Department History

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It took longer for the Salem Police Department to grow into a professional organization even remotely resembling the uniformed force of today. One reason for that slower growth may have been the fact that until only 20 years ago the police department was under the close direction of the board of selectmen.

Fred Chrysler was for many years the nearest thing to its chief, but he never had the autonomy (or possibly it would be more accurate to say he never took the initiative) that prompted Fire Chief Charles Borchers to build himself a fire house. Voters were asked to create a police court, and raise $100 to pay a judge, in the annual Town Meeting of 1906, but they refused. It was not until 1913 that a court was established, with fines payable to the Town Treasurer.

The town had plenty of law enforcement officers in the early years of the century. There was always a constable (sometimes several) listed in the front of the Town Reports until 1908, and an "Agent for the Suppression of Crime," who was sometimes listed as the "Agent for the Suppression of Intoxicating Liquor." Then for many years there were no listed policemen or other such officers, until the name of Selectman William Barron began to be listed again as Chief of Police.

Albin A. Dietrich has provided the best account of those years under the thumb of selectmen. It was in 1923 that he joined the force. He had called on Selectman Walter Haigh, to complain that dogs had killed a hundred or more chickens on the Dietrich family farm on Cluff Road, and to ask what was going to be done about it. Selectman Haigh's response was to offer him a job on the force. Mr. Dietrich took two weeks to think it over, then stayed in the department until he reached retirement age in 1971. He was acting chief from 1929 until 1933, while Fred Chrysler was serving as a Deputy Sheriff for Rockingham County.

The Police Department was housed for many years in the Hose House Number Two at Salem Center, where the lockup was, then was moved to the Masonic Building on Main Street. Officer Dietrich remembered in a Project Perpetuate interview in 1972 that he was sitting in the police station by himself one evening many years before. It was about 9:30 P.M., when a call came through.

"We had no radios in those days. All the calls came through the fire station. I was on duty by myself when the call came through, to report some kind of suspicious activity at the building on Broadway where they made men's suits. (The building now houses McKaliagat's Drug Store.) We didn't have any patrol cars in those days. We all used our own vehicle. When I got down there I could see there was someone inside.

"I went around to a side window, shined my flash- light into the building, and could see the feet of two men who were leaning against the door, trying to keep me from forcing it open. I drew my gun and called out, 'This gun is loaded and I mean business, so come out with your hands up or else.' They came out. They were unarmed, but there were two of them, after their getaway car, parked not far up the highway, had pulled away and left.

"I wondered how I was going to juggle the prisoners, drive the car and get them safely to the lockup at Salem Depot, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear the voices of two firemen who had been on duty when the call came in, and followed me to see if they could be of any help."

The next morning Selectman Barron called him to the office, told him to go to Lawrence and buy a captain's uniform and charge it to the town. "Just be sure you have it in time for Memorial Day," Officer Dietrich, suddenly made Captain Dietrich, was ordered.

It was in 1955 that the increase in population made it apparent Salem needed an expanded police department. Voters were asked that year for funds to pay a full-time chief $3,800 a year and permanent officers $3,120 with special officers getting $1.25 an hour. Four permanent policemen were proposed, and money was asked to equip and maintain a police headquarters. The department was still located in the Main Street building when Everett B. Dowe was named Chief on July 27, 1959. He was retired from the Lawrence, Mass., department as a lieu tenant at the time, having joined that force in 1924. He was considered another "outsider" by some. The Salem Police Relief Association found itself in agreement with Elmer E. Bussey as sponsors of an article in the town warrant for the 1960 meeting proposing a five-year residency requirement for the position of chief. It was proposed that year, too, that the job be made elective. Chief Dowe was not sure just what kind of response he would get when he took the floor in that meeting, nine months after he had been named to the job, to ask for a second police cruiser and a radio. He got a warm round of applause. The residency requirement was defeated by a wide margin. Chief Dowe demonstrated his new orientation when Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Safety Frank S. Giles announced that he and his office were pressuring bookmakers so hard that they were moving into New Hampshire. He pinpointed Salem. The new chief's response: "We are not going to harbor the riffraff from Lowell or Lawrence." Town Manager Fred Staples, then new to the job himself, sat down with Chief Dowe across the table from Commissioner Giles, and explained later that, "the main purpose of this meeting today is to have Commissioner Giles turn over to us any information he may have about bookies -- either that, or apologize."

It may be recalled that Town Manager Staples was no stranger to law enforcement, having spent several years as a young man with the Connecticut State Police. It was only two years later, in 1963, the site for a new community center having been determined, that voters raised $80,000 to build and equip a new Police Station on a proposed new road that would be called Veterans Memorial Drive.

Chief Dowe reached retirement age in the summer of 1972. It was Town Manager William Kelly's turn this time to choose the successor. He did it on the basis of examinations administered by the state, the results being forwarded to Town Manager Kelly who would make the final choice. A field of eight possibilities was narrowed to three, and the successor to Chief Dowe was a man he had hired in 1960 and who had come up through the ranks. John P. Ganley was on vacation, camping out with his family on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee when he got the news. He drove straight home to talk about it, was told he could finish his vacation, but to be back in time to take over July 31, 1972. A thoroughly trained law enforcement officer, he spells the major difference between policemen early in the century and those who enforce the laws now. His training includes a stint at the FBI Academy in Washington, D. C. in 1970 during the 86th session of that institution.

-- An excerpt from At the Edge of Megalopolis, A History of Salem, N.H. 1900-1974
Richard Noyes and Howard E. Turner

Chief John P. Ganley assumed the duties of Acting Town Manager in 1988. Later that same year, he was offered the position of Salem's Town Manager on a full-time basis and accepted. He retired from the Salem Police Department and Commander James Ross was chosen from the ranks and selected as the new Chief of Police for the agency in 1988. Chief Ross served as Chief until his retirement in 1994. The Exeter NH Police Chief, Stephen B. Mac Kinnon, was chosen as Ross' replacement in 1994. He served until 2001 when he resigned to serve as the Police Chief in Avondale, Arizona. Captain Paul T. Donovan of the Hartford CT Police Department was chosen as Mac Kinnon's replacement in 2001 and has served as Salem's Chief of Police since that time.