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West Hartford Police Begin Celebration of 100th Anniversary

Off. Brian Wallace (left), who as part of the West Hartford Police Department's 100th anniversary committee designed the new badge and decal, affixes the first decal inside the headquarters garage bay. With him are Capt. Michael Perruccio (center), who chairs the committee, and Lt. Peter Juda of the Traffic Division. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Plans for the celebration were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but in a revamped format the West Hartford Police Department launched its centennial anniversary last week by affixing special decals to all vehicles.

The West Hartford Police Department first building at 12 South Main Street. Courtesy former Town Manager Ron Van Winkle (we-ha.com file photo)

By Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Police Department became official on Oct. 1, 1920, and a century later, in a world that looks dramatically different, the department is marking its 100th anniversary.

Events of the past seven months have added even more twists and turns to the department’s role in the community, and while COVID-19 caused the cancellation of a planned Oct. 3, 2020 gala, a variety of initiatives will celebrate the milestone over the coming year, Capt. Michael Perruccio said.

One of the most visible to the public will be the new decals which are being affixed to all police vehicles. They were designed by Off. Brian Wallace, who had the honor of applying the first decal last week.

Off. Brian Wallace, a member of the West Hartford Police Department’s 100th anniversary committee, had the honor of affixing the first decal. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Pete Rappoccio, owner and founder of SignPro in Plantsville – the company that has created the graphics for the department for years – donated the special decals to mark the anniversary.

A proclamation will be read by Mayor Shari Cantor at the West Hartford Town Council meeting on Nov. 10, honoring the department’s 100-year history.

The West Hartford Police Department has been planning to celebrate its centennial for more than five years. A committee, headed by former Assistant Chief Robert (Bob) McCue, first met in February 2015, said Perruccio, who took over the efforts following McCue’s retirement in July 2019.

“We want to honor those who have or who are currently serving,” Perruccio said. The department wants to recognize the service of not only its sworn officers, but everyone – dispatchers, records employees, animal control, and others.

“The kick off was to have been the anniversary ball. We planned to raise funds, make it a community event,” Perruccio said. The Town Hall Auditorium has been tentatively reserved for a rescheduled event on either Sept. 25 or Oct. 2, 2021.

“For us as a police department, it’s important for us to celebrate. It’s been a different year due to COVID-19, and the many other stressors police officers are dealing with,” Perruccio said. “We want to celebrate our service.”

Perruccio is hoping to involve as many members of the community as possible, including longtime partners such as local businesses. The Delamar West Hartford Hotel has committed to setting rooms aside for people coming from out of town to attend the celebration, and DORO Group will be doing the catering.

West Hartford Police Department evolution

An early photo of West Hartford’s first official police department in the early 1920s includes Chief Benjamin I. Miller (also the town manager, in the center of the front row with the bow tie), along with eight regular officers and nine supernumeraries. Photo from “History of West Hartford” by William H. Hall, published 1930.

The West District, aka West Parish of Hartford, became a municipality separate from the control of Hartford in 1854.

There was law enforcement in town prior to the official formation of the police department, with constables – who were on call and paid on a fee basis – providing protection for the town.

Critical duties of the constables in the early days included working at the fairs held at Charter Oak Park – located in the area where Home Depot and Triumph Industries are today.

West Hartford first instituted the town manager form of government in 1919, with Benjamin I. Miller named the first town manager. Miller also became the head of the Police Commission, and on Oct. 1, 1920, when Constable Daniel W. Bushey was named the town’s first police officer, Miller became the newly-created department’s first chief.

The town’s budget for the new police force in 1920 was $400.

Frank J. Dellert became the second officer in 1920, followed by longtime constable James Livingston in 1921.

On June 21, 1923, Miller appointed Joseph F. Grogan as the first full-time chief, and he led a department which by then had grown to include eight regular police officers as well as nine supernumeraries – who were part-time and paid on a fee basis – according to “History of West Hartford” (William H. Hall, 1930). Grogan served as chief until 1939.

The West Hartford Police Department’s first offices were in the basement of the Old Town Hall, and according to department history in 1929 they moved to 12 South Main St.. An image of that free-standing building, pictured above, has been incorporated into the design of the 100th anniversary decals and badges that will be in use over the next year.

100th anniversary decal. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

In 1937 the department relocated to 28 South Main St., which was Town Hall at the time – the building that later housed the Education Department and is now Fleming’s.

As the town government was outgrowing 28 South Main St. and looking to move, the vacant former Whitman School building at 103 Raymond Rd. was expanded so that in 1980 it became the new headquarters, still in use today, of the West Hartford Police Department.

Leadership

The West Hartford Police Department has had 10 chiefs in its 100-year history. In addition to Miller and Grogan, Walter A. Sandstrom (1939-1960), Vincent B. Hurlburt (1960-1966 ), William P. Rush (1966-1973), Francis G. Reynolds (1973-1987), Robert R. McCue (1987-1991), James J. Strillacci (1991-2011), and Tracey G. Gove (2011-2017). Vernon Riddick, Jr. was named the department’s 10th chief in 2018.

Photos of all of the former West Hartford Police Department chiefs hang on the wall along a hallway at the headquarters on Raymond Road. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“The West Hartford Police Department has earned the reputation of being a well trained professional organization,” Riddick said. “We strive for excellence and have demonstrated a sustained commitment of service to the public. I am very appreciative to be a member of this family – past and present – and I am pleased that we can celebrate this milestone together.”

“I was lucky to join a professional police department which was part of a well-run government serving a supportive community,” Strillacci told We-Ha.com. “It was a privilege to have led the agency for a fifth of its history. I wish WHPD success and safety as it enters its second century.”

Gove also shared some comments about the 100th anniversary.

“West Hartford Police Department is celebrating 100 years of excellence. I am humbled to be able to say that I played a role in leading the agency for a period of time,” Gove said.

“I remember when I was first hired in 1994, WHPD had a reputation as being one of the finest police departments in the state. It’s a reputation they still hold today,” Gove said. “This is a credit to not only the brave men and women who have served faithfully over the years, but also – and just as importantly – due to the wonderful support we had from our community.”

The West Hartford Police Department currently employs 131 sworn officers and 20 civilian employees.

100th anniversary badge. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

A gold 100th anniversary badge will be worn by members of the West Hartford Police Department ranked lieutenant and higher. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

What has changed

The West Hartford Police Department has moved several times, and has many more employees than when it was founded in 1920 to protect a town that had fewer than 9,000 residents.

When he retired in July 2019, Robert T. (Bob) McCue had been a member of the West Hartford Police Department for exactly 39 years. He was the last remaining member of the department who had worked in the former headquarters on South Main Street.

He is the son of former Chief Robert R. McCue, and grandson of the late Martin McCue, who joined the West Hartford Police Department in 1929, shortly after it was founded. Martin McCue’s first role was as a supernumerary, and then in 1930 he became a full-time officer, retiring as a detective lieutenant in 1959.

Former Chief Robert R. McCue sends a message to motorists to obey the rules of the road with his bumper sticker public awareness campaign: “Speeding Gets You Nowhere Fast.” Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

When asked during a previous interview about what had changed in nearly four decades, McCue replied, “Not a lot. The job is still about taking care of the public, and what’s unique is you are putting the needs of someone you don’t know above your own.”

While the nature of the job may not have changed, however, the “gadgets” have, McCue said.

In 1980 a police cruiser had two switches – one to turn on the lights and another to turn on the siren. There was a blanket, a crowbar, a first aid kit, and oxygen. Today one will also find a reflective vest, body armor, a rifle, laptop computer, multi-channel radio, video camera, GPS, and a bat kit to protect against rabies.

Since this past March, vehicles have also been equipped with a COVID-19 kit that includes personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves and masks.

The West Hartford Police Department is the 10th largest department in the state, and has multiple specialized divisions including a K-9 unit, bike squad, Animal Control, and school resource officers who are part of the Community Relations Division.

This West Hartford Police Department Ford Customline is either a 1952 or 1953 model. Courtesy image (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford Police Department cruiser in 1988, courtesy of Off. Mike Coyne (one of the boys in the photo)

The future

Perruccio said the anniversary committee came up with a slogan: “Honoring our past, embracing our future.”

As the year-long celebration continues, Perruccio said the committee plans to highlight different elements of its history, and the things that make the West Hartford Police Department special. Many of those items will be posted on the department’s Facebook page.

Perruccio would like to have more historical information about the West Hartford Police Department to share with the public as part of the 100th anniversary celebration. If anyone has photos that can be shared, he asks that they be emailed to him at [email protected].

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A West Hartford Police Department group photo from 2004 hangs on the wall at headquarters. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Chief Grogran and the West Hartford Police Department, c. 1923. Courtesy photo

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