It was a cold winter evening on the streets of downtown Concord, the brick and wooden buildings casting shadows beneath a full moon. The sound of boots over the cobblestone echoed as the approaching stranger walked north towards the Eagle Hotel, a stranger as well as a suspect.
Captain Daniel Flanders melted into the shadows at this late hour, simply observing and keeping the peace. He was accompanied by Officer Hoyt Robinson. The stranger randomly checked for unlocked doors along the Main Street, in hopes of an easy access to a merchant’s shop. As the stranger approached both Captain Flanders and Officer Robinson stepped out of hiding and confronted him, a scuffle followed but was short lived against the two Concord police officers making rounds on this evening in 1903. A short walk to the new Warren Street Police Station and the suspect was secured in a cell.
The police officers walking about Concord during the evening operated under the cloak of darkness, with the exception being the full moon this night. As our ancestors slept the officers known as the night watch were in the shadows observing. The officers walked not only the Main Street business district but also the neighborhoods to enforce the law and keep the peace. As they walked, they would communicate with the station on Warren street via a series of metal boxes equipped with primitive telephones and linked directly to headquarters. They would walk, check in and communicate if assistance was needed.
The night watch served many purposes that did not stop at apprehending criminals. The Concord Police Officers on the foot patrol provided a sense of security for the residents, offered friendly assistance as needed, monitored for dangerous house fires and checked door after door to make sure the businesses were secure.
Towards the end of the 19th century the Concord Police Officers reported to the City Marshall, our present-day Chief of Police. The Marshal had the control and direction of every law enforcement officer in the city of Concord. Though the structures and duties evolved over time, the Concord Marshal was at one time responsible for collecting all of the tax revenue owed by the residents. If you did not pay your property taxes the City Marshal paid you a visit, utilizing his officers for assistance when needed. The City Marshal, his assistant and all of his officers were appointed by the mayor and aldermen, the city council would also set the rate of pay for every member of the police department. As our ancestors witnessed the new year of 1900 arriving the Concord Marshal was very pleased to see his annual compensation increased from $200 to $1,200. The population of the city was growing and along with it the need for additional law enforcement officers.
Until the year 1883 the entire Concord Police Department numbered no more than nine officers; the Marshal, Assistant Marshal, three regular officers and the rest were assigned to the night watch. As the year 1900 approached there was a need for many special officers to patrol neighborhoods and the railroad yards. The railroad offered additional incentives in the form of funding to hire railroad police. The railroad police monitored the railroad interest, merchandise being shipped upon freight trains, buildings and most importantly the many railroad cars where the classic hobos would sleep and hitch rides to the next stop. As time passed the special police for the neighborhood patrols and the railroad police saw the addition of the horse railroad police, a group of law enforcement officers focused only on the eight miles of horse trolley track about town.
It was in 1893 a law was passed establishing a police board consisting of three commissioners. The commissioners were actually appointed by the governor in 1893 and the police commission was required to report to the Concord city council quarterly and the governor annually. Concord Mayor Woodworth stated in 1897 that he felt the removal of the police department from politics was indeed a very good thing. Within two years new Mayor Martin stated the opposite saying that the Concord Police Department would be more efficient under the control of the city rather than under the control of a police commission.
Prior to the construction of the Concord Police Department headquarters on Warren Street there was a small lobby type structure utilized by local law enforcement as a primitive headquarters. The small building, which was on the exact same location where the new headquarters was built, was affectionately called the “St. James.” It was known to be unsightly and unfit for the detention of criminals. The “St. James” structure existed for a period of 15 years on Warren Street, ushering in the brick and granite building still standing today.
As we sleep this evening let us recall the night watch from the past that provided comfort to our Concord ancestors. To this very day we respect and admire our first responders, the Concord Police Officers that patrol as we sleep on the darkest and coldest winter nights, our Concord firefighters and paramedics, our nurses and doctors. It is the unique individual that places service above self by running towards danger as others flee. It is the unique individual that watches over our little town each night so that others may sleep in peace.