Lawrence Township Police History

Law Enforcement In Lawrence Township

By  Nicholas Loveless

From Lawrence Township Revisited (2012)
By The Lawrence Historical Society

    One of the earliest records of law enforcement officials in Lawrence Township is mentioned in the Minutes of Maidenhead Township: 
    "January ye 1st 1718. At a towne meeting held at the house of Mrs. Horners in Maidenhead, Derick Hoff and Peter Pun-nominated and Dirick Hoff chosen constable." 
    During the Colonial Period in New Jersey history, American colonists brought to America the law enforcement system developed in England. The offices of constable and sheriff were accomplished with little change in the structure of those offices. In early England, what was known as the "mutual pledge" system dated back to Alfred the Great in the ninth century . Private citizens were rewarded for maintaining law and order and making arrests. Individuals were responsible not only for their own actions but those of their neighbors. When a crime was committed it was the citizen's duty to raise the "hue and cry" and collect his neighbors to pursue the wrong-doer. The Crown organized each group of ten families into a "tithing" and the ten tithings into a "hundred", placing a constable in charge . The "hundreds" were then grouped into a "shire" within a geographic area similar to a county, and a "shire-reeve" was the forerunner of the Sheriff of the County . The office of Justice of the Peace was created in the 14th century to supplement constables and sheriffs in the duties of keeping the peace and judicial responsibilities.     As the pledge system gradually declined in the 1700' s, Vigilant Societies came into existence to fill the void. In Lawrence Township the Lawrence Vigilant society was not organized until 1867. The Colonial Militia and later the New Jersey State Militia traditionally have served to support the safety, strength and defense of the Province and the State . In the early days of the Province every male, between the ages of 16 and 60, was required to serve in the Militia. There are no indications that the Militia was ever used in Lawrence to support law enforcement. 
    As a rural community the offices of Sheriff and Constable continued to be Lawrence's law enforcement through the 1700 and 1800 hundreds. Following the Civil War the theft of horses became a problem to the point where the citizens of Lawrence had to do something to combat it. On January 2, 1867, the Lawrence Vigilant Society was organized at James Dumont's Hotel in Lawrenceville. The group was the first of its kind in New Jersey and organized "for the purpose of pursuing perpetrators of robbery, incendiarism or offenses committed against a society member over the amount of $10.00." According to the Constitution of the Society, "the pursuers were to be alerted and directed by the president and directors, who assigned not less than two to each route, all of which was to be kept secret." The pursuers rode 50 miles or more over their assigned routes unless they received "such intelligence as justified them in abandoning or continuing the pursuit." Initially there were 20 pursuers and officers elected to serve for one year. Rewards were also offered for the arrest and conviction of offenders. After several years pursuers were no longer elected, but all members served as a pursuer on a rotation basis.     In 1892 the Lawrence Society helped form a federation of other vigilant groups known as the "Grand Consolidated Society of New Jersey and Pennsylvania for the Recovery of stolen Property and the Detection of Thieves." Under the law, Vigilantes had the powers of local police and members were authorized to "apprehend in any township in which the society was organized and bring them before a Justice of Peace in the same township to be dealt with according to law." The Lawrence group was incorporated and provided each member vigilante with a badge. Former Police Lieutenant, William R. Hullfish, is the owner of the only Vigilant Society badge still known to exist. It was given to him by a former member, George W. Van Kirk. 
    Although the term "Vigilantes " may conjure up visions of the old west where cattlemen pursued the quarry and dispensed justice at the end of a rope on the nearest tree, the Lawrence Vigilantes were a dedicated , but less colorful and aggressive group. Many of their accomplishments are apparently unrecorded, however the following are a matter of record :
1872 - Paid a member $25.00 when a thief stole a harness. 
1906 - Reward of $100.00 paid for the conviction of a horse thief. 
1907 - Reward offered ($200.00) for arrest of persons burglarizing the Lawrenceville Post Office. 
1909 - Reward paid for the recovery of a stolen horse and buggy.
1918 - Reward offered for the arrest of thieves who stole a Dodge touring car from James Hullfish.
1919 - Reward offered for arrest of thieves who stole auto tires and chickens from A. G. Hullfish. Paid $17.16 as Lawrence's share of a $300.00 reward for the recovery of Sheriff Atchely' s horse.
    As motor vehicles slowly began replacing horses early in the 1900' s the Society considered, but did not adopt, the issue of vehicle insurance or rewards for stolen motor vehicles. In the early 1920's the State Police were organized to patrol rural areas of the state, and Lawrence organized its own Police Department, eliminating the need for vigilantes. The Society continued to exist as a social organization only, and held dinner meetings each year until the early 1950's when interest in the Society faded and it was disbanded.


    Larger towns and cities in New Jersey experienced a need for police patrols and enforcement much earlier than those in rural areas. In 1870 our neighboring City of Trenton employed uniformed officers walking an assigned "beat" and spent much of their time lighting and extinguishing street lamps. At that time appointments to the department were made by political affiliation. When a major crime was committed in the surrounding townships, Trenton police would often be called for assistance. Otherwise, Lawrence Township was unpatrolled and relatively unprotected until the early 1920's. On March 29, 1921, the New Jersey Legislature enacted a bill establishing the Department of State Police. It was the climax of four years of continued appeals by thousands of rural residents of the state for an organization qualified to deal with the vast areas outside established municipal police protection. The State Police had a modest beginning of 75 men, 61 horses, 20 motorcycles, one automobile and a truck. The first Superintendent was the late Brigadier General, H. Norman Schwartzkopf, a veteran of World War One. General Schwartzkopf lived on Main Street in Lawrenceville from 1934 until 1943 with his family. His son followed in his footsteps, also to become a General and the hero of the Desert Storm War.
    Originally there were two troops within the State Police, Troop "A" in Hammonton and Troop "B" in Netcong, each having five sub-stations.None were ever stationed in Lawrence although their services were always available if and when needed. When U.S. Highway #1 was constructed, patrols of the Princeton Station regularly patrolled the area. Interstate highways in Lawrence are still presently patrolled on a regular basis by State Police, in addition to local police. The State Police also provide a variety of services for municipal police including use of their crime laboratory, underwater recovery, identification services, polygraph testing, in-service training courses and the Municipal Police Training Academy. From 1953 to the mid1980's all Lawrence Township police recruits were graduated from the Academy. In the event of civil disturbance or disaster, the State Police also respond when requested to do so by local officials. They are not usually called unless an emergency cannot be contained by local police or mutual aid support by surrounding police departments.


    Although the State Police had been in existence for several years, and their services available, the Lawrence Township Committee recognized the need for the Township's own Police Department. On February 23, 1924, Joseph Leland Hopkins was named Lawrence's first Chief of Police at a salary of $2,000 per year. Chief Hopkins was provided with a motorcycle for transportation and patrol duties and would work a ten-hour day, seven days a week, in addition to being subject to call 24 hours a day . In addition six special officers were also named to assist Chief Hopkins on a part-time basis. John Mould, John Daisley and Joseph Stonicker, who were already Constables were among the group. 
    In January, 1926, George Turner the committeeman in charge of police, recommended an extension of the police force to provide better protection to the public, and 18 residents of the township were sworn in to serve as special officers to form a citizen's volunteer guard subject to call at any hour when called by the Chief. The Slackwood area was represented by Harold R. Williams, Fred E. Prall, Fred Whitehead, Joseph J. Klemiszarzirki, John W. Toft and Committeeman Turner. From the Lawrence Road area were Committeeman Stephen Ziegler, his son, Stephen P. Ziegler, George B. Lewis, George B. Wood, Harry Cadwalder, Jr. and Antonio Colavita. The Lawrenceville area was represented by Myron R. Dawley, Forman L. Pearson, Michael M. Fleming, Raymond Arrowsmith, Peter P. Coffee and Oscar Eggert. John Toft was to be the desk clerk on duty during the daytime at the courthouse at Harney' s Corner. Citizens desiring police service could contact Toft at the office. Toft also attended to secretarial duties of the Recorder's Court.     In March, 1926, it was decided to reduce Chief Hopkins ten hour day to eight hours, subject to call thereafter. On April 1, 1926, Joseph P. Stonicker was named to the department as a patrolman. Stonicker had served as a constable since 1922 and a special officer thereafter, making him well qualified for the position. He had originally patrolled Lawrenceville Village and the area around the Lawrenceville School, having been paid and furnished a uniform and motorcycle by the school. In June,1928, George Wood, Sr. was appointed as the third member of the department, followed by Dennis Akroyd in April, 1929, George Bondin 1930, and John T. Ballin April, 1931. With the addition of Bond, the workday was reduced to eight hours for officers. In 1928 an automobile was purchased for use on the midnight shift by officers, otherwise motorcycles were still utilized and not completely phased out until the mid 1930's.     Chief Hopkins has been described by old-time resident Charles Clowes as "a tall, lanky, Gary Cooper-cowboy-type who loved to race." After six years as Police Chief, Hopkins' luck took a turn for the worse. He had his share of "spills" as a result of patrol duty and chasing speeders on his motorcycle, and on June 8, 1930, "Hoppy", as he was known to local residents, collided with an automobile coming out of a side street on Lawrenceville Road. He suffered a broken leg, torn knee ligament and various lacerations and abrasions. Conflicting accounts make it unclear if he was on or off duty, however, later that year five charges were made against him by Committeeman Turner, and he was suspended for six months. There was also unsubstantiated allegations that he was lax in the enforcement of liquor laws. Returning to full duty on March 1, 1931, he was severely injured in an explosion of an illegal distillery on Vermont Street on March 28, 1931. The force of the blast threw him from the porch of the house and into the street, with the porch roof landing on top of him. This story is detailed in later pages. Although he eventually returned to duty, it was not a result of his injuries, but a heart attack that claimed his life on August 30, 1935.
    Following the death of Chief Hopkins, Joseph P. Stonicker was appointed as Chief of Police, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 1966. Clowes described Stonicker as a good, honest, hardworking cop that did not tolerate "funny business." It was Stonicker 'who paved the way for vacation leave for police officers. When he planned on being married he wanted two weeks off and informed the Township Committee at the time that he was getting married and would be off for two weeks whether they liked it or not!! The committee obviously agreed with him and granted the leave, setting a precedent for other officers of the department. Chief Stonicker gained the reputation of being a tough but fair police officer and earned the respect of township government and the citizens of the community as well. After his retirement in 1966 he moved to Florida where he spent his remaining years until his death in June 1979. Captain William F. Seabridge was appointed to succeed Stonicker as Chief of Police.     In 1948 the Police Department was granted Civil Service status and the work-week was reduced from six days to five eight-hour days. By then the numerical strength had raised to ten officers with patrol coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The post-war building boom and the exodus to the suburbs quickly changed Lawrence from a rural area to Suburbia. It also dramatically increased the demand for police protection and services, each year additional officers would be added and in the early 1960' s the department was able to provide two patrol cars on each shift. Recruits, up until that time, were almost entirely all veterans of World War Two or Korea.     As farms and open space gave way to development, Rider College (now Rider University) developed the former Glenburnie Farm on Lawrenceville Road, Educational Testing Service, E. R. Squibb (now Bristol-Myers Squibb), Lenox, DeLaval, Princeton University Press, Union Bag Corporation and many other commercial, industrial and research facilities located in Lawrence, all requiring more and more police services. Quaker Bridge Mall alone sharply affected the capability of the department, even though their own security force was created to ease the burden . By 1958, plainclothes officers were established to follow up on serious criminal offenses reported to the department, and was followed shortly afterward by establishment of a Detective Bureau. Traffic officers were to follow and have been used almost exclusively to investigate accidents, regulate traffic and enforce speed regulations. A Juvenile Officer was delegated the responsibility to investigate juvenile offenders and to promote crime prevention principles and practices in the community.     The rise of the drug culture brought another very serious problem to Lawrence as well as to all suburban communities. Not since Prohibition did any one single factor have so great an impact. U.S. Route 1 became a major artery in transporting drugs and narcotics, and they began to appear not only in the lower socio-economic levels, but among the middle and higher class as well. Addicts often chose the more affluent homes to burglarize in order to finance their dependency on narcotics. Again it was necessary to assign police officers to combat the problem in undercover operations, and the problems were generally kept under control. Drugs and narcotics have been responsible for a great many other crimes in addition to laws that prohibited their possession, sale and use.     The Police Department has always managed to adjust to the changes in society and in the community, and continually strives to adapt to new challenges.


    After years of discussion and debate, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, commonly known as the Volstead Act, in October, 1919. The act prohibited the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquor within the United States and brought entirely new problems to law enforcement. It was not a popular law to begin with, and pitted the "wets" against the "drys." The primary responsibility for enforcement of the law was placed on the Prohibition Unit of the Treasury Department, however all law enforcement agencies were expected to enforce the Act. Widespread violations of the law sprung up at once and created the opportunity of graft and corruption in both politics and law enforcement agencies.     When the act was passed, Lawrence Township had no Police Department, and only had several full time officers in 1933 when the act was repealed. Efforts were made, but it was difficult to maintain a degree of enforcement on the local level with limited resources. Liquor was sold in "speakeasies" with liquor provided by bootleggers. "Home brew" became very common. Older residents of Lawrence can remember the existence of a number of "speakeasies" in the community. In urban areas of the state liquor raids and seizures were common occurrences. Three incidents in Lawrence are worthy of special mention.     In 1929 on the old Denow Farm off Denow Road, bootleggers had constructed an illicit still in a barn and were manufacturing alcohol. It became the target of hijackers and in an attempt to seize a large supply of the product, a shoot out took place on the farm. One of the hijackers was killed by a shotgun blast by the still operators. The others fled, abandoning their car near Morris Hall after running out of gas from a hole in the gas tank. No one was ever arrested or charged with the murder or operating the still, and oddly enough, the residents of the farm denied any knowledge of the existence of the still or the identity of the tenants.     On April 17, 1929, Julius Popkin, a 22 year old shoe salesman from Trenton, and his friend, Samuel Levin visited an alleged "speakeasy" on Lawn Park A venue in Lawrence. They were accompanied by two young ladies they had met previously. After spending several hours drinking heavily, they returned to Trenton and later that evening Popkin complained of stomach pains. He was taken to St. Francis Hospital where his condition worsened and the following morning he died. Mercer County authorities and Lawrence police quickly raided the Lawn Park Avenue home and a large quantity of illegal liquor was seized and confiscated. The owners of the residence were charged with a variety of charges as a result.     On the afternoon of Saturday, March 28, 1931, a disaster occurred when Federal agents raided a residence at 1 Vermont Street in Lawrence, where they discovered a large distilling operation. No one was home when the agents arrived and they forced their way into the premises. Agents called for a wrecking crew who later began dismantling the still and pouring out the liquor that was stored there. At 6:45 PM a violent explosion and fire completely destroyed the house, injuring eight people, one fatally. Police Chief Hopkins, who was assisting in the operation had been standing on the front porch at the time, talking to a neighbor, Harry Rossi, and was thrown across the street by the force of the blast and crushed under what had been the roof of the front porch. Both his legs were broken and he suffered numerous lacerations and abrasions. Rossi suffered a broken shoulder and head injuries. Federal agents John Kopezynski, Roy Eardley,James Cannon, Will Walker and Joseph Regina were treated for a variety of injuries. Paul Zehner, a Lawrence resident , suffered a injured foot. Stanley Swol, a 22 year old occupant of the adjoining house was taking a bath at the time of the explosion and was blown into the alley, trapped by the bathtub. He suffered burns over his entire body and died in the hospital the next day. Swol resided at 3 Vermont Street with his brother-in-law, Charles Coward and his wife and 4 year old son. The Cowards escaped serious injury when they decided to go to a movie and left the house just fifteen minutes before the blast.     There were a number of theories about the cause of the blast, but it was believed to have been caused by an accumulation of fumes from the containers of alcohol broken open by the Federal wrecking crew, which were ignited somehow by a spark or lighted cigarette. Lawrence Township Patrolman, Joseph Stonicker, who investigated the case along with Mercer County authorities, was "astounded" at the ignorance of the neighbors as to the identity of the occupants of the wrecked home, or the activity that had been taking place there. The occupants were ultimately taken into custody and faced a number of charges.     In 1933, popular opinion and the effects of the depression brought about the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which repealed the 18th Amendment. After fourteen years of prohibition, which was a dangerous and often fatal game,it was ended. In the meantime billions of dollars of revenues and import duties had been lost to states, counties, municipalities and the Federal government.


    During the Colonial period and early days of Lawrence, the courts were few and far between. The lower courts were represented by Justices of the Peace and would hear minor cases of the law, while county courts would hear the more serious cases. Courts were held in Burlington and Mt. Holly until 1714 when Lawrence (Maidenhead) Township was still part of Burlington County, When Hunterdon County was formed, the Assembly directed that the Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Session would be held alternately at Maidenhead and Hopewell until a courthouse and" gaol" for the county be built . The first session convened at Maidenhead in June 1714, in a private residence. In March, 1719, it was determined that it was too inconvenient at Maidenhead, and the court was moved to Trenton. The first courthouse used in Flemington was in 1791.     As Justices of the Peace were eliminated, municipal courts took their place in Lawrence and other municipalities. The municipal court remains the "Township" court, hearing traffic cases, fish and game violations, violations of local ordinances, minor criminal cases and alcoholic beverage violations. The court also accepts criminal complaints, issues summons, arrest warrants, search warrants and domestic violence orders. Municipal judges are appointed by Township Council for a three-year period and must be an attorney-at-law to qualify. The violations bureau is under the administration of the municipal court, as is the municipal court clerk.     The only jail or "lockup" on record in Lawrence is the one currently in use by the Police Department, which was part of the new municipal building erected in 1965. The four cells are strictly for short term temporary detention until a prisoner can be taken before a judge and either released on bail or committed to another jail, usually the Mercer County Detention Center in Trenton.     The earliest known jail in the area was situated in Trenton at the "forks of Pennington Road." There was no jail from 1714 to 1720, when John Muirhead, High Sheriff of Hunterdon County complained of "no gaol." Sometime between 1720 and 1728 one, in fact, was erected. The original state prison at Trenton was built in 1797 and still bears the original inscription, "Labor, Silence, Penitence." It is presently the residence of the Warden of state prison. In 1836, a new state prison was built as a maximum security facility.


    In 1994 the numerical strength of the Police Department was 57 sworn, full-time officers. John H. Prettyman has served as Chief of Police since 1990 and his immediate subordinate is Captain James Kelly. Three Lieutenants, seven Sergeants, thirty-nine patrol officers and six Detectives comprised the rest of the department. There were also eight communication operators, four clerical employees and nineteen School Crossing Guards. Over the years the duties and responsibilities of the police have changed with the times and conditions. As mentioned previously, in urban areas it was once the duty of the police to light and extinguish street lamps. In rural areas they were often required to pursue horse and chicken thieves. The Police Department in Lawrence is now a modern, well-equipped and highly mobile organization capable of meeting every conceivable emergency. They are responsible for preserving the peace, enforcing the laws, apprehending and prosecuting offenders, regulating traffic, assisting the sick and injured and a host of other services that the public has come to expect or demand.     It is a well trained department of male and female officers of varied ethnic backgrounds that are representative of the population of the community. Recruits are enrolled in a 21 week basic training academy that is approved and overseen by the New Jersey Department of Criminal Justice, and the curriculum is constantly upgraded to include changes in laws, policies and conditions. In-service training opportunities are readily available for officers and scheduled whenever possible. Mandatory firearm training is scheduled semi-annually for all officers. Higher education is also encouraged for members of the department, and a onetime monetary bonus awarded to officers achieving an Associate or Bachelor's degree in the law enforcement field Many officers have entered the service with a degree, and many are furthering their education in their off-duty hours Rider University, Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey) and Mercer County Community College all offer courses designed for police officers.     In the earlier years of the department, the most important change was the development of the mobile radio that was installed in patrol cars, which occurred in the late 1930' s. Police were able to respond immediately to calls for emergencies and to report their progress to headquarters. The Trenton Police Department began operations of two-way radios on May 25, 1936. The master transmitter was installed in a room on the third floor of the Chancery Street Station. As the system proved so successful, the surrounding townships of Hamilton, Ewing and Lawrence entered the system and shared the cost of operation with the city. The familiar "Calling all Cars" could then be heard throughout the Greater Trenton area and was an invaluable aid in keeping officers on duty informed of emergencies and criminal activity. The Teletype network was also an effective communication system that permitted not only local inter-department communication, but contact with other state and federal agencies. 
    Communications in the past 50 years has taken a Quantum Leap, and remarkable progress has been made in the technology now in use by the department. The Criminal Justice Information Terminal allows immediate access to law enforcement agencies everywhere. Information stored by computers is retrievable to proper authorities on a multitude of subjects from missing persons, wanted persons, stolen property and criminal histories of individuals to driver and vehicle information. Computerization has also replaced antiquated collection and filing methods of information, and computer aided dispatching can record and trace every incident reported to police.     The present headquarters of the police department is in the rear portion of the municipal building and was constructed in 1965. A major addition was constructed in the 1980' s, however growth of the township and the department has exceeded the space available. Much more space will be required in the near future. The original police headquarters was located at the Recorder's Court at Barney's Corner. In 1931 it was moved to 2705 Main Street in Lawrenceville, and in 1945 moved again to an old farmhouse, on the farm once owned by Jasper Smith, at 2207 Lawrenceville Road, the present site of the new municipal building.     A number of police officers of Lawrence have suffered injuries in the line of duty, and a number have died while in the police service, but none have ever lost their lives in the line of duty. Officers patrol the township in one-man patrol cars on two shifts. On the midnight shift two-man cars are predominantly used. Officers working alone are trained to use extreme caution and request back-up patrols when confronted with a potentially dangerous situation to reduce the risk of serious injury. The system appears to be working very well.


    Special Police and Auxiliary, or Reserve Police have always played an important role in Lawrence Township. In the early days of the department Special Officers were used extensively to augment the full time staff when needed for special events and occurrences, and also for patrol duty. They also served as dispatchers, park guards and school crossing guards. Sometimes they were paid for their work and sometimes they were not. Auxiliary Police, or Police Reserve, were organized under the old Civil Defense Organization and served as Air Raid Wardens during World War Two. Individuals often served in dual capacities, their duties overlapping. As law enforcement training requirements became increasingly more technical and stringent, requiring almost the same training as full-time officers, it was no longer feasible for Lawrence to maintain a special and reserve officer staff and the program was abandoned . Strong mutual aid agreements with surrounding municipalities were then developed and implemented to increase the department's capabilities to meet emergencies of more serious proportion .     Private Security has been in existence for many years and has become increasingly important. There are many areas of private and quasi public property where police have little or no access, but require security measures and surveillance. It is private security that fills the void, and can be the eyes and ears for the Police Department, yet funded by the property owners. The presence of security officers is a deterrent to crime just as much as regular police. Rider University, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Educational Testing Service, The Lawrenceville School, Quaker Bridge Mall and many other facilities employ their own security staff or contract security officers. Many other businesses maintain one or more officers, all to insure the safety and security of their facilities. The Police department has traditionally encouraged the use of, and cooperation with, these agencies and individuals, which has proven to be beneficial to law enforcement objectives.


    Progress has required changes in many time-honored ways. The Lawrence Police Department has steadily kept abreast of those changes and has looked to the future to improve the quality of police service to the community. The 21st century has a great many challenges awaiting. Multiculturalism alone will require a new outlook by law enforcement professionals, and more emphasis will be placed on education, training, employment requirements, formulation of policy and new technology needed to make the law enforcers more knowledgeable than the law breakers. Integrity and the desire to enforce the laws must be balanced by placing a high value on individual freedom and equality under the law. We are fortunate to have many individuals within the Police Department, from the Chief of Police to the ranks of patrol officer, that possess the background, education and initiative to lead the department into the next century, a department that the government and the people of Lawrence Township can be rightfully proud.