County Police History
The Westchester County Department of Public Safety was created on July 1, 1979 via merger of the Westchester County Sheriff’s Department and the Westchester County Parkway Police. This page is dedicated to the history of the department’s predecessor agencies.
The Westchester County Sheriff’s Department: 1683 to 1979
The history of the Westchester County Sheriff’s Department has roots dating all the way back to 1683 when Benjamin Collier, the first sheriff, was appointed by the governor and council of New York. Sheriffs continued to be appointed by the governor until 1846, when the New York State Constitution established provisions for popular election of sheriffs. That year, James M. Bates of Bedford was the first person to be elected to the position of Westchester County Sheriff.
The election of sheriffs in Westchester County continued until 1974, when Thomas J. Delaney was voted into the position. Delaney served until the merger with the Parkway Police in 1979. He was then appointed as the first Commissioner—Sheriff of the newly created Westchester County Department of Public Safety.
The Sheriff’s department was responsible for investigative activities covering a wide variety of areas. The agency’s investigatorial jurisdiction included major crimes, high profile cases, and organized crime control. Vice investigations—gambling, narcotics, pornography, and prostitution—were also an area of specialty for sheriff’s investigators.
The Sheriff’s Department also operated a tactical response team. Made up of specially selected deputies, the unit trained extensively with special weapons (including AR-15 assault rifles and .308 sniper rifles) and tactics. Capabilities of the squad included execution of high-risk search or arrest warrants, dealing with armed and barricaded suspects, and resolution of hostage situations. The department’s tactical capabilities were very progressive. At the time, few law enforcement agencies had established SWAT capable units.
The Westchester County Parkway Police: 1929 to 1979
The Westchester County Parkway Police can be traced back to the spring of 1929, when the Westchester County Park Commission annexed a group of fifteen men from New York City to patrol the newly constructed Bronx River Parkway. Named the Westchester County Park Patrol Force and placed under the command of Superintendent Herman W. Merkel, the agency reported to Park Keeper William J. Byrne. Under these appointments effective June 1, 1926, patrolmen received an annual salary of $1,900
At its inception, a vast majority of the Parkway Patrol’s work was done via surplus World War I motorcycles. This necessitated the establishment of a full motorcycle service and repair shop under the department’s control. When the force was established, all training was provided. Roughly ten years later, the ability to ride a motorcycle was a prerequisite for employment.
By the early 1940s, the Parkway Police had grown to a total of 94 men. Of that number, 73 men were assigned to uniformed patrol. The Parkway Police serviced the same parkways now patrolled by the Westchester County Police. Additionally, they covered a number of county parks and golf courses. The Parkway Police supplemented their traffic enforcement and motorist assistance activities with aggressive pursuit of violent offenders who used the parkways as a means of escape. On more than one occasion, stick-up men were captured after a high-speed chase and ensuing shootout.
The level of dedication among the Parkway Police was never more apparent than in 1938. At this time, the officers recognized a need for a fully equipped emergency service truck. Their requisition request was denied due to budget constraints, and the officers were told that their request would not be fulfilled in the foreseeable future. The members of he Westchester County Parkway Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (a predecessor to the Department of Public Safety PBA) used their own funds to purchase and equip a state-of-the-art emergency service truck equipped for both rescue and riot control operations. Standard equipment included fire fighting materials, an acetylene torch, picks, shovels, and crowbars. The truck also hauled a tear gas launcher and gas bombs.
In June of 1953, the Parkway Police relocated from their headquarters on Pond field Road in Bronxville to a new building located adjacent to the Hawthorne circle. This building would later become the headquarters for the Westchester County Police.