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A need for police was apparent in Teaneck from its earliest days as a settlement. In 1675, a law was passed requiring all men from 16 to 20 to provide themselves with arms or be penalized, and specified sentences for crimes were published. A person might well be punished by death for multiple convictions for stealing.
In 1713, the British Government proscribed rules of conduct for slaves in the colonies. In 1735, the record shows that a slave had a dispute with his master and struck him, threatening to kill him and his family. the sheriff ordered the slave to appear at the Hackensack courthouse and "be burnt until he is dead." This was the type of justice at the time from the Hackensack government.
The township records show the first major crime in 1885--a burglary in the local schoolhouse located on the site of the present Town House at Teaneck Road and Forest Avenue.
In 1900, the township had three part-time constables and the biggest problem was clearing out the tramps who disembarked from trains passing through. By the end of the decade, residents start to complain about the frequency of speeding motor vehicles on township streets.
It was in 1913 that Teaneck experienced a cold-blooded murder during a July Fourth celebration. The township committee held an emergency meeting and offered a reward of $100 for evidence leading to the arrest of the person responsible. It also agreed to hire a detective agency to hunt down the killer.
By the end of 1913, the committee decided to hire two full-time police officers and was willing to pay from $50 to $65 a month for the two men. In 1914, the committee hired Jesson Witham and William Jahnes as the town's first two officers. They were instructed to "preserve the public peace and prevent crimes." A separate contract was awarded to R. T. Davison to transport prisoners to the Hackensack Jail. Thus, the first paid police department was born in 1914. Within a year, the force grew to four men. Two iron cells were purchased for $175, and two motorcycles were bought for the men. By 1923, there were still four men in the department, with one serving as chief. In those days, police officers worked more than 70 hours a week.
The force increased by three in 1924, by five more in 1926, and by 1930 the department had more than 20 officers to patrol the more than 100 miles of roads and protect the 19,000 residents in the growing township.
Motorcycles were phased out soon after a patrolman on his scooter collided with a milk truck in a heavy fog at the corner of River Road and Tilden Street. Increased mileage to patrol, the construction of highways, and enforcement of the prohibition laws made the job of a police officer all the more difficult.
Burglaries were more frequent, although still only a couple per year, and traffic accidents started to mount. With bank robberies increasing around the country during the depression, the Teaneck Police Department created a heavily-armed riot squad to guard the banks in the township. The construction of the George Washington Bridge brought Teaneck closer to New York City and its criminal element. In 1937, a union official from New York City who lived in the township was gunned down in the driveway of his home at 1130 Larelton Parkway. New York City thugs were blamed for the killing but no one was ever indicted. A 33-officer force now protected a community of more than 22,000 residents. One-way radios were installed in police vehicles. This enabled an officer to receive a call but he could not transmit back to the central office.
By the end of the 1930's, Teaneck police were among the first to attend special courses in law enforcement at Rutgers University. Money was set aside for a pistol shooting range to improve marksmanship.
The manpower shortage resulting from World War II brought the strength of the department down to half, and there were only four old automobiles on the road. School crossing guards helped the police but, because of the gasoline rationing, there were fewer cars on the road. These factors alleviated the personnel crunch.
In any case, in 1945, the Saturday Evening Post published a feature story entitled "No Crime in Teaneck." The declining crime statistics attracted national attention. In the following year, Teaneck police for the first time, killed a burglar who was attempting to steal from a Bogert Street home. He was ordered to halt, did not, and was shot.
After the war, the force was beefed up to 39 officer and four new cars were purchased. Interestingly enough, the police throughout its history, except after 1980s, made wide use of private automobiles to make up for the continual shortage of police vehicles. The 1950's saw an increase in traffic, especially with the development of the business districts. New patrol zones were established and foot patrols were added on a full-time basis. There were 41 officers and six foot patrolmen to cover the township.
Housed in a headquarters on the Municipal Green and equipped with an updated communications system, the department began to take on a modern appearance and a new approach to police functions. Education became a key focus of the department's objectives. Special recruit training programs were into operation and men were sent to the New Jersey Police Academy, which was newly established.
The 1960's saw a completed modernization of the the department under the leadership of Chief Robert Fitzpatrick. On September 15, 1962, Fredrick Green was the first African-American to join the previously all white police force. The number of uniformed personnel hovered in the 70's as civilians were hired to do non-police work, and a completed departmental re-organization took place. The Police Department of 1972 had a total authorized strength of 89 men which included one chief, two captains, nine lieutenants, nine sergeants, 57 patrolmen and eleven plainclothes detectives of varying ranks. By 1973, Teaneck had a newly renovated police headquarters.
On January 4, 1981, Teaneck's first female police officer was hired. By 1993, Teaneck had five female police officers. In 1980s, a point system was instituted to measure the productivity of patrol officers. A uniform change also took place; sergeants began to wear the same white shirts as captains and lieutenants.
A new township Manager was hired in 1990 and the point productivity system was ended. During 1991 and 1992, the Police Department manual was updated for the first time since 1943. A full-time training bureau was established. In 1992, a computer bureau was also established. September 27, 1993 was another historic day for the Teaneck Police Department. The official groundbreaking took place for a new headquarters located at the north end of the municipal complex.
On the rainy evening of April 10, 1990, the Teaneck police responded to a call from a resident complaining about a teenager with a gun. Minutes later, Thelma and Phillip Pannell's 16-year-old son, Phillip, was shot in the back by Patrolman Gary Spath after a chase from a schoolyard into a neighboring backyard. Spath, the son of Elaine and George Spath, lifelong Teaneck residents, said he thought Pannell was turning to shoot him. Some witnesses said Pannell was unarmed. Spath's partner, Wayne Blanco, said he had lightly frisked Pannell during the chase and warned Spath that he had a gun. Phillip Pannell was African-American, Spath was white. What followed was unlike anything known in Teaneck before and since. The New York television crews were on the spot in minutes. Newscasters interviewed every willing soul in sight gathering comments, some factual, others not. The shooting became the subject of the nightly newscasts and daily newspapers for two years.
By this time, the authorized strength of the Police Department was increased to 99 police officers. The increase allowed Chief Donald Giannone to create a Community Policing Bureau (CPB) in November 1993. The purpose of the CPB was to work with residents to find out what concerns were important to the Township and how police and the community could work together to address these concerns. Since 1993, Chief Giannone has been changing the Police Department's philosophy to one of community policing. In 1995, the chief appeared on cable TV's CNN channel to discuss his success in improving community relations. In 1995, the new police headquarter was complete and the department moved in during July.
Today, the Teaneck Police Department comprises 99 police officers from many diverse backgrounds. Its members seek input from the community in preventing and solving crime and quality-of-life issues. Its detective bureau work with federal, state and local task forces to investigate complex criminal activities. As the turn of the century approaches, the department remains ready to adapt to new challenges.
Update of the History of the Teaneck Police Department from 1995
By Paul Tiernan
After the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Teaneck Police Department implemented increased surveillance of the many diverse houses of worship in the town. Two members of the department were trained in a Community Anti-Terrorism course entitles "CatEyes". The officers spoke to community groups about the fundamental goals of terrorism and ways that residents could aid the police by reporting suspicious activity.
In 2003, the department was increased to one hundred and one officers with the creation of two Deputy Police Chief positions. Captain Paul M. Tiernan was named Deputy Chief of Operations and Captain Fred Ahern was named Deputy Chief of Administration. A short time later Police Chief Donald Giannone announced that he would be taking his vacation leave in June of 2003 and retire on January 1, 2004. In June of 2003, Deputy Chief Paul M. Tiernan was named Acting Chief of Police and became permanent Chief in 2004.
In May of 2005 a fight between four people across the street of a popular night spot left one man dead from a stab wound and another seriously injured. Teaneck Police worked around the clock and quickly solved the crime.
Suspected gang activity was on the rise in 2006. In July a fifteen year old Teaneck youth was shot outside of a party attended by suspected members of the Blood street gang. Once again, Teaneck Police worked around the clock and arrested the shooter.
In November of 2006, Teaneck Police arrested a township man for slashing a man's neck that resulted in over 300 stitches needed to close the wound. Police suspected that gang activity was involved. As a result of this and other suspected gang activity, Teaneck Police began instructing the national "Gang Resistance Education Training" program to middle school students.
In March of 2007, Teaneck Police arrested seven suspected gang members and seized a handgun. The arrested individuals were suspected of seeking retaliation for the beating of a suspected rival gang member earlier that day. Later in the year, the Township Council authorized the expansion of the police force to 106 members to deal with the increasing gang violence. Even though gang activity was increasing, crime in Teaneck decreased each of the previous four years.
The National Police Accreditation process had begun in 2007. The process was expected to take three years to complete.
In 2007, Teaneck Police Chief Paul M. Tiernan competed in a nation-wide search for the position of Chief of Police in the City of Newark, Delaware. Chief Tiernan was selected from over 90 candidates for the position. After 28 years in Teaneck, the last four as Chief, Tiernan announced his retirement effective January 1, 2008. Chief Tiernan began his vacation leave in late September of 2007 and started his career in Newark. Deputy Chief Fred Ahearn was named Acting Chief until the official retirement of Chief Tiernan.
In 2008, just six years short of its 100th anniversary, the Teaneck Police Department continues to grow and prepare its self to meet the needs of the Township.
Teaneck Public Library
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