Westminster, the County seat of Carroll County, was founded in 1764 and incorporated in December of 1838. Since Westminster's beginning, law enforcement and public safety activities have been integral to its community. Early 1838 City records show that, within the town’s limits, the "Burgess" and "Commissioners" had the power and authority of a Justice of the Peace. They were authorized to incarcerate any person who was convicted of any violation of the town’s ordinances for a time not to exceed 20 days in the event that the "parties" failed or refused to pay the set fines and costs of their violations.
"Borough Constable" was the title given to law enforcement officials during the early period of Westminster's incorporation. Just two (2) days after the City passed its ordinance establishing town constables, the first recorded Constable, Mr. William Grumbine, was appointed on June 20, 1839. Constables had to post a $100.00 bond with the City before their appointment and were paid 33.5 cents for every person apprehended. They would work from their homes and walk to handle any calls for service. In later years, they used horses. Some of the Ordinances, established June 20, 1839 by the city fathers, included disturbing the peace by shouting, malicious ringing of doorbells, or throwing stones against any door, fence, or gate. The fines ranged from $1 to $5. Speeding was an apparent problem within the City just as it is today, although in 1839 it was of the one- or two-horse power kind. The speed ordinance of the time read... "No person shall run or drive through the town of Westminster at an improper gait except in case of necessity."
Disturbance by "immoral conduct" was also addressed by Section 13 of the 1839 City Code . . . "upon complaint made by any (3) inhabitants of the town of Westminster that any person from his or her immoral conduct gives disturbance to his or her neighbor, it shall be lawful for the Burgess or Justice of the Peace, if upon hearing the parties, he shall adjudge the complaint to be well founded to commit such disorderly person to the work hours at jail for any time not exceeding (20) days unless he or she finds security at the discretion of the Burgess or Justice of the Peace who tries the case in a sum not exceeding $30 for good behavior — six months."
The more serious crimes, such as to knowingly suffer drinking, gambling or unlawful sports on the Sabbath, brought fines from $10 to $15. Several other Ordinances of interest were enacted in 1840 and 1842. On July of 1840, a town law was passed making it was unlawful to "fly kites" on Main Street. Violators were fined not less than 25 cents or more than $1 for each offense. The 1842 ordinance was enacted making "cock-fighting" unlawful, where violators paid $20 for the first offense and $25 for their second offense. For any recurring offence, the first fine would be doubled.
On May 20, 1850, Westminster's Law Enforcement title of Borough or Town Constable changed to "City Bailiff" with Mr. Elias Yingling being appointed as the City's first Bailiff. Speeding on the streets of Westminster continued to take its toll on violators, including another City Bailiff who, in turn, lost his bond. On November 12, 1857, Mr. James Keefer's bond was rejected by the City Council for his negligence in complying with Ordinance number 9, which related to the fast driving of buggies.
The town council discussed, during a November 6, 1866 meeting, the need for two special police officers to be appointed to keep the peace during the upcoming elections. This was the first time that the position of City Bailiff had ever been referred to as police. Reference was made during a June 5, 1871, council meeting that the Bailiff needed to be easily identified by the public. To accomplish this, a badge was obtained for him.
The title of Bailiff, as referring to law enforcement officials, continued until 1979.
1900 - 1920
The 1900s brought about another change of title for Law Enforcement. City records use the terms "Bailiff," "Policeman," and "Officer" interchangeably, although Bailiff was the recorded title given to Law Enforcement personnel at the time. During this era, the position of Bailiff was combined with that of "Street Commissioner." The first Bailiff/Street Commissioner was Mr. John Stem, who served until the latter part of 1919 when he became ill. The Bailiff/Street Commissioner was not only responsible for the law and order within the City, but he was also responsible for street maintenance, including repairs and the placement of street signs where needed. John Stem’s illness prompted a November 3, 1919 appointment of Mr. John Baile as assistant Bailiff/Street Commissioner to serve until Stem could resume his duties. Unfortunately Stem died between November and December of 1919, and Mr. Baile then served as Bailiff/Street Commissioner until May of 1921.
The first reference to John Baile’s position as "Chief of Police" was made in August of 1920, when the council gave him orders to provide sufficient special "policemen" to make traffic safe and improve conditions in general. On December 6, 1920, the City Council approved to appoint two extra policemen to patrol the City at night. These night patrolmen assumed their duties the 22nd of December 1920 at a pay rate of $60 per month. It was felt that there existed inadequate protection due to the number of frequent robberies and bank holdups; however, it is uncertain whether the council was referring to robberies and bank holdups that actually occurred in Westminster at the time, or if the reference was being made to those known holdup men who existed around the United States during this era.
Due to the increase in service calls in 1921, the new Bailiff/Street Commissioner, John N. Weigle received the appointment of two new Bailiffs: Arthur T. Bowers was appointed May 1921 serving as Weigle’s first Assistant Bailiff, with William F. Helm serving as the second Assistant Bailiff. Bowers served in this capacity until May of 1925, but Helm served just one year in his position. This appointed organization of manpower was the beginning of a three-man police department for the City of Westminster. The triple-man force only lasted two years, as city records indicate that Weigle and Bowers were the only appointed Bailiffs in 1923.
In a May 1924 council meeting, Mr. Charles Hesson, who was elected as a temporary chairman for the City Council, objected to Arthur Bowers serving as first Assistant Bailiff, although his reason for objecting is unknown. Hesson also insisted that the special night officers should also "carry the time clock." The position of second Assistant Bailiff remained unfilled because of not having a man suitable for appointment. It was also decided during the May 1924 meeting that officers should be in uniform when on duty, and that patrol of the streets on Sunday nights should be increased due to "sidewalk congestion." A uniform procurement order was given to John Weigle on June 24, 1924, to provide for uniforms for himself and for his assistant, Arthur Bowers. The average salary for law enforcement officers at this time was from $75.00 to $85.00 per month.
In May of 1925, Weigle received Mr. Charles Seipp as his first Assistant Bailiff. In later years, Mr. Seipp would head the department as Chief of Police. Arthur Bowers was later reassigned to be a "special street officer" on July 6th of this same year., and was to assist with Saturday night traffic. Officers now would be furnished with summer uniforms as those originally purchased were for winter.
On October 4, 1926, a concerned citizen named Mr. Shaeffer, who presented facts concerning the “routy” behavior of the Western Maryland College students on Saturday nights, made a report. He reported that the students were "marching in a body with a drum, making loud noises, disturbing the peace and obstructing traffic." Shaeffer stated that two (2) of the boys involved were arrested and taken to jail, but were released by the police justice without penalty. The Council ordered police officials to put a stop to such behavior on the streets, and to arrest all offenders in the future.
John Weigle served as Bailiff/Street Commissioner until May of 1927, when his combined position divided, with his sole responsibility being that of street commissioner. The Council also gave the Police orders at this time to remove all drunken persons off the streets. Officer Seipp and Bowers made a request on July 5, 1927 to obtain a gun such as were usually carried by a Police Officer. This is the first recorded mentioning that law enforcement officials of the Westminster community would be armed.
Sixteen quiet years had passed when on July 13, 1943, the Mayor and Common Council enacted a "curfew" ordinance. This curfew prohibited boys and girls under (16) years of age to remain in or upon the streets, alleys, or parks and other public places after the hour of 10 p.m., unless a parent or guardian accompanied them. A curfew bell was to be sounded (15) minutes before 10 o’clock curfew as a warning to all children who might still be out.
City Bailiffs in 1946 earned between $132 and $140 per month. During this year, Arthur Bowers was designated as Chief of Police, a temporary assignment, with Regan Erb, Charles Seipp, and Edward Wilkinson acting as Bailiffs. According to city records, this was the first designation where Chief of Police was used as a title for those in charge of the Police Department, and it is a title that is still used today.
With the new invention of modern transportation that occurred in the 1900’s, Bailiffs no longer needed to ride horses or walk to handle calls. They were now able to use motorcycles, and later patrol cars, for ease of mobility and providing quicker response time for complaints received. Initial calls for police services in 1946, were received at the Westminster Fire Department located on Main Street. The "on duty" dispatcher would activate a yellow flashing light suspended over Main Street where a patrolling officer would see it and then respond to the Fire Department to receive the call. This system of dispatching calls continued until the 1950s when the Police Department relocated itself into two small rooms at City Hall. A new trend of radio communication would take over the antiquated method of dispatching calls, and two-way radios were installed in patrol vehicles and on motorcycle units.
A City Hall yearly report for 1949-1950 advises that most arrests that were made this year were for "simple" assault, drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and vagrancy. The Police Department at this time was actively involved in implementing and promoting an extensive traffic safety campaign, along with pedestrian safety activities. There had been no traffic fatalities in Westminster since September 3, 1949. Westminster was one of three Maryland cities without a fatal motor vehicle accident in 1950, and was presented with an award for it by the National Safety Council. During this time frame, a pedestrian sidewalk safety salesman, known as Sammy Safety, was placed along Main Street to remind citizens to drive carefully.
The crime rate during 1953 was very low, and serious crimes were non-existent. The City’s record for no fatalities continued from 1949, and the city was recognized once again for its outstanding pedestrian and traffic safety, this time by the American Automobile Association. This remarkable record continued for approximately 26 more years.
For ten consecutive years, from May 1955 to May 1965, the Westminster Police Department had little, if any, turnover in manpower. The Chief of Police at this time was Charles L. Seipp, who supervised the same six Bailiffs during this ten-year period. Chief Seipp retired September 30, 1966, after 41 years of service to the Westminster Community. The new Chief of Police appointed to succeed Chief Seipp was already a twenty-year veteran of the police force -- H. Leroy Day. Chief Day "revamped" the police department stating it had "no table of organization, it’s records were inadequate and that the officers had no rank." He was now in charge of an eight-man force. Under his reorganization, police officers were updated in their training concerning communications, element of supervision, fingerprinting, and identification and collecting of physical evidence, along with collision investigation. They also received further instruction in legality of arrests, criminal law, civil liability, civil rights, criminal interrogation, and motor vehicle laws. Chief Day made the comment that this revamping of the department was "just the beginning for a larger police force," and that it was designed to "bring men to their peak as to law enforcement."