Police Department History

The earliest mention of law enforcement services in what is now the City of Geneva was on Tuesday, April 27, 1789. On that date, the Town of Seneca was established and included the Geneva territory. The Town of Seneca, like most towns, began the use of constables for maintaining the peace. The first constables were Charles Harris, Stephen Sisson and Wells Whitmore. On June 8, 1812, the Geneva territory became an incorporated village, but no provision was made for constables or police services. These services continued to be provided by the Town of Seneca. An Act of April 17, 1816 provided for the election of a constable in the village. Edward White was the first elected constable of the Village of Geneva. He built and maintained the Farmer’s Inn on property known as the Towler House at 485 and 487 S. Main Street.

Until 1825, constables were not paid for their services, they only received reimbursement for legal fees and expenses. An Act of April 6, 1825 provided for the Trustees of Geneva to appoint one or more constables and to set a compensation for their services, thus the first paid police services in Geneva. By 1837, Geneva had become one of the most populated areas and with this growth came a rise in crime. Due to the increase in crime the Trustees of Geneva passed an unusual ordinance that established the “Night Watch” to act as “sleepless sentinels of the night”. The Watchmen were given full power and authority to apprehend disorderly and suspicious persons, to suppress riots and prevent disorder, and to adopt any measure necessary for the preservation of the peace and property of the village. The Night Watch consisted of eight persons each night, whose duty it was to patrol the streets of the village between the hours of 10:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M.. It was the Trustees’ job to designate villagers for the watch and any person who refused the duty or failed to obtain a substitute was fined one dollar.

The first mention of a local “lock-up” was on January 16, 1847 in the Geneva Gazette. The location of the lock-up was ” in Union Alley, opposite the building of the Geneva Daily Times, and in the rear of the Mensch Building on the corner of Seneca Street.” The lock-up was owned by Charles J. Folger, and was rented to the village for $80 a year.

An Act of March 23, 1857, provided for the establishment of a Chief of Police. Title IV, Section 1 specified the duties and powers of the President of the Trustees as such, “He shall be chief of police, and the police constables and all extra policemen or night watchmen, shall be subject to and obey all his orders and directions.” The President of the Trustees in 1857 was Charles J. Folger, and thus, he was the first person to have responsibility as a chief of police.

An Act of the State Legislature on May 14, 1882 established the Police Commission and created the beginning of the Police Department as it exists to this day. The Board of Police Commissioners was to appoint a number of police officers, as specified by the Trustees, but not to exceed four. The pay of such officers was as the rate of $45.00 per month, and the Chief was to be paid at a rate of $55.00 per month. On May 16, 1882, the Trustees of the Village of Geneva passed the resolution which formally established the Police Department. On May 23, 1882, William H. Suydam was appointed as Geneva’s first Chief of Police, and William Van Ness, Daniel Kane, and William Mensch were appointed as officers. The Board of Trustees would provide the new officers with a badge, club, and “outside equipment” as well as $11 toward their suit of clothes. On June 6, 1882, the Geneva Advertiser announced “The Geneva policemen came out in a new uniform suit of blue yesterday. The wrong minded look pretty quick now!”

Chief Suydam had only served for a year before developing pneumonia in what was reported to be “severe devotion to duty at a fire” in 1883. He succumbed to the pneumonia and was succeeded by William Van Ness who was appointed Chief on April 3, 1883. Chief Van Ness served as Chief until retiring in 1891. Daniel Kane was appointed as the next Chief of Police.

Geneva was incorporated as a City in 1898. Shortly thereafter, the Police Commission designated twenty citizens as special bicycle policeman. The use of bicycles as a means of transportation was so popular during those days that the Police Department found it necessary to enforce regulations, concerning the use of bicycles, to protect the welfare and safety of residents. The practice of “scorching,” or riding bicycles at what was then considered to be high speeds, was a real problem. The police force was also increased in size to consist of seven members.

In February 1924, the Geneva Police Department suffered a tragic loss. Two men, Howard Keavin of Rochester, and his brother-in-law Edward Doyle attempted to burglarize the safe at the New York Central Railroad Station. Their attempt was interrupted by the arrival of Gae Fritz, a special policeman for the New York Central Railroad. Fritz engaged in a running gun battle with the two burglars and was slightly wounded. Geneva Police Patrolman Aeneas McDonald had joined the pursuit. At the Guinan garage on the corner of Exchange and E. North Streets, Patrolman McDonald was shot by Howard Keavin. Aeneas McDonald died shortly thereafter. Keavin was captured and then escaped from the County Jail in Canandaigua. He was recaptured and sentenced to twenty years to life in prison. He then escaped from Auburn Prison but was again captured. He was then sentenced to life in prison as a repeat offender under the Bounds Laws. To this day, Patrolman Aeneas McDonald is the only Geneva Police Officer to pay the ultimate sacrifice of his life in the line of duty.

On June 20, 1924, Chief Daniel Kane resigned as Chief of Police due to his failing health. He had served as Chief for 33 years. Patrolmen Lawrence Kenny was named Acting Chief of Police. A bitter battle began between the Police Commission and the Civil Service Commission. Two years later, in 1926, a new Mayor was elected who then named a new Police Commission and a new Civil Service Commission. A new examination was held for the position of Chief of Police and on October 4, 1926, Richard W. Morris was named as the new Chief. He served as Chief of Police until 1944. Sgt. Jeremiah McNerney was then appointed as Chief of Police and served until his death a year later, in 1945. Sgt. Daniel C. Murphy was appointed as the next Chief of Police. He had only served for five years before also dying while still in office. Sgt. Joseph E. McDonough was appointed as Chief in 1950 and served until his retirement in 1962. He was replaced by Sgt. Thomas J. McLaughlin who died while in office in 1971. Herman J. Garrow, a captain with the City of Tonawanda Police Department, was appointed as Geneva Police Chief in October 1971. He served as Chief until his retirement in 1988. In November 1988, Capt. Frank T. Pane was appointed as Chief of Police. After 45 years of Police service, 23 of those years as Chief of Police, Frank T. Pane retired. Lt. Jeffrey Trickler was appointed Chief of Police in July 2011.

Reference sources:

Geneva Historical Society
A History of the Geneva Police Department, 100 Years of Public Service 1882-1982
by Chief Herman Garrow
The Police Department of Geneva, New York
by Mr. G.M.B. Hawley (Geneva Police Historian- 1940)
From ‘Night Watch’ to Ninth Chief
Finger Lakes Times October 8, 1971