People complained then that nobody could park.”
With more specialty shops today on Tioga, he believes parking may have taken care of itself.
Rosengrant retired before the Rt. 6 bypass was completed, and didn’t want to comment about how it has affected law enforcement, but sees how traffic flows today and is among those who “wonder how we got along without it.”
Ide, who served as chief from 2000 to 2005, and had served the borough for 21 years, said any notion of an age of innocence with police serving a sleepy town like Tunkhannock was lost when terrorists flew airplanes into New York City’s World Trade Towers and elsewhere on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It was a wake-up call, and the tools we have today are a far cry from what our ancestors had,” Ide said, “All borders were crossed after that event and now things have been more transparent with everyone networked and security alerts practically instantaneous.”
On top of that, Ide added, that the Internet has created an explosion of information which he called, “Good and bad.”
“Facebook, for instance,” he said, “allows people to share personal info, but the abundance of limitless opportunities has spawned other crimes - such as sexting - “which we never had to deal with before.”
In addition, Ide said, “Drugs have entered into our communities - including Tunkhannock - to an extent that were never seen before” particularly when he joined the borough force in 1983.
“Yes, we would see marijuana and a little cocaine, and people trying to get high in other ways back then,” he said, but noted that in his work across the entire county now, “I see heroin and methamphetamines dozens of times in the course of a week. It is so sad, by comparison, to what we once had.”
Before his proclamation Thursday morning, Mayor Norm Ball noted that as late as the 1940s, there was a red light bulb under the traffic signal at the intersection of Bridge and Tioga streets that summoned to police about a problem.
“We’ve come a long way since,” he said.