When discussing the future of the Snohomish Police Department, let’s be clear about its past — the department is not 150 years old. Looking for the beginning of a paper trail establishing our Police Department has lead me to the unexpected discovery that legally, the entity called “The Snohomish Police Department” is only 38 years old.
Ironically, we are marking the 150th anniversary of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office this year, since it was established by the Washington Territory Legislature with the formation of the county on January 14, 1861. The office provided county wide policing services, such as it was in a place with around 50 white men, and at least that many guns. Those were the days of deputizing citizens who provided law enforcement with an emotional interpretation that inspired popular western movies and TV shows.
The clearing in the woods on the north bank of the Snohomish River that quickly developed into a viable town was not called “Snohomish” until 1871-72, when the Fergusons, then the Sinclairs laid out their claims with streets and avenues joined at Union Street. It’s easy to imagine that the new town had its own Marshall, as the population of loggers and saloons increased, but there is no record to point to, nor reliable news coverage to help us out here.
Early Snohomish as the county seat, was home base for the Sheriff, an elected office since 1863. The famous Benjamin Stretch was first elected in 1867, then re-elected every two years, serving until 1875 when W. B. Stevens became the first full time Snohomish County Deputy Sheriff.
It seems we must wait until our town first incorporates as the Village of Snohomish in 1888 for a written record concerning police matters. At an early meeting of the Village Board of Trustees held in April, 1888, it is recorded: “On motion of H. Blackman, Chas. M. Jordan was appointed Marshal of the Village of Snohomish with Salary at $20 per month and $2 for each arrest made.” (This record has been inaccurately published that Blackman was the first policeman, a certain conflict of interest with his position as a Trustee.)
And Ordinance #8, approved on May 10, 1888, by E. C. Ferguson, Chairman, ordained in Section 2: “The night watchman shall be on duty from eight o’clock P.M. until six o’clock A.M. of each and every night during his term of office, unless excused by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees.” The pay was $50 per month, but only $1 per arrest.
All of these fine, handwritten details were set aside with statehood in 1889; and the carefully watched-over sleeping citizens of Snohomish woke up and voted to incorporate as a third class city, rejecting Ferguson’s wish to remain a village. And if that wasn’t insult enough to our city father, Ferguson went on to lose the election as Mayor of the new City of Snohomish to Hyrcanus Blackman.
The ordinance count begins again, (we are currently at #2218) and Ordinance #3 establishes a “Police Force” that in addition to a Marshall, “shall consist of one captain if the City Council shall determine, and such members of police officers not exceeding five as the City Council may from time to time determine.” The ordinance was approved in July, 1890 and in October the city purchased a lot on Avenue A and built the complex of buildings pictured in this month’s historic image, primarily to house the city’s first fire engine and prisoners in the new jail. No mention of a “police department” in the weekly newspaper, The Eye.
The facility was serving way beyond its expiration date when the July 21, 1927 issue of the Snohomish County Tribune announced the move to “new civic homes.” One is pictured as this month’s Now image, the former fire station, and the second new home was the City Hall at 1009 First, now called the “City Mall.” The article notes that the jail is already in use but still no mention of the “Police Department” or “Force.” Yet the label “Police Dept.” is used in official documents throughout the years without any ordinance establishing it, or amending Ordinance #3 that authorized a “Police Force” of only five policemen?
Next month we will feature Police Department personnel, Then and Now. Please contact me with your stories and pictures of Snohomish policeman past and present.
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Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, August 17, 2011.