By Rick Palsgrove
The Groveport Police Department is in its 56th year, but law enforcement history in the city dates back to the 19th century.
This heritage is celebrated with “The History of Groveport Police” exhibit at Groveport Town Hall, 648 Main St. The exhibit, which is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, is on display from now until June 11. There will also be a reception at Town Hall on May 18 from 2-4 p.m. that will include former officers, local officials, and others.
“We are proud to have this exhibit put together by Groveport Police Officer and police historian Ernie Bell,” said Groveport Town Hall Program Coordinator Cristy Duckworth. “The items on display are from his personal collection.”
The exhibit features photos, uniforms, equipment, artifacts, documents, and more.
Bell has collected Groveport Police historical artifacts since 2004.
“I started collecting because I saw that a lot of items were being thrown out or destroyed and none of the officers at the time were interested in the history of the department,” said Bell. “That’s when I started researching and found that most of the old stories that officers told were in fact true.”
Bell said his favorite item in his collection is the badge and ID card of General Paul Tibbetts. In the 1960s, then Groveport Police Chief Al Whipple brought in Tibbetts – the World War II pilot who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Japan – to provide firearms training to the officers.
“It is by far the most significant item we have and the most historical,” said Bell. “Another favorite item is the straight jacket. It was standard equipment in our police cruisers until about 1980. Chief Whipple asked me to clean out the trunk of the cruiser, and I found the straight jacket. He told me to throw it in the dumpster since we don’t use them any more. I couldn’t throw it out. It was stored in my basement for about 25 years before I brought it out to display.”
Duckworth finds the drug look alike display – drugs versus candy – to be the most interesting display in the exhibit because it shows how easy it is for children to mistake medications for candy.
“It’s a reminder for everyone to store medication in a safe place,” said Duckworth.
Duckworth said it is important to know the history of the Groveport Police in order to understand how the department has progressed and changed over time.
“This exhibit is important to our community, because there is so much history on display,” said Duckworth. “You might be surprised what you will see and learn.”
Added Bell, “We need to preserve the history of the Groveport Police. We have a long, proud history of policing in Groveport since 1847 when the village was incorporated. It would be a shame to lose that.”
Groveport law enforcement origins
When Groveport was founded it did not have a police department.
According to Bell, a town marshal fulfilled the policing duties of the village. The marshals were either elected or appointed to serve one or two year terms and were paid about $75 a year. When necessary, deputies were added to assist the marshal.
Bell said the marshals performed other jobs to add to their income, such as watering the dirt streets to keep the dust down or turning the iron bridge on Main Street over the Ohio and Erie Canal to allow canal boats to pass by. They maintained the street lights by lighting the oil lamps in the evening and extinguishing them in the morning. A perk of the job was that, by the 1850s, it was illegal for residents to let their hogs and other livestock roam free in town and the marshal had the right to confiscate any free roaming hog and sell it.
The marshal system remained in Groveport until well into the 20th century.
Groveport Police Department forms
As Groveport grew in the post World War II years, town leaders felt the method of policing should be modernized and in 1966 they hired Whipple as the first police chief.
“Whipple is credited with building the police department from scratch,” said Bell.
Whipple trained new officers and established auxiliary officers to support the full time police officers.
Whipple, who retired in 1981, was known for his straight forward demeanor and his ability to read situations. He is said to have embraced the early principles of community policing where officers interact positively with the citizenry.
The Groveport Police Department consists of: a chief, a captain, two lieutenants, 24 full-time police officers and one civilian employee. The Detective Division has three investigators. The Patrol Division has three sergeants, 15 patrol officers, and one school resource officer serving at the Groveport Madison High School
The department protects a town of about 5,600 people (a population number in the city that rises dramatically by several thousand more when employees fill the industrial parks, other businesses and schools during the workday). The Groveport Police patrol more than nine square miles and 88 lane miles of roads.
Groveport Police chiefs
Groveport Police chiefs: Al Whipple from 1966-81; Roger Adams from 1981 to 2001; Timothy Carney from 2002-03; Bary Murphy from 2003-06; Gary York from 2006-09; Ralph Portier from 2009-21; and Casey Adams from 2021 to the present.