THE EARLY YEARS
The early years of law enforcement in the Town of Cheektowaga started when the town charter provided for two constables who were elected to office. The town was a rural farm community that had a need to elect game constables starting in 1873. Cheektowaga began growing with the railroads as their yards were spreading across the town. Constables remained only as elected officials, until 1901, when the town began appointing special constables and adapted rules for the governing of the constables. These actions were the first attempts by the town to gain some control over the constable force. The year 1901 also saw the appointment of the first chief constable, Albert F. Carl. He was asked to resign a year later.
The decade of the 1920’s was a time of growth for the Town of Cheektowaga, as evidenced by the opening of the Buffalo Airport in June 1926, the opening of the new town hall in February 1927 and a population that doubled from 13,323 in 1920 to over 25,000 in 1930. The constable force was also growing along with the town and the conduct of some of the constables was becoming a problem. The town saw a need to appoint a Chief Constable, Amedeo Coppola, in February 1922. This was the beginning of many changes in the constable force. Constables were assigned to districts, given badges and applications were now investigated. In 1927, the new town hall provided the force with a modern station and lock-up. In 1928, a standard uniform was required, a Chief Constable was again appointed along with a lieutenant of constables. All warrants and summons were now returnable in the new court located in town hall. This replaced arraignments at the homes of the town justices, as had been the practice. On May 1st, 1928, the town abolished the old system of elected and appointed constables and established a full time salaried constable force. The decade also saw the beginnings of traffic enforcement and accident investigation with constables on motorcycles doing speed enforcement. It also saw the installation of telephones and call boxes. The decade ended tragically when Constable John Bauer was the first Cheektowaga Officer to die in the line of duty on January 5th, 1929.
The decade of the 1930’s was a turbulent time in the history of the police force. Many officers were dismissed for charges of bribery and brutality and the chief constable was dismissed from his post. Officers were indicted by the grand jury for assault and beating defendants for confessions. In 1932, the entire police department was abolished and re-formed with Charles Wohlford as the first Police Chief. Civil service was introduced and the officers received their first week of paid vacation. The thirties saw the formation of the Sloan Police Force and the hiring of the first police matrons and telephone operators at Town Hall. The department also purchased vehicles: two Chevrolets and two Fords both equipped with sirens and short wave length radios. Twenty-four hour police service was instituted.
The country was at war and members of the police department answered the call for military service. Civilian defense authorities had telephone lines for defense information set up in the police station which was located in the basement of Town Hall and at the fire halls. A modern three-way type FM radio system for broadcasting and receiving was installed as well as a switchboard to handle the volume of calls. The Accident Prevention and Traffic and Detective Bureaus were both formed. The detective bureau had an identification section and a crime detection laboratory. A captain’s position was created in the department and the rank of police chief was now a civil service appointment. Police dispatchers and telephone operators were also civil service. Officers asked for more vacation time and to be paid for overtime hours that they worked.
The 1950’s started the era of the Cold War with Russia and auxiliary police in Cheektowaga were organized in the event of an attack on the community by bombing. Crossing guards saw their beginnings and foot patrol was instituted. Youth programs were mentioned to combat juvenile delinquency. The radio system was connected to the state and teletypes were used to communicate. The fire radio system that connected with the County of Erie was installed. Officers used “photo traffic cameras” which were designed to reduce accidents by determining speeds and taking a picture of the violator. A traffic timing device called “speed watch” was used to clock violators. Cameras were used to make identification photos of prisoners.
The police chief joined the International Association of Chiefs of Police and attended a conference on community relations sponsored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Cheektowaga officers were assigned to patrol the Greater Buffalo International Airport. The first firearms course was set up at a high school range to enable officers to sharpen their aim with periodic practice. Social Security coverage was obtained for officers as well as twenty five year retirement.
Law enforcement in the sixties began to place emphasis on education and training and many officers took courses in sociology, criminology and police science. The first Cheektowaga officers graduated from the basic recruit course given by the Erie County Sheriff’s Department with the assistance of the FBI and Erie County Police Chiefs. A police commission was established with a police commissioner and two town board members. Cheektowaga Fire Chiefs established a central dispatching unit for the eleven volunteer fire companies. The later part of the decade saw the police department moving into its new headquarters at 3223 Union Road, complete with room for 136 Patrolmen, a pistol range, a fire dispatch office and a cell block. The Penal Law of New York State was enacted in 1967. The sixties also saw the formation of the Police Benevolent Association and the Captains and Lieutenants Association as recognized bargaining units after the enactment of the Public Employee Fair Employment Act.