History of the Bellefonte Police Department~
An outbreak of arson and one of America’s first Jewish mayors brought about the formal organization of the Bellefonte Police Department on May 18, 1875. Prior to this time there had been several unsuccessful attempts—in 1867 and 1868—to formally organize a Bellefonte police force.
Bellefonte, after the Civil War, was plagued by fires set by incendiaries. Life and limb were imperiled when a 16-man volunteer police force was organized by the citizens in July of 1867. A borough budget totaling $15,000 that year made it impossible for the 2,500 citizens of the community to financially sustain this force for an extended period of time, and it withered away.
During this time the forces of law and order in Bellefonte consisted mainly of the “Chief Burgess,” from the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency, and the High Constable, Charles Garner, one of the first African-Americans in a Pennsylvania borough to be elected to public office.
The wide scope of law enforcement faced by the town made it impossible for the Chief Burgess, who received no pay, and the High Constable, paid on a fee basis, to render the adequate protection the citizens demanded. An $850 bill presented by the Pinkerton Agency to the Town Council brought a quick end to that arrangement.
On June 1, 1868, Council tackled the situation head-on. By motion, a 4-man paid police force was organized “for three months.” There followed a long debate among the town fathers as to whether or not it was legal to pay policemen out of borough funds. Five years later, on June 2, 1873, the borough solicitor ruled that it was legal for Council to employ a paid police force. Another year went by and finally, on July 9, 1874, Council saw fit to appropriate an annual sum of $350 for a paid police force. A conflict of personalities developed thereafter among the councilmen as to who and how many would serve on the force. Meanwhile, the arsonists continued their incendiary work. By early 1875 Chief Burgess Irwin became so exasperated he submitted the following message to Council:
“The time and trouble of the Chief Burgess of Bellefonte in ferreting out and suppressing incendiarism in the borough out to receive some remuneration, his own stable having been burnt by the incendiaries while he was engaged in hunting them out.”
In the middle of this came a hotly contested election for the office of Chief Burgess. An unprecedented challenge to the community’s entrenched political forces came from Adolph Sternberg, a Bellefonte Jewish tobacco merchant. Considered by his supporters as “righteous as Moses, as brave as Joshua and as wise as Solomon,” he won the election by 38 votes. Newspapers all over Pennsylvania took note of his election.
Taking office May 3, 1875, Mayor Sternberg struck out at once against the incendiaries and prevailed upon Council to enact the Borough’s first ordinance establishing the Police Department that exists to this very day. The date was May 18, 1875. Three policemen were thereupon hired. The “chief” was retained at $12 per month and the two patrolmen at $8.33 per month.
Through successive years some of the policemen became near-legendary figures in the folklore of the town. They included “Dep” Dunlap, Daley Justice, Colonel Amos Mullen, Josh Folk, Jerry Galaida, Ralph Eyer, “Dukie” George Glenn and Tom Howley. The latter two provided the force with an all-time classic: Tom was nearsighted and George was hard of hearing. They would meet up on their appointed rounds, and Tom would ask George, “What did you see?” George would reply, “What did you hear?”
There were times in the early history of the Department when a near-Wild West atmosphere would prevail. Once, Josh Folk single-handedly took on a bunch of ruffians and ended up being thrown bodily from the High Street Bridge into Spring Creek. Undaunted, he climbed out of the stream none the worse for his experience and promptly brought the culprits to bay.
“Dukie” was the first to commandeer private automobiles to pursue local law breakers, sometimes as far as Lock Haven (over unpaved roads) when the occasion demanded.
The Department, in true “Dodge City style,” once kept Governor Daniel Hastings of Pennsylvania from being shot in his Bellefonte home.
Council equipped the police with their first car in June of 1940. At a cost of $593, the Borough bought a 2-door 1941 Plymouth Sedan and had it painted white. It soon became known to the public as the “ghost car.”