Jul 18, 2011

History in blue

90 years of Maine State Police

By Tpr. Tom Fiske 
and Katy England
edge staff writer

For approximately 90 years the Maine State Police have been patrolling the highways and byways of Maine. Tpr. Tom Fiske a patrol trooper from Troop E has been updating and maintaining the history of the Maine State Police, as well as teaching it to would-be troopers attending the Regional Trooper Training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.
“I can’t take complete credit. [The history] was started long before I came along, and I took it and made it my own,” he said. He was hooked after he attended the Maine State Police Academy’s class on the agency’s history.
“I’ve always been interested in history, and that [class] turned me on to it,” he said.
Fiske noted that the history was pieced together from various sources, from newspaper stories from around the state to interviews with family members of former Troopers and Inspectors.
What follows is a brief history of the Maine State Police compiled by Tpr. Fiske, Sgt. Percy Turner and Major Randall Nichols.
Due to space constraints, I’ve boiled down some of the information and given it a narrative format. Any errors or omissions are most likely mine.

In the beginning
In July 1921, the Maine State Highway Patrol was formed with 34 members, known as inspectors, under the State Highway Commission. The organization would add another 35 officers in August. The inspectors were responsible for enforcing motor vehicle laws and collect fees for driver’s licenses and registrations. They drove Harley Davidson or Indian motorcycles, and were outfitted in green Army surplus uniforms. In 1922, the State Highway Police were placed under the supervision of the Secretary of State.

It wouldn’t be until 1925 that the Highway Police received more leeway to enforce the law in a broader sense. The governor created a separate department and appointed Arthur H. Field as the first Chief of the State Police. All of the members could now enforce all of the laws in Maine in addition to motor vehicle law, and were issued a motorcycle, pistol and a law book. And they did this for a whopping $28 per week (actually a decent salary back in the ‘20s).
In 1935 the State Highway Police became known as the Maine State Police, formalizing their changing duties and responsibilities. That same year, the department expanded once again, bringing the number of sworn troopers to 100. The next year, automobiles were introduced and a fleet of 47 sedans were purchased at $515 apiece (more like a monthly payment these days). The patrol cars were black and the highway safety vehicles were painted white.
It was also in 1936 that the department was divided into five distinct patrol sections in Wells, Fairfield, Thomaston, Bangor and Presque Isle, with the headquarters located in Augusta.
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, many State Police begin statewide training programs with county and municipal law enforcement agencies. Before the end of the war, more than 25 percent of the agency would take a leave of absence to serve in the armed forces. In the meantime, troopers were issued Thompson submachine guns for the duration of the war.
During this time, troopers were given new duties that included setting up road blocks to ensure that civilians weren’t pleasure driving (i.e. wasting gas, which was being rationed at the time). Police found that most of the violators were workers using government vehicles.
Troopers also monitored traffic along the Route 1 corridor to ensure that drivers were using headlight covers or blackout lights, and troopers were also stationed at bridges and other areas deemed important.

Big moments in MSP history

Investigative work has changed over time, but murder, crime and mayhem remain constants.  The Maine State Police have investigated countless crimes throughout the years, but some make bigger headlines than others.
In October 1937, New Jersey State Troopers arrested Paul Dwyer for the murder of Dr. James Littlefield and his wife Lydia. Captain Leon Shepherd processed the crime scene, utilizing emerging technologies in the field.
Throughout the strange course of the trial, both Dwyer and Deputy Sheriff Francis Carroll were convicted of murder. But 11 years later, Carroll was released on a writ of habeas corpus, due in part to evidence that was discovered by Shepherd but excluded at the original trial.
(Dwyer points out evidence at the scene of the crime)

In October of 1947, the Maine State Police radio system became integral in relaying information to firefighters who were battling a forest fire that was sparked in Oxford County and ravaged York, not stopping until it hit the ocean in Kennebunk. The fire reportedly burned over 200,000 acres and killed 15 people.
In 1956, a Limerick man shot and killed his wife and Westbrook Police Chief Pierre Harnois and wounded two state troopers. More than 100 police officers responded to the scene. The gun battle lasted more than five hours before the man took his own life.
Seventy troopers respond to Madawaska to maintain order during the 1971 labor strike at Fraser Paper Co. A confrontation between troopers and strikers and their families resulted in six police vehicles being damaged.
In 1980, 90 troopers were assigned to the Maine State Prison in Thomaston for a six-week prison lockdown. Later that year, two convicts escaped from the Maine State Prison, sparking the longest manhunt in MSP history, which lasted for 22 days. Hundreds of troopers, deputies, wardens and canines participated in the search that ended when Trooper Dennis Hayden of China and his canine located the pair.
When George H.W. Bush was sworn in as Vice President of the United States, troopers became involved with security at his home in Kennebunkport that continues to the present.
In 1983, 150 troopers and detectives provided security for the National Governor’s Conference in Portland, the largest call for troopers in the agency’s history.
In 1997, New England State Police Administrators Conference (NESPAC) was invoked to assist the New Hampshire State Police with investigating an incident where Carl Drega shot and killed two New Hampshire State Troopers, a judge and a news reporter before fleeing in a stolen cruiser. They tracked the gunman to northern Vermont, where two Vermont Troopers were wounded in the final shootout; Drega was also killed. Troopers from the traffic division and criminal investigation division also responded to investigate various crime scenes.
On September 11, 2001, all Maine State Troopers were activated after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in case of further incidents.
In 2002, troopers investigated the deadliest crash in Maine history, where a van with 15 occupants drove off the John’s Bridge in Northern Piscataquis County into the river, drowning 14.
In 2007, President George W. Bush met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at George H.W. Bush’s residence on Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport. Troopers were deployed for the gathering, which took place without incident.

We have the technology

The equipment used by troopers has evolved over the years. Here’s a brief overview of some of their gear from the early days to the present.
1921 – Inspectors are issued Harley Davidson or Indian motorcycles to patrol the highway.
1936 – Automobiles replace the motorcycles, though there are still some motorcycles in use.
1937 – The State Bureau of Identification is created to keep all criminal records in the state.
1940 – Roger that; the first two-way radios are being used, and communication centers are established in August, Scarborough and Wells.
1950 – Captain Roger Doyle collaborates with Ford Motor Company to develop the first domestic vehicles specifically upgraded for police patrol.
1956 – Roof lights are installed on patrol vehicles, and the department gets its first polygraph machine.
1976 – The MSP begin using citizen band radios for patrol. The underwater recovery team (i.e. the dive team) is formed as is the State Police Emergency Response Unit (more recently known as the Tactical Team). The Emergency Response Unit is called to Greenwood City that August to deal with a man who had opened fire on two troopers responding to the report of a disturbance. The man is arrested after an all-night standoff.
1978 – The aircraft enforcement unit becomes a permanent part of the agency.
1980 – The first mobile breath alcohol testing device is put into use for rural alcohol enforcement.
1984 – The hostage negotiation team is established.
1986 – The Maine State Crime Laboratory is built.
1988 – The 357 Smith & Wesson revolvers are replaced by 9mm Beretta semiautomatic pistols.
1994 – The bomb disposal team is created.
1995 – Video cameras are installed in cruisers for the first time.
1997 – The State Police Crime Lab is expanded to house a new DNA section.
2003 – Sworn troopers are issued laptop computers, and the agency makes the move to computer-based reporting.

Officer down
It’s no secret that being a Maine State Trooper is a dangerous job, and 10 troopers have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in Maine.

1924, Patrolman Emery O. Gooch was killed when he lost control of his motorcycle in Mattawamkeag after joining the Highway Patrol a month prior.

1925, Trooper Fred Foster was killed when his motorcycle struck a horse hauling a load of hay in Belfast.

In 1928, Trooper Frank Wing was killed when his motorcycle collided with an oil truck in Millinocket. Wing had joined the Maine State Police two months earlier.

In 1964, Trooper Charles Black was shot to death responding to an armed robbery at the Maine National Bank in South Berwick.

In 1980, Trooper Thomas Merry was killed after he was struck by a car involved in a high-speed pursuit. Merry had positioned his cruiser as part of a roadblock and was seeking cover when he was hit.

In 1986, Trooper Michael Veilleux was killed when he lost control of his cruiser in Dayton. He had graduated from the State Police Academy the month prior.

In 1989, Detective Giles Landry was shot to death while investigating a report of child abuse in Leeds. The gunman also killed the woman that Landry was speaking with before committing suicide.

In 1994, Trooper Jeffrey Parola was killed when his cruiser crashed in Sidney while he was responding to a domestic violence call as a member of the Tactical Team.

In 1996, Trooper James Griffith was killed when a vehicle collided with his cruiser as he attempted to make a U-turn to pursue a speeding vehicle in Warren.

In 1997, Detective Glenn Strange succumbed to heart problems days after arresting a drunk driver who kicked and punched him in the chest in Linneus. Strange had been promoted to detective weeks before his death.

If you have pieces of Maine State Police history that you would like to share, you can email Tpr. Fiske at Thomas.D.Fiske@Maine.gov.