On April 5, 1887, the Common Council of the newly incorporated City of Easton enacted an ordinance establishing the first police department. The ordinance was approved on April 8, 1887, and under the guidance of Mayor Charles Chidsey, the first department consisting of ten men; one Chief; one Lieutenant; one Sergeant; and seven night patrolmen, began the arduous task of providing police protection in the City.
The Chief and Lieutenant worked days, while the Sergeant and seven Patrolmen were responsible for protecting the City at night.
The City was divided into seven districts, with a patrolman assigned to each. Council defined their responsibilities as to "walk through the streets and alleys of the City during the night and to apprehend all malefactors, vagrants, vagabonds and disorderly persons whom they shall find disturbing the peace or obstructing the footwalks or highways." They were also responsible for lighting and extinguishing the street lamps, where oil and gas burned and to keep same in good repair. Where electric lamps were in use, they were to report damages and irregularities to lamps and wires to the electric light department. Lastly, they were to keep a vigil eye to detect fires and sound the alarm to the fire department. Patrolmen earned $ 53 a month, while the total annual budget for the department was set at $ 8,000. The Mayor was authorized to appoint Special Police to work 12 hour shifts, at $ 2 per shift, as needed to supplement the department.
After a slow start, the department began its progression into the modern age, when in the early 1900's, they added a patrol wagon - the "black maria" pulled by a single horse. City Hall was moved from Centre Square causing great anxiety amongst the banking houses in the business district and the Mayor was asked to have the business section patrolled at all times. A police sub-station was retained in the old building. The department was growing and around the clock coverage was becoming a reality.
As early as 1917, the Young Women's Christian Association petitioned Council to appoint plain clothes "lady policemen" to combat the "masher" on the city streets. Young men were openly soliciting married women. Council attributed the problem to enlisted men stationed at the soldier's camp in Allentown. The idea fell through when the women refused to work unless they were paid for their services.
The 1920's saw the first movement towards modern day police techniques by the department. A three-platoon system was initiated, providing equal coverage on all shifts. The department was equipped with a wireless telephone receiving set. Mayor Horn commented that, "this will mean the ultimate quick connection of Easton with any other City in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and will prove of untold value in the tracing of criminals." A Crime or Murder Squad (Detective Division) was organized to take charge in case of murder or other crimes. The Vice Squad was charged with rounding up characters of ill repute and ridding the City of them. The department was equipped with a Lactor-Vapor gun (tear gas), used to great advantage during the war, to combat mobs, bandits and other criminals.
On December 19, 1922, Officer Rush Stehlin, celebrating his 34th birthday, was murdered at 3rd & Ferry Streets. Officer Stehlin was shot while trying to apprehend two highwaymen from Wilkes-Barre, John Buckley and Walter Moline, who had held up a man and woman earlier in the evening on South Delaware River Road.
The only other officer to die in the line of duty was Officer Luther Fisher. Officer Fisher was fatally injured on May 10, 1930 while trying to stop a runaway trolley in the business district.
The department started working towards a police radio system as early as 1937, but it was not until ten years later that the City first saw radio-equiped patrol cars.
In 1959, two meter maids were hired to monitor parking at the parking meters in the business district. This move released uniformed officers for other police duties.
The 60's and 70's saw the department progress and mature into a modern day law enforcement agency. Portable radios were purchased for the foot patrolmen making the police call light obsolete. Police court was abolished and replaced with District Magistrates. Aldermen were phased out as their elected terms expired. Two German Shepherds were purchased to start the K-9 Corps. A Civilian Observer Ride Along Program was implemented to familiarize concerned citizens with the operations of the department.
On October 27, 1972, the City broke ground for a new one million dollar police headquarters and the department moved to the location behind the old city hall at 650 Ferry Street. Shortly thereafter, a thirty thousand dollar state-of-the-art mobile crime lab van was purchased with a grant from the Governor's Justice Commission. The department continued to grow, improving on existing programs and implementing new ones. The K9 Corps strength has been authorized to a maximum of seven dogs and handlers including dogs trained to sniff out drugs. A fully equipped and trained SWAT team stands ready to respond to high-risk situations. Every officer is issued their own portable radio. The department was one of three chosen statewide to implement a pilot crime prevention program during the late 1970's. Through the department's C.L.E.A.N. (Commonwealth Law Enforcement Assistance Network) computer terminal, our department is connected to the National Crime Information Center as well as other law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
The latter part of the 20th century saw numerous changes in the Easton Police Department. During the 1980's and 1990's very progressive, radical improvements were implemented in order to make the department more effective and professional. The changes, which were implemented, included:
- Implementation of the Police Officer of the Year Award
- Implementation of the Annual Police Awards Ceremony
- Beginning of the participation in National Night Out
- Old .357 mag. Revolvers replaced with new 9mm semi-automatic handguns
- Beginning of Community Policing with the opening the first substation in the Delaware Terrace Housing Project
- New computer system for the department (this system has since been replaced by a brand new system in 1998)
- Began random drug testing for all officers
- Start of the D.A.R.E. program on a part time basis ( this program has since been expanded to a full time officer)
- Implementation of the Motorcycle Patrol using two officers on Harley Davidson motorcycles
- Two additional community policing sub stations were opened in the 600 block of Northampton Street and at 4th & Northampton Streets ( the 4th & Northampton Street was closed in 1997)
- Complete new shoulder patch was created through a public contest
- A new uniform change was approved from the light blue shirts to navy blue shirts for the officers and blue shirts replaced white shirts for senior officers.
- Pepper gas was issued to all officers
- The Field Training Officer Program was started in order that our newest officers could be trained in a consistent manner and their progress monitored
- In 1992 the department was restructured as part of the creation of the Department of Public Safety. As part of the reorganization, a Director was appointed to oversee the department that consisted of the Bureaus of Police, Fire, Health, and Code Enforcement. The reorganization also moved two officers back into patrol. A Traffic Clerk and a Meter Collection Officer were reassigned to street patrol
- Bicycle patrol was implemented with two officers
- Block Watch was expanded to over 200 neighborhood groups along with the implementation of the Block Watch Council
- The Traffic Accident Investigation Team was created, officers trained and equipment purchased
- Extensive grant work and federal funding was pursued (H.U.D. Grants, DARE Grants, Local Law Enforcement Block Grants, and C.O.P.S. Fast Grants)
- C.O.P.S. Fast Grants enabled our department to hire an additional ten officers which effectively increased our department to sixty-two officers during 1999
- Began a contract with West Easton to provide police services ( that contract ended in 1998)
- Moved to the new police facility located in the parking garage in downtown Easton
- Bomb dogs were added to the K-9 Corps
- With the implementation of the County's 9-1-1 Center, the department eliminated the use of its dispatchers
- Brand new shotguns were purchased in 1999 to replace all the departments shotguns
- Brand new 40 caliber handguns were purchased to replace the 9mm semi-automatics in 1999
- Became the 47th Pennsylvania Law Enforcement agency to become accredited by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association Accreditation Commission.
- Mobile Data Terminals were installed in all patrol vehicles in 2007
- Police officers converted to .45 caliber handguns in 2008
The department consists of 63 officers and 6 civilian employees. The 2019 operating budget for the Easton Police Department is approximately $12.2 million.