Brief Department History
The following history of the Department is kind of sketchy. The early years are based on hearsay and folklore that have been embellished over the years, but are thought to be true.
During the Seventeen and Eighteen Hundreds, the township Law Enforcement consisted of an elected County Sheriff who, during those times, had full police powers in the entire county. There were no patrols and most crimes were settled on the spot between the victim and the criminal. When caught, the criminal may sometimes have been taken before a Magistrate, but usually the matter was handled without involving any authorities. In fact, during that time period, there were several hangings from a tree that stood at what is now the intersection of West Chester Pike and Route 252.
By the Nineteen Hundreds, the township population was composed mainly of farmers and a few merchants. During World War I, the population started to grow due to the increased use of automobiles and the construction of a trolley line that ran from Philadelphia to West Chester. During these years, there still was no organized Police Department. The Pennsylvania State Police would send a patrol through the area on a random basis. At one time, there was a resident State Trooper who was responsible for handling crime in the Marple, Newtown, and Edgemont areas.
At the outbreak of World War II, the population had soared to almost three thousand residents. The Township Supervisors (Marple was a Second Class township) began the practice of paying the elected Constables to patrol the township on a full and part time basis. Lester Downs and Harry Eastburn patrolled the township in their own vehicle and were compensated based on the amount of time spent on patrols. This system continued throughout the war years. Various Army Units that were stationed in the area also assisted the Constables.
The Police Department, as we know it today, was established in 1948 with Mr. Downs appointed as Chief of Police. Several men were hired to provide 24 hour patrols. At this time, the Department was operated out of an office on the second floor of the Fire House ( the building that is now Drexel Hill Pizza ). It was at this time that the Police Department began to keep records of its activities. According to those records, the first murder occurred on a chicken farm that was located on land that is now occupied by the Marple Crossroads Shopping Center.
In that case, two brothers, each armed with shotguns, killed their abusive father. Both sons received probation for their part in the murder. Former Police Officer and Fire Marshall, I. Newtown Kerber, was the officer who investigated that incident.
Starting in 1955, new housing developments began to be built in the township and the first residents of those developments started to move in. The population soared from 4,000 to over 20,000 in just a six year period. The Police Department also grew rapidly during that period. During the mid 1960's, the Department was comprised of 34 officers. At one point in the late 1960's the Department had increased in size to 39 officers. Today, the Department has 29 police officers providing police services to Marple Township residents.
Much has changed since the early days of the Police Department. Today, there is a great deal of reliance on modern technology. The Department's day to day operations rely heavily on computers and modern radio communications. The officers are better trained and educated. However, the main goal of the Department has not changed since Chief Downs patrolled the Township in his 1948 Ford. That goal is to serve and protect the residents of Marple Township.