Phillipsburg Police Department Roots
The Phillipsburg Police Department was established based on American law enforcement. Tracing the roots of the first known established police department brings us to the New York City Sheriff’s Office which is widely documented as being established in 1626. The purpose of the Sheriff’s Department reflected one major component of the framework for the criminal justice system, mainly deterring crime and then stopping crimes in progress through orders of the court. Once the New York City police order was established, other major cities began to establish their own department. The Boston Police Department is considered to be the first modern police department in 1838 and became a model for subsequent large city police departments.
We know that Phillipsburg was organized in 1851 and chartered on March 8, 1861. The Phillipsburg Centennial published in 1961 references one of the unpublished manuscripts from these early times describing “every man was armed with a gun” providing some insight into how law and order was maintained. The Police Department in Phillipsburg was officially established in Section 10 of the original Town Charter. The language from the Town Charter which established the Police Department stated:
“And be it enacted that the Common Council of said town shall have the power to appoint a high constable and such assistance as they may judge proper to hold there respectively during the pleasure of the Common Council and to proscribe there duties power and compensation."
Phillip Lerch was the first High Constable who served for one year beginning on May 5, 1861. The next five years the department continued with one High Constable serving an annual term.
During the late 1890’s the Phillipsburg Police Department was organized into wards. There were at least seven wards through the mid 1920’s and the police officer assigned to a particular ward would have the corresponding number worn on their hat. 1901-1926 included the leadership of Edward Gorgas as Police Chief serving until his death. Walter Cutsler then became Police Chief on May 26, 1926, promoted from a patrol officer of the seventh ward since he joined the police force in 1913. He served as Police Chief from 1926 until he died in 1938 at age 71. Many other noted Police Chiefs’ have served the Department providing leadership and honor to the force.
The Phillipsburg Police Department also utilized “Special Police” beginning in 1917 to help provide protection for residents during World War I. About 70 “Home Guards” were sworn in on June 12, 1917 to provide additional support to the Department. This is similar today to the Special Class B officers that are used to supplement the police force. Throughout the history of the department, supplemental services were often utilized such as motorcycle police to help keep residents safe or to address special safety needs of the town.
Over the years, the Phillipsburg Police Department has responded to public safety issues, from historic disasters such as the flood of 1955 when the Delaware River crested over 43 feet above normal level, to train derailments, and the 1959 explosion at Ingersol-Rand Company which claimed the lives of four and injured 35 others. The police department has and will always continue to learn and evolve in order to protect the public.
As with any police department, the risks police officers take for the job to protect and to serve can indeed have tragic endings. The Officer Down Memorial Page website notes two Phillipsburg Police officers who died in the line of duty, one of a heart attack while responding to a burglary call, Sergeant Dominick Jiorle, and one who died as a result of gunfire, Patrolman Kenneth “Red” Vandergift. Both incidents are tragic and demonstrate the dangers police officers face every day to protect the public.
The police department honors those officers who have lost their lives and continues to integrate new tools and training to lessen their vulnerability. Today technology aids the police department with special license plate readers, anonymous tip texting tools, the use of cameras, and other states of the art technology aimed at preventing crimes from occurring. The Phillipsburg Police Department like many others across the country continues to strengthen the prevention model of policing. The shift of focus to a prevention model as demonstrated through the Community Policing Unit, Lead activities, and through active resident involvement enriches the community.
With over 250 years of serving the public, the Phillipsburg Police Department continues to strive to meet the expectations of service and the reality of difficult fiscal challenges. The rich history will continue to influence the operations of the Department as it continues to seek more comprehensive involvement with residents.
The Department continues to look for pictures and items from the earlier days. Any resident with any information that reflects on the history of the Department is asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phillipsburg NJ Centennial (1961); A souvenir booklet.
Images of America: Phillipsburg. Buscemi, Leonard (2001).
Phillipsburg Town Charter 1861
Note, my research indicates Albert K. Metz was the first elected constable, but the town list has Phillip Lerch.
The below text is taken directly from the Officer Down Memorial Page. For other information regarding Officers killed in the line of duty please visit ODMP page at http://www.odmp.org/
Patrolman Vandergrift was shot and killed after responding to a domestic disturbance at an apartment on Chamber Street on November 17, 1930. When he arrived on the scene he was met by the wife and son of the suspect. After speaking with them they began to take him upstairs to the apartment. As they climbed the stairs Patrolman Vandergrift stepped in front of the wife. As he attempted to ascend to the third floor the suspect opened fire with a rifle, striking Patrolman Vandergrift.
Patrolman Vandergrift was able to move to a safe location and was then taken by neighbors to Warren Hospital. He died in the hospital three days later. The suspect committed suicide after shooting Patrolman Vandergrift.
On November 20, 2003, Patrolman Vandergrift's was posthumously awarded the agency's Medal of Honor. The medal was presented to his 80-year-old daughter. On July 23, 2004, a bridge in Phillipsburg was dedicated the Kenneth "Red" Vandergrift Bridge. He proudly wore badge number 171.
Sergeant Dominick Jiorle suffered a fatal heart attack while responding to a burglary in progress call on May 26, 1963. Sergeant Jiorle had served with the Phillipsburg Police Department for nine years. He was 42 years old at the time of his death and proudly wore badge number 205.