Salem Police Department
95 Margin Street, Salem, MA 01970 •  Non-Emergency Request for Police 978-744-1212 •  Business 978-744-0171 •  In an Emergency, ALWAYS DIAL 911

History of the Salem Police Department

Salem is an old city that holds fast to its traditions. First settled in 1626, only six years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Salem was not incorporated as a city until March 23,1836.

As with all emerging communities, the problem of social control existed from the very beginning in Salem. The first strife in the city resulted from the banning of Quakers from the colony.

And so, in 1630, one John Woodbury was appointed Constable. His work and the work of those who assisted him was severely tried when a number of Quakers demonstrating against the Puritans attempted to break up church services, protesting against their vanities of dress, the Quakers also ran naked down Essex Street. Such offenses were not taken lightly. Three such offenses by one person resulted in the death sentence, although records reflect only that offenders were ordered from the city.

All male inhabitants at that time were required to stand the watch by turn and it can be safely assumed that in the very beginning the community was, with few exceptions, law abiding.

As early as November 10, 1676, a contract was given to one Arthur Hughes, who might well be considered Salem's first patrolman. "To be bellman and to walk the streets from ten o'clock until daybreak and to give notice of the time of night and what weather according to custom". Not until the year 1817 was the custom of calling the hour and the weather abandoned. In this day and age, it is difficult to imagine that this custom lasted nearly a century and a half.

The first police station, or "watch house" as it was then called, was the first church established in the city. Sometime after 1666, a permanent watch house was built in the middle of Washington Street. For years, a soldier in full uniform, stood on top of the watch house in a continuing surveillance of the city. It can be assumed that his presence was due to the rise in power of King Philip, the Indian warrior chieftain whose followers ravaged the countryside. His duty, presumably, was to sound the alarm in the event of an impending raid. The fact that the watch house received a coat of paint in 1725, a rarity in those days, gives some evidence of the importance of the watch function even in the early days.

Although city marshals were not officially appointed by the city until after May 12, 1836, there is evidence that marshals existed long before the city was incorporated. In the annals of Salem, reference is made to one George Herrick who claimed that in 1692 "His whole time had been consumed, as Marshall and deputy sheriff, in cases of witchcraft."

Prior to the incorporation of the city on March 23, 1836, a police court was established in Salem in 1831. This court was abolished in 1874 when the First District Court was established in the Flint Building on Washington Street. As it became increasingly obvious, as in all cities, that a more formal mode of police service was required, so it was on May 12, 1836, only 50 days after the incorporation of the city that an ordinance was passed which provided for the appointment of a city marshal. The ordinance read as follows: "Be it ordained by the city council of the city of Salem, that the Mayor and the aldermen shall forthwith appoint, and shall hereafter annually in the month of May, appoint a city marshal, who shall receive such compensation for his services as the city council shall annually direct." Section 2 of the same ordinance established the force: "Be it further ordained, that said marshal shall be appointed to the office of constable, and he shall have precedence and command over the other constables, whenever engaged in the same service, or when directed thereto by the Mayor and alderman." Salem had, without any doubt, one of the earliest paid police departments in the United States. Records indicate that funds for the purpose of law enforcement were appropriated as early as 1676.

It is unclear from records when the first police station was built. The only real clue comes from the special rules and regulations for the government of the Salem Police Department published in 1865 which lists one Charles T. Conner as janitor of the police station. A map of the city, published in 1874, shows the police station at 11 Front Street. It can, therefore, be concluded that the Salem Police Department as we know it today, had its formal beginning with the establishment of a police station in approximately 1865. The police remained housed on Front Street until they moved around the corner to their new headquarters on Central Street in 1914. They are still housed at 17 Central Street. Since the department moved to its new headquarters building in 1914, it gradually grew with the city. In 1975, the department had reached the size of 91 sworn personnel. These personnel are divided into a day and night division, and these divisions are further divided into administration, patrol, traffic and detectives. A far cry from 1630 when the settlement appointed John Woodbury as a constable.

Of these 91 members of the department, one is a member of the bar, ten have college degrees, and at the present time fifteen members are attending college.

The department has twelve men that qualify under the emergency medical training and are qualified as emergency medical technicians.

The department operates two ambulances that have direct contact with the emergency service at Salem Hospital via radio and this has proven many times to be a great aid with incoming emergency cases, eight patrol cars, three unmarked cars, one K-9 car, two scooters logging 396,720 miles a year. The ambulances and cruiser make an average 3500 runs a year to and from the hospital and nursing homes. The patrol force handles an average of 20, 000 incident calls a year. This is a far cry from a man calling weather and time about the streets of the city. But being Salem and holding somewhat to tradition, the head of the department is still called marshal. The only other city in the United States using this title is the city of Newburyport.

An attempt was made to take a patrolman’s report from a journal dated 1896 and compare it with an entry in the journal dated 1976. The only problem was that page after page was almost identical and it became a chore. The only thing very evident was that people don’t really change at all. Federal funding is currently being sought to modernize the building and provide new communications equipment.

We would like to thank the citizens of Salem for their cooperation as we believe that Salem is a city to be proud of and only through the cooperation of the citizens can your police department maintain law and order.*


In February 1992, the Salem Police Department moved into its new 31,000 sq. foot modern facility located just outside of downtown at 95 Margin Street. At a cost of $6 million, the building facility is equipped with a state of the art Crime & Photo Lab, a 62-seat community auditorium, three cell block areas, a modern dispatch center and a five-lane, computer-controlled firing range. In an effort to keep employees healthy, the facility also has a fully equipped physical fitness room with both free weights and cardio designed machines. The department is also fully handicap accessible.

When at full strength, the Salem Police Department maintains 97 sworn police officers on its roster. The Department’s roll call includes one Chief, four Captains, eight Lieutenants, fourteen Sergeants, and sixty-eight Patrol Officers. Sworn personal are also assigned to the Criminal Investigation Division, Special Response Unit, Community Impact Unit, Traffic Division, Special Operations Division, and Administrative Services. Many officers serve dual roles as the Department has four Certified Firearm Instructors, a Juvenile Officer, a School Liaison Officer, thirty specially trained Bicycle Patrol Officers, a Dive Team and a full compliment of motorcycle officers. The Salem Police Department’s diverse ranks include nine female officers and six bilingual officers. The first female officer was hired in 1977 and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. Of the nine female officers currently serving, two hold the rank of Lieutenant, one is a Sergeants and six are Patrol Officers. There are eight civilian employees who supplement the sworn officers in maintaining the facility, support the Records Division and administer the payroll and billing needs. There are five civilian dispatchers all specially trained and certified in emergency dispatching as well as medical emergency procedures. The department also provides officers to NEMLEC by way of the Dive Team, Regional Response Team (SWAT) and the Motorcycle Unit.

On September 11, 2009 Chief Robert M. St. Pierre retired, handing the reigns to Chief Paul F. Tucker. On May 13, 2010 the facility was officially renamed the Chief Robert. M. St. Pierre Police Headquarters.

Chief Tucker continues to bring the best officers and services to the citizens of Salem and the many visitors to our community. With the changes and advances in technology, the Department continues to update its systems to better serve the community. These updates include wireless cameras throughout the city, advanced fingerprinting technology, cruiser installed License Plate Readers and laptop computers, additional forensic analysis systems for computer, video and cell phone examinations, a computerized firearms training system where officers can be trained based on real Salem situations, and updated digital radio communications.

* As quoted from a 1980's Salem Police Patrolman's Relief Association publication and attributed to Salem Police Officer John Seward.

Salem Police Department 95 Margin Street, Salem, MA 01970 •  Non-Emergency Request for Police 978-744-1212 •  Business 978-744-0171 •  In an Emergency, ALWAYS DIAL 911
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