Department History

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The City of Delray Beach, located in Palm Beach County, spans approximately 15 square miles with a population of approximately 65,000. Its Police Department, founded in 1911, is represented by more than 150 sworn officers and approximately 70 civilian employees. It is adjacent to the city’s vibrant downtown business and historic districts. The employees comprise the Office of the Chief, Administrative Staff, Special Services, and Operations. There are more than 100 patrol officers to cover this area assuring services and protection to its citizens in the midst of crimes ranging from loitering to burglary to the drug war. The department’s means of providing this service is more sophisticated through better-educated and trained staff, through computer technology, and through a more aggressive approach to fighting criminal activities. Foot and bicycle patrols have been implemented to put the officers closer to the community and to solicit civic support, while at the same time officers are instructing drug abuse resistance programs in the city’s elementary and secondary schools as a crime-prevention tool.

The Delray Beach Police Department, as well as the city, has come a long way since Delray’s meager beginnings in the late 1800’s. Law enforcement was not even a thought while Delray was in its infancy being settled by pioneers and Indians alike. In the early days, law and order had consisted of a seldom-operating justice system at a time when whiskey, gambling, and shooting scrapes were all part of the uncharted territory; much like the Old West. A court had been established in the late 1800’s to service all of Palm Beach County, but to have a court and keep it running were two different things, and in the years to come, it was a hit-or-miss proposition. At times, even the presiding judge forgot to attend hearings; at others, the elements were against them as historical records show where court terms were recessed because of a “. . .yellow fever quarantine . . . the only public road between the home of the circuit judge and the court was closed . . .” or “ . . . the judge and members of the bar were on a steamboat that ran aground up the lake . . .”

Anyone researching law enforcement in Florida has an idea of how primitive the beginnings of a criminal justice system were simply by the description of the court-site as being “ . . . jungle-covered – indicated only by a marker . . .” and the content of cases brought before the court consisted of crimes which are no longer addressed: i.e. cohabitation without being married.

To understand the history of the police department, one must begin with the history of the City of Delray Beach itself for its roots are what have made the department what it is today: stead-fast and progressive. Delray Beach has accelerated from its quaint ambiance of a resort-town to booming growth in commercial and residential appeal. The following synopsis was developed based upon articles, narratives, and data (many of which have unknown authors) currently maintained by the Delray Beach Historical Society.

I. The Town of Linton and Delray Beach: 1866-1911

In 1866, shortly after the War Between the States, Mr. W.H. Gleason was commissioned by the Federal Government to make a topographical and agricultural survey of Delray Beach, Florida. At that time, Mr. Gleason was able to acquire large tracts of land in Florida and in 1895, Mr. William S. Linton of East Saginaw, Michigan, purchased 640 acres of land from him. This is all of the one square mile that is the heart of present Delray Beach, which is located west of the Intracoastal Waterway. Mr. Linton had civil engineer E. Burslem Thomsen design the town he called Linton which is now known as Delray Beach; Lake Ida, now used for boating and water-skiing, was named for Mrs. Linton; and the streets of Linton bore the names of friends, family, and associates of the developer.

The Town of Linton was established primarily as a farming center for the cultivation of tomatoes and pineapples, and encountered economic and climactic conditions that caused the venture to fail. Adversities were great for these early residents as they lived in tents until crude homes or shelters could be constructed. The railroad would not even reach the area until 1896 so barges carried salvage from shipwrecks and supplies down the Intracoastal Canal (now known as the Intracoastal Waterway) to be used as building materials. Pineapple farming held great promise for the early settlers, but mosquitoes, ants, bedbugs, horseflies, and wild animals conspired against them. Many people left the area, including Mr. Linton who defaulted on payment for the land, and returned to Michigan; thus, mortgages on 605 acres of property were foreclosed.

On May 2, 1898, George A. Gale gave the highest bid, $5.00 for Mr. Linton’s holdings. A few hearty pioneers stayed, and soon an ex-railway mail clerk named Warren Blackmer came to the settlement from Delray, Michigan, and seemed to assume leadership of the community. The decision was made at a town meeting to change the name of the community to Delray, as no one wanted the name of Linton to remain after its failure. Records show that law enforcement at this time was maintained through the county under the direction of a local sheriff and deputies. Not much else has been documented for this period.

At the turn of the century, there were more than 100 families in the town. The railway prompted access from the north to the south, and in 1901, Delray’s first hotel and public school were erected. Religious organizations met in the schoolhouse until their own churches were constructed; in 1902, the Ladies Improvement Association of Delray, the city’s first civic organization, was formed and was instrumental in civilizing the area through scheduled cultural and social activities.

Aside from this progression of events, the Town of Delray was not actually incorporated until 1911; minimal documentation was kept on the area of law enforcement and the only event that can be recorded is that the first Town Marshal, and first law enforcement officer for Delray Beach, Joseph M. Walker, was appointed in the same year. Past records do not indicate where law enforcement activity was housed at that time.

II. Delray Beach: 1911-1927

Meanwhile, a separate town, Delray Beach, bordered the beach area up to the east side of the Intracoastal Waterway. The town had no municipal facilities except a mayor, council, and a town clerk. The Town of Delray (formerly Linton) had the water and light plants, railroad station, post office, and several times more residents; however, Delray Beach had the ocean (a prime commodity then as it is now). There had been thoughts of uniting the two towns, but nothing much was ever done until 1926 when the Chamber of Commerce had a bill sponsored in the State Legislature providing that the Town of Delray and Delray Beach thereafter be known as Delray Beach and have one city administration governing the whole. This was made subject to a referendum vote of all people in the affected areas. The residents of the beach didn’t like this, and voted against it; however, the Town of Delray had four or more times the voters, and moved in on its neighbor so that Beach has been tacked onto the town’s name ever since.

The Town of Delray can document having seven Town Marshals between 1911 and 1927 who performed diverse tasks ranging from resident animal control officer (seizing stray pigs, chickens, dogs, and cats) to resident peace officer (maintaining the protection and order of the city’s residents). These marshals are:

Town Marshalls Years of Service:

  1. Joseph M. Walker 1911-1916
  2. J.W. Ramsey 1916-1917
  3. Earl Harvel 1917-1918
  4. J.M. Walker 1918-1919
  5. A.F. Miller 1919-1920
  6. Lee Milton 1920-1924
  7. W.M. Croft 1924-1927

Town Council Minutes of October 31, 1911, outlined several duties of the Town Marshal. Among them are: “. . . arrest and safely keep by confining in the town jail any person who shall be guilty of disturbing the peace, good order or dignity of the Town of Delray, or who shall violate any ordinance of the town . . . shall see that all ordinance concerning the cleanliness, health and sanitary conditions of the town are strictly complied with . . . shall have the authority to command any male bystander over the age of eighteen years to assist him in overcoming any persons resisting him.” The marshal was able to appoint any additional deputies or policemen to assist him in his law enforcement efforts.

Delray Beach showed great progress by 1912; the first bank was organized, the first newspaper was published and the West Palm Beach Telephone Company, the forerunner of what is presently known as BellSouth, was granted a franchise to operate. Progress brought the need of a city jail by 1913; the Women’s Club established the Public Library in 1914; and in 1917 Delray’s first movie theater was built.

The fee for the marshal’s services were set per Town Council Minutes dated August 12, 1915: “. . . one dollar for each person arrested and brought before the Mayor’s Court, whether such person shall be convicted or not . . . one dollar for attending each regular meeting of the Town Council . . . neither the marshal nor any policemen shall receive any extra compensation for special patrol, police or detective work unless such extra work shall be ordered by vote of the Council and the compensation therefore fixed in advance be the Council.” Any additional policemen were required to be bonded for the “faithful charge of his duties” and “. . . in the absence or incapacity of the marshal, or when requested by the marshal, shall have the same powers and duties as the marshal, and receive the same compensation as the marshal receives for like services.” There is no documentation as to whether or not a policeman received compensation other than in the direct performance of the marshal in his absence, but it wasn’t until 1919 that the Council agreed to purchase a police cap for the Town Marshal while the purchase of a revolver was set aside for further consideration.

The early 1920’s marked industrialization, as the community knew it with the general use of electricity being in its infancy. The municipal light plant didn’t have much pressure and there was no current during the day; most nights the plant closed at 11:00 p.m. Every evening, one hour before the power was to be turned off, a switch would be thrown and lights would blink a few times to act as a signal for whoever was out visiting to hurry home, or get into bed by lamplight. There were very few conveniences with no electric stoves, few appliances, and the use of gas being relatively unknown to the area. Thirty-five ladies’ signatures on a petition were instrumental in having electricity turned on for Wednesday afternoons, beginning at 1:00 p.m. for the purpose of ironing. Economic and residential growth were steady, but not rapid until 1924-25 when the “boom” was in operation and along with Delray Beach’s growth came the establishment of the city’s budget which by 1926 required over $164,000 to fund. By 1927, the Town of Delray Beach was incorporated as the City of Delray Beach.

Hurricanes are sometimes mentioned in whispers, but they are no whispering breeze when one strikes; longtime Delray residents take all precautions to secure their homes and themselves. The police department at one time was designated as a hurricane shelter to house victims and evacuees, but the early settlers were ill-prepared for a near devastating hurricane in 1926 which struck the coast between Miami and West Palm Beach leaving residents with little solace: homelessness, business and industry almost at a standstill, and water everywhere. This disaster left the city with a dramatic decrease in funds with little time to recover before the Great Depression; the city employees were paid their salaries in script (promissory notes) and Delray Beach joined the rest of the country in suffering bank failures.

III. Delray Beach: 1927-Present

Delray Beach grew steadily, the way a small town does, everybody knowing everybody else, enjoying the birth of new children, mourning the deaths of the old, and enjoying its favored location. From a mere struggling village of only 839 persons in 1915, Delray Beach became a thriving, attractive city which enjoyed its greatest progress, historically, from 1920 to 1930.

Delray Beach appeared for the first time in the Federal Census of 1920 with a population of 1,051 with the greatest percentage of distribution of persons between 20 and 62 years of age by 1930. This could be attributed to the city’s stability; the majority of the population consisted of individuals who were physically, mentally, and socially entrenched in their community or who transplanted themselves to an area of opportunity. Historically, individuals in the early years pursued home, family, and ownership at an earlier age; thereby creating a solid role in the success of their community sooner than we see in our present-day lives. Currently, more and more individuals pursue upper level education only to take their expertise elsewhere and exhibit a more transient attitude towards their way of life. We can theorize that individuals of years gone by had a higher responsibility to their homes and community simply because of the values placed on them at that time, thereby, stabilizing it for the opportunity to grow. Although Delray was part of the tourist trade, it still exhibited the characteristics of a more homogenous society where everyone knew everyone else since businesses were owned and operated by Delray residents.

Since the incorporation of the City of Delray Beach in 1927, there have been fifteen Police Chiefs in the department’s history. They are:

Chiefs of Police Years of Service

  1. W.M. Croft 1927 – 1931
  2. Jesse C. Johnson 1932 – 1933
  3. R.V. Priest 1933 – 1934
  4. Charles Lamb 1934 – 1937
  5. M.D. Morris 1937 – 1938
  6. A.F. Nelson 1938 – 1943
  7. R.C. Croft 1943 – 1972
  8. James S. Grantham 1972 – 1974
  9. Murray O. Cochran 1974 – 1979
  10. Charles L. Kilgore 1979 – 1990
  11. Richard M. Lincoln 1990 – 1991
  12. Richard G. Overman 1991 – 2001
  13. Joseph L. Schroeder 2001 – 2008
  14. Anthony W. Strianese 2008 – 2014
  15. Jeffrey S. Goldman 2014 – Present

Memories of the police department’s activities are reminiscent of the eras in which they took place. The early 1930’s, part of the “depression years”, reflect a time of early ambiance in the area when the hot weather brought residents out of their bungalows to lull the time away either under a shade tree or the roof of a porch since money was scarce for any kind of extravagance. An article that was found through the Delray Beach Historical Society illustrates what could happen when a group of “regulars” get together and takes the law into their own hands:

An Altercation on Atlantic Avenue in the 1930's: A group of elderly men would gather on the benches each day in front of the old Roxy Theatre under the canopy to discuss the events of the day as well as the days before.

Two young men, who were visiting relatives that lived on Swinton Avenue, had been taken to the beach to go swimming. They decided not to wait for their relatives to pick them up but to walk home.

On seeing the young men walking the street in their bathing suits, two of the group jumped up as they passed and planted a boot in their rear ends. A scuffle occurred and the young men took them to city court.

City Judge Wilcox listened to the charges and made his decision – he fined the older men $1.00 each and costs for taking the law into their own hands. He also fined the young men $1.00 each and costs for disobeying the law – “that it is unlawful to wear bathing suits on the streets.”

The late 1930’s and early 1940’s did their best to touch Delray Beach with the tragedies of World War II; either through the loss of local boys or through witnessing ships being torpedoed right off the shore. The Coast Guard’s activities were documented more than the Police Department since their patrolling area of the beach received the most attention at this time. Delray Beach enjoyed a seasonal population by many respects since it was a resort town, but recreational activity was at a minimum during the war years.

The post-war years and the 1950’s boasted an increase in population as Delray Beach was considered the principal agriculture-producing area of the coastal fringe. Industry was comprised of vegetables, dairy cattle and products, cut flowers and nursery products, poultry and poultry products, and honey. During the produce season, some 1,000 workers would migrate to the area to work on the various farms. Agriculture at that time, as it is now, was the basic economy and welfare of Delray Beach. Next to agriculture, construction played an important role in the economy; as the population grew, residential and retail trade increased. The Police Department had a chief that would hold the position for the next 30 years (R.C. Croft, 1943-1972), and the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) became the social organization of police officers and their families sponsoring monthly dinners, Thanksgiving turkey shoots, Christmas parties, and Easter egg hunts.

The late Police Major Chester E. Billings [retired, 1978] remembered when he started with the department in the 1950’s that there were only five men, one patrol car (used cars were later purchased and repainted to increase the fleet), two cameras, and one man in the detective bureau. A red light on the top of the building would signal to officers on the road when a call was coming in so the closest patrolling unit could return to the station to pick up; no police dispatchers back then! There were about 6,000 residents (as opposed to 35,000 residents by the time he retired), and everyone would close up shop during the fishing season; signs would grace storefronts informing patrons that the owners had “Gone Fishing” or that “The Blues are Running”.

Discrimination and desegregation became the most prevalent social issues as the U.S. Supreme Court made legal decisions that would affect where and how people lived, where and what kind of education they would receive, and how all were treated under the guidelines of the law. In 1950, 61 percent of the Delray Beach population was 25 years of age or older. The percentage of non-whites in this age group was 37.5 whereas for the age group less than 25 years of age, the percentage of non-whites was 56 percent. The police department was caught in the midst of discrimination issues either through the hiring process or basic treatment of the non-white residents in Delray Beach. Many nuances of the discrimination issue still hold true today as departments across the nation are continually challenged in their personnel and arrest practices.

The 1960’s and 1970’s of Delray Beach mapped an upward trend in tourism and retirement. Increasing development of suburbs meant that more areas required police protection. Every budget year, requests included more personnel and more advanced equipment to provide the best protection to an increasing number of people who either permanently or seasonally resided in the city.

The date that everyone in the department most remembers during this period is August 19, 1974, which tragically marks the death of Delray Beach police officer, John D. Kennedy; the first killed in the line of duty. He lived, worked, and died in Delray Beach and is annually honored at the National Police Memorial Service. Willie Simpson was convicted in 1977 of Officer Kennedy’s murder, and is now serving a life sentence at the state prison in Starke, Florida. The Department dedicated a memorial to Officer Kennedy on August 10, 2004, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death. The only other officer lost in the line of duty since then was Canine Cello, one of a team of German shepherds, in 1984. Cello died of health complications that developed while he assisted his handler in the apprehension of a criminal suspect.

As Delray Beach has moved into the 21st Century, it is a more heterogeneous community with a growing ethnic community. There is still the influx of seasonal residents to serve, but the department’s biggest challenge remains serving the needs of our diverse, permanent population. Quality service is assured through better-educated and trained police officers in the areas of sociology, psychology and ethics; recruitment practices solicit minority and ethnic individuals into law enforcement to serve the needs of a diverse community. The police department replicates new, nationally-known policing programs which take police officers out of the car and onto the street using either bicycle or foot patrols. This puts them more in touch with the community and its residents.

Decreasing government funds and increasing populations are forcing public entities to do more with less; so one way of increasing police protection is through the eyes and ears of the citizens. The department oversees a volunteer force of 300-plus citizens that comprise our Citizen Observer Patrols, Roving Patrols, Downtown Walking Patrols, and the Haitian Roving Patrol. These “go-getters” are assigned to various trouble spots in our community to deter criminal activity at local shopping centers, businesses, and the beach. Our volunteers have specialized training so they can meet the department’s high standards of serving the community.

On September 11, 2001, the entire world as we knew it here in the United States of America changed forever, and so did the city of Delray Beach. The eyes of the entire world focused upon our city looking for answers as to how, and why, nine of the twenty terrorists involved in the attacks could have lived among us, here in our city, undetected. In an effort to ensure a higher level of security for our city and its residents, as well as all Americans who visit us, the Delray Beach Police Department has started a brand new volunteer program called The Volunteer Homefront Security Program in May of 2002. This program was designed to supplement our law enforcement efforts at governmental sites throughout the city. The heroes of our new volunteer program are veterans of WWII who defended our country 60 years ago, and have once again stepped forward to defend America. They patrol governmental buildings and sites throughout the city of Delray Beach looking for suspicious incidents. With approximately 40 hours of training from the Police and Fire Departments, they have been taught how to keep the public safe from possible suspicious packages until the professionals arrive. Since then this unit has had the most press – locally, nationally, and internationally – than any other volunteer program in the state of Florida. This program received media coverage from Channel 5 WPTV, Channel 12 WPEC, Channel 25 WPBF, FOX 29, Channel 6 WFLX, The Sun Sentinel News, The Palm Beach Post, the Boca-Delray News, the Delray Times, Time magazine, Russian television, The Today in Florida show, ABC Nightline with Ted Koppel, and CBS Weekend News. On January 8, 2004, President George W. Bush met with Homefront Security Volunteer Gordon Stanley at the Palm Beach International Airport to personally thank him for his volunteer service.

Delray Beach has received the prestigious “All America City” award twice in the past eight years: 1993 and 2001. The All-America City Award is the oldest and most respected community recognition program in the nation. Founded in 1949, the All-America City Award recognizes communities whose citizens work together to identify and tackle community-wide challenges and achieve uncommon results. Each year, only 10 communities are selected as All-America City winners. These communities exemplify the true American spirit at work. Their citizens are actively committed to ensuring that their community is a safe, nurturing place to live. Since the program’s inception, more than 4,200 communities have competed and nearly 520 have been named "All-America Cities". In addition to this, the Delray Beach Police Department has received recognition from civic, governmental, and private organizations. Recognition has been given to anyone from volunteers and individual employees to the Chief of Police and the Department as a whole.

The Delray Beach Police Department has created, sponsored, and participated in several programs with the younger residents of our community. Two of which have received outside recognition are The Delray Youth Vocational Charter School and Atlantic Community High School’s Criminal Justice Program. The Charter School was a vision of Delray Beach Police Officer Johnny Pun, and has the simple goal of giving at-risk, underprivileged and disadvantaged youth a hand-up into a productive life through education and vocational training that will enable them to earn their GED and obtain basic automotive repair skills. Through skills learned at this school students have become productive, law-abiding citizens who, because they have a brighter future through better employment opportunities, will then participate in wholesome lifestyles. Officer Pun saw his vision through to its success until he was sadly lost in an off-duty motorcycle accident in 2005, but the program remains one which is nationally recognized, and hosts the annual “Run for Pun” and “Public Safely Day.” The second notable program, the Atlantic Community High School Criminal Justice Program provides high school students with the opportunity to take classes that teach them about police work. Students receive instruction on police procedures, criminal law, criminal investigations, and interpersonal skills. This program also provides the students with the opportunity to earn three college credits upon successful completion of the program, and creates a career-based foundation for our “future” police officer candidates. The program began in 2002 with 13 students and has grown to over 200 students per year.

The Delray Beach Police Department has a budget of approximately $32 million (a far cry from the $164,000 city-wide budget of the early 1900’s!), but is still not enough to meet the needs of an evolving community. Since 2001, the department has received close to $3.4 million in grants to increase police technology, manpower, training, volunteer programs, and to supplement equipment needs.

The department has implemented a new law enforcement concept called Intelligence-led Policing to meet the needs of an ever-increasing population. It meshes improved intelligence operations, community-oriented policing, and problem-solving to address crime and trends, while engaging community input. This requires more sophisticated, advanced systems to monitor crime prevention, criminal identification, and criminal apprehension.

The most recent accomplishment that the Delray Beach Department has achieved is receiving its fourth, state Law Enforcement re-accreditation in 2013. Since its initial accreditation in 2004, the Delray Beach Police Department continues to meet the stringent criteria set by the Commission for Florida Accreditation, and the 276 different standards that the Commission requires law enforcement agencies to satisfy. While accreditation is part of the department’s culture, every three years, two separate teams of three assessors spend three days in Delray Beach examining nearly every aspect of the Police Department’s policies, procedures, management, operations, training, and support services. The assessment teams scrutinized every area of the department in great detail before granting re-accredited status. In a special ceremony that was held in Sarasota, Florida, the Police Department received its re-accreditation recognition upon the review and approval of favorable assessment reports. We are in good company with over 100 other Florida law enforcement agencies who have received this special recognition, as well.

Delray Beach is one of the fastest growing cities in the county. There are unlimited, year-round recreational opportunities, and many visitors come to enjoy the area’s sunny climate, unique ambiance, beautiful beaches, cultural festivals, and special events. We continue to thrive as a commercial center with a significant number of young professionals becoming new residents. Ultimately, our goal is to “L.E.A.D. the Way!” – through Learning, Excellence, Accountability, and Diversity. And, in doing so, the Delray Beach Police Department continues to raise the bar of professionalism for policing as it progresses into the future.