Although Parkersburg has maintained organized law enforcement ever since the city was incorporated, the municipal police department did not become designated as such until an act was passed August 26, 1873, which authorized city council to appoint policemen.
At that time a town sergeant was head of the law enforcement agency in Parkersburg, and he remained head of the newly created police department until several years later, when an ordinance provided for the appointment of a chief of police.
Prior to 1873, Parkersburg was protected by law enforcement agencies known variously as town marshals, town sergeants and town guards. The legislative act passed January 22, 1820, which granted a charter to the city of Parkersburg, designated that “the collector or town marshal shall be the conservator of peace within the limits of the corporation in like manner as constables are and for services as such, shall be entitled to the same fees as constables in like cases.”
Old council journals and municipal codes revealed that this form of law enforcement evidently existed in Parkersburg until an act was passed July 24, 1857, which provided for the appointment of a town sergeant. Another act passed two years later, on March 11, 1859, provided for the appointment of a town guard consisting of ten persons by the president of the municipal board of trustees.
The guards, when employed on active duty, received one dollar a day for their services, and the town sergeant headed the department. The same act provided for special duties of the sergeant “on the Sabbath” when he was to preserve order in conformity with the religious observance of the occasion.
On August 26, 1873, another act was passed authorizing the mayor of the city and council members to appoint policemen for the creation of a police department. The town sergeant was designated as head of the department, but a decade later additional provisions were made for the appointment of chiefs of police.
A previous act of March 17, 1860, which changed the form of municipal government from a board of trustees to a town council, retained the sergeant but provided for the appointment of “such deputies as necessary”. The act did not state whether these deputies replaced the town guards which were named the previous year.
In 1889, the year the Sentinel was established as a daily newspaper, J. R. Mehen was serving as town sergeant in Parkersburg. He was just completing a two-year appointment, which became effective in April 1887, and he was replaced that year by H. L. Dils, who also served a two-year period and is considered the first actual chief of police. Mehen was then named to a special office known as city detective, which he filled until 1891, when the office was abolished, and he was returned to the police captaincy in place of Dils.
Police who served under Chief Dils from 1889 to 1891 were J. A. Muncey, James McNulty, A. C. Taylor, T. C. Rexroad and Robert Dyke, with former Chief Mehen as special detective. When Mehen returned to the captaincy in 1891, he appointed as his patrolmen James Conners, Thomas Burns, Henry Trissler, Thomas Hendershot and Harrison Dye.
Original Police Cruisers
Prior to 1895, police had no vehicular equipment and brought their prisoners to jail “on foot” or in cabs. But on September 24, of that year, council enacted an ordinance providing for the purchase of light horse-drawn patrol wagons.
It was not until 1913, when the first mobilized piece of equipment was purchased for the police department – a Kissel Kar patrol wagon which was used for a number of years. Later, individual automobiles were bought for the department, but it was not until 1929, under former Chief Watson, that a cruiser car patrol system was installed. The old patrol wagon also used as a city ambulance, had been abandoned before the cruiser car system was inaugurated.
In 1982, the department began the Home Fleet Program. Each officer was issued his or her own cruiser to take home. Officers have specific guidelines to follow, and all officers are considered on duty while in the police cruiser. They are expected to handle serious calls they come upon and may be assigned calls if the on-duty shift becomes busy. In essence, the patrol force is increased at any given time by the presence of off-duty officers. The program was been such a success that all the surrounding jurisdictions have gone to similar programs.
The First Headquarters
Before the construction of City Hall in 1895, the police department was housed in a building on Third Street between Ann and Juliana, and for a number of years immediately preceding the erection of the City Building, the police occupied a suite of rooms over the Wood County Bank. Although the cornerstone for the City Building was laid in 1895, it was not until three years later that the handsome stone structure was completed.
In December of 1979, after 81 years, the police department moved from the old stone structure at 5th & Market Street and currently occupies the entire third floor of the Parkersburg Municipal Building. The department also operates one police substation in Parkersburg City Park.
Policing in the 21st Century
As the Parkersburg Police Department progresses into the 21st century, it is constantly adapting to the changing needs of the citizens of Parkersburg.
The agency employs nearly 100 people for positions such as police officer, administrative assistants, secretaries, telecommunicators, crossing guards, and a civilian Evidence Technician.
The department supports many specialized units including the Street Crime Unit, Hostage Negotiation Team, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team, Traffic Crash Team, Computer Crimes, Bicycle Unit, Prevention Resource Officers (PRO) and a Motorcycle Unit among others. The department also assigns investigators to the Parkersburg Violent Crimes and Narcotics Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional unit covering several counties in the region.
The department’s motto “to protect and to serve” is demonstrated in its efforts to work with the community to solve and prevent crime. Programs like the Citizens Police Academy strive to give our residents a better understanding of what we do and how we do it, thus building an ongoing working relationship that will extend through the years.
As we have seen all too clearly, this new century will be one requiring knowledge, skill and commitment from those in public safety. In 1986, the department answered 20, 473 calls, with that number climbing to 44,780 calls in 2011. The number of officers has remained between 63 and 65 throughout this period, creating an obvious challenge. The evolution of crime and technology has also created the need for more specialized assignments such as those officers tasked to investigate computer crimes like child pornography, further stretching the demands placed upon the department.
The citizens of Parkersburg can be assured that our officers will continue to provide leadership, coordination, and delivery of law enforcement and support services in order to preserve, protect, and defend people and property, while respecting the rights and dignity of all the people we serve.