Policeman and Boys Illustration by Norman Rockwell

"Policeman and Boys"
Policeman: the late Chief William Obanhein
Boy nearest Policeman: Robert Mackie
Other models not known
Photo courtesy of Norman Rockwell Museum
Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL

Stockbridge Police Department History
1739 – 1989

In July of 1739 at the first town meeting Ephraim Williams acted as moderator. The Indians being fully enfranchised, Captain Konkapot and Lieutenant Umpachance were elected selectmen, Timothy Woodbridge, the teacher, town clerk, and Josiah Jones, who despite his connection with the Williams was always popular with the Indians, constable. The meeting imposed a penalty of £40 upon anyone who would bring liquor into Stockbridge for sale.

Between the summer of 1756 when two children and one adult were murdered by Indians on Prospect Hill and thirty years later when the town was involved in Shay's Rebellion, the American Revolution also touched Stockbridge. All three events were, of course, beyond the control of the constable who was attempting to maintain order, but the nature of the problems as well as the means for dealing with them would continue to change.

From 1734 to 1854 there is only one recorded murder in the Town of Stockbridge with few details provided save for the mention that, of course, it was committed by two men from out of town who escaped from an Albany jail.

The Industrial Revolution brought two things to Stockbridge. First the Great Panic of 1873, which gave us "tramps," and in 1876 a jail was built on Shamrock Street to house them (a year that C. H. Willis, constable, earned $24.00). The second change Stockbridge felt from the Industrial Revolution was the appearance of the "Robber Baron" and the Stockbridge-Lenox area became the "Newport of the Mountains." In 1893 the "Gentleman Burglar" had the area up in arms as the 1894 Town Report shows expenditures of $904.50 to maintain a "Night Watch" of 24 men who were outdone in their effort by a private detective, hired by the wealthy victims.

In 1891 as somewhat of a departure from the constable system all three constables were appointed as deputy sheriffs. By 1894 the Board of Selectmen sought to appoint special police officers and a $25.00 salary was paid to L. Pellon "for the suppression of the illegal sale of liquor." Patrick Craughwell became Stockbridge's first police officer in the modern sense of the word, earning $720.00 for 1895.

S. A. Noble, owner and proprietor of Schilling and Noble Store served as constable, police officer, and sheriff for many years. During that same period of time, 1895-1910, Edward Standard was also a police officer, a position he held until the late 1920s when his son Walter "Cop" Standard became the first Chief of Police for the Town of Stockbridge.

Modern communications came to the police department in 1914 in the form of a telephone at the cost of $11.79 for the year. And telephone lines were cut during Prohibition so that thieves could cover their trail after a $40,000 theft of Judge Charles Meyers' illegal liquor cellar at Eden Hill.

In 1929 for the sum of $375.00 the Stockbridge Police Department went from foot to two wheels with the purchase of a motorcycle and Officer Malumpy gained a reputation as one of the best riders in the area. Chief Walter M. Standard made a plea for an automobile in 1930 "to give the service expected and cover the territory required," a request that would go unanswered for another 27 years when the Town supported Chief William Collins' request for a 1957 Chevrolet.

On a January day in 1935 the Housatonic National Bank on Main Street was robbed of $7,000 in the Town's only bank robbery in 250 years.

From 1935 through 1951 it became the practice of the Town to appoint the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen as Chief of Police, a practice which continued until the appointment of a professional police officer, William J. Collins, as Chief of Police in 1951.

On August 9, 1940, while directing traffic at the Red Lion Inn intersection on Main Street, Officer Thomas E. Killfoile was struck and killed by an automobile, the first of three Stockbridge Police Officers to die in the line of duty.

By 1948 the Police Department had two full-time police officers, William Hurley, a former state trooper, who worked nights, and long-time and faithful officer Harry Stafford who was appointed Deputy Chief.

In the Town Report for 1951, Chief Hanna reported to townspeople that "During the year the police department suffered a deep loss in the sudden and untimely death of H. Crosby Smith who had been night officer since 1947." Officer Smith had occasion to wrestle with a drunk on Prospect Hill and later had a heart attack and died.

Dial telephone was introduced to Stockbridge in 1954 bringing an end to the hue and cry method of summoning police by having the telephone operator who was working in the telephone building on Elm Street turning on a blue light attached to a light pole. It was to mark an extended period of time when communications worked to everyone's mutual dissatisfaction.

Chief William J. Collins became the third Stockbridge Police Officer to die in the line of duty, when he suffered a heart attack while chasing a stolen car on Rte. 183 in Interlaken. William J. Obanhein, a Navy veteran of WWII, who had been a patrolman since 1951, was appointed Chief of Police.

A mobile telephone was introduced in 1964 without much success. In mid-1967 calls were being answered by the sheriff's department at the county jail in Pittsfield, a much better alternative that remained in effect until the County Communications Center was established at the Pittsfield Courthouse.

1965 was the year that changed the lives of Chief Obanhein and the Town of Stockbridge with the arrest of Arlo Guthrie, who would later chronicle the events in his song "Alice's Restaurant." In 1966 there were 7 drug-related arrests reflecting changing social attitudes.

The second recorded murder in Stockbridge took place in 1968 at a Glendale bar, a charge later reduced to manslaughter.

In the early 1970s two officers were added to the full-time ranks of the police department, one to reduce the work week to 40 hours and the other to meet the concerns of town residents who were troubled by the number of house breaks taking place in town.

William J. Obanhein retired in 1985 and was replaced by Richard B. Wilcox as Chief of Police. Any good detective would realize that this only scratches the surface of the material available for a history of the police department, leaving out most of the information on crimes and unfortunately too many of the people who gave of themselves to make Stockbridge a better place to live.