As early as 1901, the Town of Freetown relied on individuals to hold government offices and positions in order to provide services to the community. A few town residents were appointed as constables and/or night watchmen.
Policing was provided by a dedicated group of local men whose love of and pride in their community prompted them to offer their services with little or no personal or financial benefit. They helped settle minor disputes, investigate motor vehicle accidents, and made reports of minor criminal activities such as larcenies and vandalism.
These officers utilized instinctive psychology and homespun sociology tactics and relied on their intimate knowledge of the personalities of the local residents in order to resolve most issues. Conflicts were resolved to the satisfaction of opposing parties with the temperate guidance of the officers and without resort to the courts. However, at times they would spring into action in response to urgent need reminiscent of the “Wild West Days.”
Prior to 1933, several residents were appointed as “Constables” and were the local law enforcement officials. The Town appropriated approximately $500.00 a year for police services.
Town by-laws provided for the appointment of a Chief of Police and such other police officers as the Selectmen deemed necessary. In 1933, the Town appointed Leon Cudworth to serve as its first Chief of Police. Chief Cudworth was in charge of four appointed constables.
In 1937, Herbert F. Gurney was appointed Chief of Police and served for 25 years. In 1938, Chief Gurney’s Annual Report indicated that there were nine Special Officers, and that $605.00 was expended, including $10.00 for badges and 50 cents for meals for prisoners held at the Fall River Police Department.
In 1962, Chief Frank Wing was appointed Chief of Police. As did the prior Chief of Police, Chief Wing maintained the police department from his home on the west side of the community. At Chief Wing’s home, he maintained a fingerprinting set for the purposes of preparing firearm licenses and occasionally fingerprinting an arrested felon. Chief Wing used a Citizens’ Band (CB) radio, located in his home, to communicate with other officers and the public. Deputy Chief Frederick C.N. Boehler also used a CB radio that was located within the gas station he operated at 94 Middleboro Road on the east side of the community. These radios supplemented the CB radios located with the communications center at the Town hall. The communications center also relayed information to officers who had equipped their personal vehicles with CB radios.
The Town provided each officer with a police coat badge and a hat badge. Each officer was responsible for the procurement of all other items such as uniforms, handcuffs, leather gear, and firearms. A group of officers formed the Freetown Police Association and raised funds for uniforms and equipment by soliciting donations and hosting an annual ball.
During the 1960’s, the Town was experiencing a characteristics change from rural to suburban. It was becoming a “bedroom community” with many homes unoccupied during the day while residents commuted to work outside of the Town. Adjoining two cities, the Town became an easy target for urban criminals. The need for police services was becoming more frequent and the police department was finding it difficult to respond to calls for service. The Town noted that many of its part-time police officers were employed outside of the community and employers were reluctant to allow them to leave their jobs when duty called.
In 1968, the Town formed a Police Study Committee at Town Meeting. The committee was instructed to research the possibility of organizing a full-time police department and to report back with their recommendations. Town officials provided workspace in two small rooms at the town hall for police officials. Chief Wing and other officers moved their police records and equipment to the designated rooms in the town hall. The first Freetown Police Station was formed.
In 1969, officers were paid for the first time to patrol during evening hours. Officers were scheduled to patrol in 5-hour shifts from 7:00 pm until midnight or from 9:00 pm until 2:00 am. Officers used their personal vehicles that were equipped with CB radios. Officers relied on this communication in order to relay information to the communications center at the town hall. Patrolmen began to attend local colleges on their own initiative. Although some tuition assistance was available under a federal grant program, the individual officers were responsible for payment of all other expenses. Many officers acquired college degrees. The police department boasted one of the highest levels of professionally educated officers in the area.
During 1970, the Town purchased its first police vehicle, a 1970 black and white Plymouth sedan that was equipped with a siren and “bubble gum machine” blue light on the roof. A police radio was later added. The communities of Fall River, Freetown, Somerset, Swansea, and Tiverton (RI) shared this radio’s frequency.
The Town established its first full-time police department in 1971, when four police officers were appointed: Chief of Police Frank Wing, Sergeant Norman Allison, Sr., Patrolman Norman Allison, Jr., and Patrolman Edward A. Mello. Part-time Reserve Police Officers and volunteer Auxiliary Police Officers supported the full-time officers.
In 1972, Chief Wing declined reappointment and was succeeded by Chief Wayne Snell, who formerly held the rank of Lieutenant with the Somerset Police Department, and had been a Freetown Police Officer in the 1950’s. Chief Snell stressed additional education and training for officers. He engaged in public relations through the use of a of weekly newspaper column in which he provided information on crime and law enforcement.
In 1974, a new radio communication system was installed. The Town acquired a federal grant that paid for 95% of the system’s cost. The new radio system included a radio base station and repeater, cruiser radios, and for first time, portable hand held radios worn on each officer’s duty belt.
In 1975, Chief Snell was not reappointed. Sergeant Norman Allison, Jr. was subsequently appointed as Chief of Police.
During 1976, residents approved the construction of a new police station. The Sullivan-Foster, Inc. contracting company of New Bedford, Massachusetts was hired to construct the new station for an agreed upon amount of $168,727.00. The station was completed and functional in the fall of 1978.
In 1985, Chief Allison died and was succeeded by Chief Edward A. Mello who served as Chief of Police for twelve years until his retirement in 1997. Chief Mello had earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Roger Williams College. He was responsible for introducing the first desktop computers into the police station and mobile data terminals into police cars.
Chief Carlton E. Abbott, Jr., Esq., was appointed during 1998.
To date, the following have served as Chief of Police: