Then and Now

Warwick's police force


During the ’20s, mass-produced automobiles became plentiful and, in 1921, Rhode Island reported there were over 40,000 vehicles. The “go anywhere vehicle” was soon making its way into Warwick and brought about a number of problems. One, in a humorous light, occurred when Sgt. Joseph Ricketts, an early member of Warwick’s police force, had to write a ticket for a motorist speeding through Apponaug’s Four Corners. There were no motor vehicle laws in Warwick at the time, so the officer charged the driver with “assault with a dangerous weapon.”

The ’20s also brought about a closer look at the methods of law enforcement and a serious attempt for improvement. While constables were appointed as early as 1648 to help keep the peace, it wasn’t until the 19th century that changes began to occur in the town. By the 20th century sheriffs and deputy sheriffs were given the job of keeping the peace and directing the constables in the various towns. As early as 1906, Warwick had a chief of police, Theodore S. Andrews, and voted to pay him $500 per year. There were also four police stations and officers were placed in charge of each. Not only was the job considered a minor one, many of the officers were janitors of the buildings as well.

In 1913 the General Laws of the State of Rhode Island required “police commissioners” in the various municipalities and Warwick came closer to having a force, which consisted of more than “special constables” at Rocky Point or at the mills.

Anne Crawford Holst, one of Warwick’s most meticulous historians, notes that in 1916, “Young fellows in Apponaug were chanting a sort of folk song.” Holst remembers these words: “Oh, you can’t stand on the sidewalk, you can’t stand in the street, you can’t stand under the LEK’tric light when Owen’s on the beat.”

Holst notes that the use of the word “beat” infers a regular patrol and that the Owen referred to was Owen Lynch, one of the sons of Michael B. Lynch of Apponaug, the man who was High Sheriff of Kent County form 1902 until he retired in 1929. The remarkable sheriff was given the job of coordinating the Warwick, West Warwick and Coventry police chiefs and their constables during the Strike of 1922. Lynch was 78n years old at the time and was given a great deal of praise for doing an outstanding job. He relied heavily on Theodore Andrews of Warwick, his deputy who later succeeded him as high sheriff. During the early part of the century, Andrews was the chief of police in Warwick.

The Warwick City Times, a short-lived local newspaper in the 1930s, places the first permanent police force in 1921. The paper records that the chief was Ellis A. Cranston and notes that James G. Ludlow, a local blacksmith, and Henry Ledoux were among the first permanent patrolman. The Times tells us that there “was no day patrolman then and only six men were on duty at night.” Ledoux, who succeeded Cranston, was Warwick’s first motorcycles “cop.”

Cranston, who, according to the Times, was best remembered for his political influence, realized the necessity of having men on his force that could speak the language of the immigrants. Because of the ever-increasing numbers of Italians in Pontiac and Natick, Cranston hired Albert N. Izzi as a special constable in 1919. Later, Izzi became part of the small permanent force. The force had no regular uniforms at the time as Izzi, who had played saxophone in the Natick band, wore his band uniform for a number of years.

Forrest Sprague, one of Warwick’s best known and respected police chiefs, also joined the force in the 1920s. He recalled that, at the time, there were no police cars, officers had to use their own, and there was a “lot of nothing” between villages. The Warwick newspaper charged that Chief Cranston was lax and that visitors to the police station, which was in the basement of the Town Hall, often found the police officers “playing cards.” They also charged that Cranston’s records were poorly kept and that when Ledoux took over in 1930 he closed over 100 speakeasies.

During this period, the fire companies in Warwick were just coming into their own. As strange as it may seem today, there was a great deal of rivalry between companies and disputes over which company had jurisdiction at the fire. On a few occasions, fistfights broke out among the rival firefighters as the buildings burned.

Two very significant fires took a great toll in Apponaug. One, in 1922, destroyed Norton’s garage, south of Apponaug’s Four Corners, then spread to the Warwick Lumber Company and four dwelling houses. In addition to the garage, 10 automobiles, tools and supplies were ruined. In addition to the Apponaug Volunteers, the Warwick police were called to aid in directing traffic and soon all other Warwick fire companies came to help. By this time, 100 hydrants had been installed in Warwick and all those in Apponaug were put in use.

In 1924 all Warwick firefighters again cooperated in an attempt to quell the flames at the Apponaug Grammar School, which after the 1913 separation had become the Warwick High School. In 1924 a devastating fire in Conimicut destroyed two blocks on West Shore Road and ruined seven stores. As a result of these fires and the obvious advantages of cooperation between departments, the Warwick Firemen’s League was created in 1926. By this time, the Greenwood Fore Company had been organized (1924). Bringing the total companies to seven. At their meeting, the fire companies succeeded in setting up district lines, outlining procedures for cooperation at major fires and establishing the scope and authority of fire chiefs in a variety of instances. By the end of the decade, Warwick was successful in installing a water system, which served much of the town.


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