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HISTORY OF BETHLEHEM POLICE DEPARTMENT

1917 - The Boroughs of Bethlehem and South Bethlehem merge and become the City of Bethlehem. An earlier merger had occurred between the Boroughs of Bethlehem and West Bethlehem in 1904. On August 26th, 1907 Officer George Shuman of the South Bethlehem force was killed in the line of duty while effecting an arrest of a William Handy in the area of the Reading Railway near Adams St. Handy was arrested several hours later and was tried on September 23rd, 1907 he was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. On February 23rd, 1908 Handy was executed in the electric chair.


1918 - Superintendent of Police, C.A. Davies leads a force of 42 men. For a short period of time the Police Department is responsible for the collection and removal of the City’s garbage. A female matron’s position is created to deal with unfortunate “girls” and women involved in illegal activities.


1919 - The Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order Of Police issues a charter for the Star Lodge #20 of the FOP. The monthly pay for Bethlehem Patrolmen is $100.00 compared to $125.00 for Patrolmen in the Allentown Police Department. The Superintendent had requested that the pay be increased because the Bethlehem officers were as good as the Allentown officers and they just might be a little better, citing the fact that the Bethlehem officers had beaten Allentown in a baseball game the previous summer.


1921 - Superintendent of Police Lawrence Kelly requests that the City purchase a new Police Patrol and Ambulance Combine to replace the current one which is reported to be very dilapidated and has outlived it usefulness. Some of the crimes reported during this time period are:


1. Assault and Battery- 7
2. Conducting Bawdy House- 17
3. Alien owning Firearms- 1
4. Fornification and Bastardy- 4
5. Peddling Narcotics- 3


1923- First motorized Paddy Wagon is in use by Police Department.


1924- On the 6th of January Officer Charles Lawrence dies while fighting a fire on W. Broad St. Officer Lawrence had fallen from a ladder and suffered a fatal head injury.


1925- The Police Department consists of the following 60 positions.


Superintendent- 1
Patrol Drivers- 2
Captains- 2
Traffic Officers- 10
Sergeants- 4
Patrolmen- 30
Detectives- 2
Mounted Officers- 3
Motorcycle Officers- 6


1927 - On the 12th of November Officer Charles Fenton interrupts a robbery at a “disorderly house” on Columbia St. and while effecting an arrest of several actors he is shot. On the 14th of November he dies from his injuries.


1929 - Some of the equipment being utilized by the Police Department:

Revolvers- 71
Silent Policemen- 7
Handcuffs- 72
Blackjacks- 12
Traffic Sticks- 2
Wooden Maces- 50
Tear Masks- 3
Gas Bombs- 3
Night Sticks- 64
Flashlights- 12
Sawed off Shotguns- 2
Badges- 75


The Department also lists the following items and values:


Oakland Touring Car- $100.00
Horses- Colonel- $100.00-
REO Police Patrol- $900.00 Prince- $100.00
Dodge Touring Car- $25.00
(7) H.D. Motorcycles- $1050.00


1930 - Reorganization takes place within the Police Department. Some of the positions in the department are:


Superintendent of Police -1
Chief of Police- 1
Driver/Painter-1
Stableman- 1
Driver/Painter- 1
Stenographer- 1


A Training School is established to develop efficient officers. Courses are taught in Ethics, Law, and Traffic Problems. Rifle Ranges are installed and all officers are reported to be Expert Marksmen.


The “Municipal Wood Pile Program” is established. It’s goal is to eliminate the undesirables that are “loafing and floating” into various parts of the city. These individuals are arrested and given the option to find profitable employment or accept forced employment on the woodpile. This stockpile of wood helps the needy families of the city.


1933 - In June Captain Harry Strauss is truck and killed by an automobile on William Penn Highway while directing traffic during a barn fire. The Mayor gives special orders to the Police Department to do “surveys” of Bawdy Houses and then eliminate them. There are 58 proprietors arrested along with 204 “inmates” of these houses.


1939 - Mayor Pfeiffle tells the citizens that it is necessary for officers to get paid overtime to direct traffic during city’s Christmas Season. He promises that this extra cost will pay dividends in the future.


1940 - The Police Radio System is moved from the Southside Municipal Building at 100 E. Third St. to City Hall at 53 E. Broad St. A tower is erected atop the building and the radio has a 20-mile radius.


1943 - The 1st Annual Bethlehem Police Pistol Tournament is held at the Police Social Club Range. This event will take place every year for many years and participants will include shooters from area departments and from surrounding states.


1949 -The City installs new fireproof cells and padded cells in the City Jail.


1950 - Due to pressure from the F.C.C. the City is forced to change the radio system to a Frequency Modulation System, which is serviced by Bell Telephone. The Police Department consists of 74 men. A new summer uniform is added to the Police Department and is well received by the city’s residents.


1960 - Chief Melvin Packard is in charge of the Police Department and the Police Budget for that year is $678,438.00. Some of the calls received by the department are:


1. Sudden Deaths-24
2. Prowling Calls- 44
3. Larceny- 641
4. Burglary- 191
5. Armed Robbery- 1
6. Rape- 1


1964 - In September Vivian Butts is hired as the first female officer. She is later promoted to Sergeant in 1980 and retires in 1989 after 25 years of service.


1967 - On November 28th the City of Bethlehem dedicates its new Civic Center, which is located at 10 E. Church. This building houses the Police Department on the ground floor and it is the present day location for the Police Department.


1969 - August 29th Officer Phillip J. Fahy is shot and killed after he and his partner, Officer Merle Getz chased Bebley Wells to an area off the Williams St. Extension. Officer Getz is able to return fire and wounds Wells. Wells is later tried and convicted and is currently in Graterford State Prison. A bridge that spans the Lehigh River in the City is later named the Phillip J. Fahy Memorial Bridge in his honor.


1970 - The Police Department is reorganized for the first time in 20 years. The Chief of Police is John DiDonato and the positions of Deputy Chief of Operations and Deputy Chief of Staff Services are created. The position of Patrol Captain replaces the eliminated positions of Shift Captain. The position of Captain of Investigation is established and a Vice Unit is established. The Departments manpower is 125 men and there are 15 vehicles being utilized.


1971 - The position of Court Liaison Officer is created.


1976 - The Police Commissioner is Robert Galle and Neighborhood Team Policing is established. The teams are designated as Adam, Baker, and Charlie. Each team is responsible for designated areas of the city and is commanded by a Captain. There is a Nightwatch Command and Auxiliary Services/ Central Service Unit.


1988 - Officers Cindy Jordan and Leonard Jordan are killed in a motor vehicle accident while off duty. The Department establishes a Tactical Response Unit, a unit that is responsible for combating street crime and high risk warrant service. This Unit will later develop into the present day Emergency Response Team.


1990 - The Department begins a transition of replacing its duty weapons from S&W model 65 revolvers to S&W Model 5906 9mm automatic weapons.


1991 - The Police Communication Center starts using the 911 Dispatch System. The first Police Substation is located in the Marvine-Pembroke Housing Development. Officer Jack Fliter begins working with K-9 Buster von Steppinwolf the Departments first Canine Unit. K-9 Buster has a fine career and retires in 1994 and remains with Officer Fliter until his death in 1996.


1992 - The second Police Substation is opened on the 800blk. of E. 4th St.


1993 - Captain John Yerk is named the new Police Commissioner and remains in that position until his retirement in 1997. Officer Steve Marshall begins handling K-9 Yulla the departments second K-9.


1994 - The Department begins utilizing a new $30,300.00 Mobile Police Substation. K-9 Buster retires and Officer Fliter replaces K-9 Buster with K-9 Blesk.


1995 - Officer Don Sabo is named the 1995 Crime Prevention Officer of the Year by the Pennsylvania Crime Prevention Officers Association. The Department unveils new Police Bicycles to be utilized by Patrol Officers.


1996 - The Department installs computers and in-car cameras in some of the patrol cars. Members of the department are using Trading Cards. These cards have the members photograph and brief information about the member. Members of the Department win 7 gold medals in the Pennsylvania Police Olympics.


1997 - Police Commissioner Yerk retires and Eugene Learn is named the new Police Commissioner. In April Officer Daniel Rice #146, a twenty-six year veteran of the force is killed in a motor vehicle accident while on patrol. The Department begins using Digital Cameras for all mug shots.


1998 - The Department begins utilizing a donated step van vehicle as its Emergency Response Vehicle.


1999 - The Department replaces its S&W 9mm handguns with Glock Model 23 40 Caliber Automatics.


2000 - K-9 Blesk retires and is replaced by K-9 Alan who is handled by Officer Fliter. They are the Departments first Explosive Detection Canine Team. Officer Jonathan Isaac begins to handle K-9 Madjo, a Patrol/Narcotics Detection canine.


2001 - Police Commissioner Learn retires and Francis Donchez is named the new Police Commissioner. The Departments Traffic Safety Unit has pedestrian safety signs installed around all the City’s Schools. The Criminal Investigations Unit begins utilizing a Crime Scope to aid in the detection and enhancement of latent fingerprints at crime scenes.


July 2006 - Commissioner Francis Donchez Jr. retires and Randall P. Miller is appointed Police Commissioner and Stuart Bedics is appointed Deputy Police Commissioner.


January 2007 - The Department reaches 150 sworn officers.



2009 – The Police Department reaches an all-time high of 160 sworn police officers.


Summer 2009 – After a 63 year hiatus, the Bethlehem Police Department re-introduces a Mounted Patrol Unit with three horses patrolling the City’s business districts.


Summer 2009 – The Department purchases thirty Taser X26 Conducted Energy Devices in order to deploy a less-lethal alternative on the streets. All officers receive thorough training on the weapon system, with most officers electing to take a full five-second Taser exposure to learn the devices capabilities. After deployment of the Taser, arrest related injuries to both officers and suspects decline significantly.


December 2009 – Commissioner Randall Miller retires and Stuart Bedics is appointed Police Commissioner. Jason Schiffer is appointed as Deputy Police Commissioner.


2010 – The police force is reduced in numbers to 157 sworn officers. These reductions come through attrition, rather than layoffs. Significant budget cuts are made to save five officers from layoffs.


May 2011 – Commissioner Stuart Bedics Retires and Jason Schiffer is appointed Police Commissioner. Craig Finnerty is appointed to Deputy Commissioner.


Summer 2011 – The Bethlehem Police Department purchases all new Glock Model 23 Generation 4, .40 caliber handguns.


October 2011 – The police department begins an online social media presence with a Facebook Page, Twitter account and our own blog. The effort quickly gains support from the public and soon the department is posting daily crime reports, safety information, wanted and missing person information and engaging in a dialogue with the citizens. By the end of the year, our Facebook page has around 1000 Likes and we have 350 followers on Twitter.


2012 – The Police Department is further reduced back to the 2007 level of 150 sworn officers.


April 2012 – With a 7-0 vote, City Council changes the title of Police Commissioner to Chief of Police, restoring the name as it existed in Bethlehem prior to 1974. Chief of Police Jason Schiffer and Deputy Chief of Police Craig Finnerty continue in these positions.


Summer 2012 – The Bethlehem Police Department purchases fifty new Remington 870 Police Shotguns with shorter barrels and stocks for easier handling and maneuverability. For the first time, all police cars including detective cars are equipped with a shotgun.


Summer 2012 – The 9-1-1 Command Center receives a much needed console upgrade including the computers and workstations for our police, fire and EMS dispatchers.


December 2012 – The social media efforts have been much more successful than our goals, reaching over 15,000 hits per month on our blog and 2200 Facebook likes and 1800 Twitter followers.


2013 – The 9-1-1 Command Center is now supervised by a civilian Director of 9-1-1 and the position of Captain of Support Services was eliminated, reducing our sworn officer strength to 149 officers.


January 2013 – Our first next-generation Ford Police Interceptor cars begin patrolling Bethlehem with more powerful V6 engines, All Wheel Drive and removable Panasonic Toughbook computers.

 
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