By Rick Palsgrove
The Groveport Police Department is celebrating its 50th birthday this year with an open house on Nov. 6 from 2-5 p.m. at the police station located at 5690 Clyde Moore Drive.
“We will be displaying some of our historical police artifacts during the open house and we will have 50th anniversary decals on the cruisers as well,” said Groveport Police Officer Ernie Bell.
Groveport Police Chief Ralph Portier said the anniversary is an important milestone for the department.
“The significance of this is that it is very remarkable that the small village of Groveport’s police department grew to become a well recognized and respected police department,” said Portier. “The primary focus today is to serve the public with the best possible service and respect, as it was back then. It is important to recognize the positive impact the Groveport Police department has on the community, thanks to its citizens, mayors and councilpersons.”
When the town of Groveport incorporated in 1847 it did not have a police department.
According to Bell, a town marshal fulfilled the policing duties of the village. The early 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 would perform 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 also maintained the street lights by lighting the oil lamps in the evening and extinguishing them in the morning.
Another 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.
A modern department forms
As Groveport grew in the post World War II years, the town leaders felt the method of policing should be modernized and in 1966 they hired Al Whipple as the town’s first police chief.
“Whipple is credited with building the police department from scratch,” wrote Bell in his article “History of Groveport Police Department,” which was published in the July 2016 “FOP News.”
Whipple trained new officers and established auxiliary officers to support the full time police officers. He also expanded the department’s scope to include Groveport and Madison Township from 1968-71, which required 10 full and part-time officers. In 1972 the township set up their own police department and Whipple and his men went back to just policing Groveport.
In these early years, Whipple also brought in Paul Tibbetts, the World War II pilot who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Japan at the end of the war. Tibbetts provided firearms training to the officers.
Bell said the department had about a half dozen officers until the city began to grow in the 1980s.
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.
Whipple was replaced by Roger Adams as chief in 1981. Adams had joined the department as a reserve officer in 1969 and served as chief until 2001. At the time of his retirement the department had grown to 12 full time officers.
Other past police chiefs were Timothy Carney from 2002-03, Bary Murphy from 2003-06, and Gary York from 2006-09.
Current Police Chief Ralph Portier began his service in Groveport in 2009. The department now has 24 full time officers, two reserve/part-time officers, and two civilian employees.
The department protects a town of 5,300 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 police patrol more than nine square miles and 88 lane miles of roads.
I am just a transplant here after serving twenty years in the military (having married a man stationed at then Lockbourne AFB) but I want to say THANK YOU to this beautiful city as well as the Police Dept. Although we moved away four times – we always came back because we loved it so much. Even though I’ve had some sad things, some bad things, some really, really scary things happen here – I still love the friends, the relatives (now) and my church family beyond words. And learned today that there is NO other town,city,village with the name of Groveport on the planet. How about that? We are the one and only. Love and blessings always, Kay S. Carter.