The Turbulent Twenties

Some of the more colorful and famous early police officers, in addition to Michael B. Lynch, his sons Owen and thomas, and his grandsons James F. and Michael A., were Ellis A. Cranston, James Ludlow, Henry Ledoux and Forrest Sprague. These men all took part in police work when Warwick was still a rural community in its eastern section and a series of mill villages in the west. In addition to facing strikes, political infighting, racial prejudice and prohibition, they also encountered the increased use of the automobile and the special problems that came as a result.

The Warwick City Times, a short-lived local paper in the 1930's, places the first permanent police force in 1921. The paper records that the chief was Ellis A. Cranston, and notes that James G. Ludlow, a local blacksmith, and Henry Ledoux, were among the first permanent patrolmen. The Times tells us that there "was no day patrolman then and only six men were on duty at night." Ledoux, who succeeded Cranston as chief, was Warwick's first motorcycle "cop".

Chief Ellis A. Cranston who, according to the Times, was best remembered for his political influence and inability to find the many "speakeasies" which infested the town, realized the necessity of having men on his force who could speak the language of the immigrants. Beacuse of the ever-increasing numbers of Italians in Pontiac and Natick, Chief Cranston hired Albert N. Izzi as a special constable in 1919, as Izzi spoke Italian and had a good rapport with the mill workers. This force was so small and poorly funded that the constables had no regular uniforms at the time, and Izzi, who had played saxophone in the Natick band, wore his band uniform for a number of years. Later, Izzi became part of the permanent force. His prowess as a "traffic cop" at Apponaug Four Corners earned him the nickname of "the human windmill".

Forrest Sprague, one of Warwick's best known and respected police chiefs, also joined the force in the 1920's. Sprague later recalled that when he became an officer, there were no police cars, officers had to use their own, and there was "a lot of nothing" between the villages.

There was a great deal of criticism of Chief Cranston and the fledgling force. The Warwick City Times charged that the chief was lax in enforcing discipline. The paper said that visitors to the police station, which was in the basement of the Town Hall, often found the police officers "playing cards". The Times also charged that Chief Cranston's records were poorly kept and pointed out that when Ledoux became chief in the 1930's, he closed down over a hundred speakeasies that Cranston had ignored.

One of the most significant events that involved the young police force in the 1920s was the Textile Strike of 1922. All of the Pawtuxet Valley mills suffered from the aftermath of World War I and the influx of cheap goods from Europe. Many of the mills in Warwick and West Warwick attempted to lower wages and increase the number of hours that operatives worked. The result was a strike that began on January 20, 1922 and continued until September 12th of that year. Over three thousand strikers were involved in the early walkouts. Soon, professional union organizers entered the area and formed "flying squadrons" of workers who went from mill to mill to "persuade" operatives to leave their machines and join in the strike.

When the strikers marched from West Warwick to Pontiac on Jan. 29th, mill owners looked to the small Warwick police force to protect the Pontiac Mill and Bleachery. Extra constables were hired and the police were successful in keeping the unionists out of the yard. Within a few days, however, the Pontiac mill hands joined the strike.

As the strike grew more intense, violence erupted in Natick and Pontiac. Governor Emery J. San Souci, heeding the demands of the mill owners, called out the Mounted Command of the National Guard and sent 150 troops to Natick and Pontiac. A number of strikers were arrested for the violation of antiquated picketing and strike regulations. It was a sad time for the textile workers in the Pawtuxet Valley and the strike did irreparable damage to both workers and the textile industry.

High Sheriff Michael B. Lyunch and his deputy, Theodore S. Andrews, received high praise from state officials for the role they played in keeping peace during the strike. Lynch by this time was 78 years old, but still vigorous and capable. He served as High Sheriff for another seven years and witnessed increased activity by the Ku Klux Klan, which reared its head in Warwick in the 1920s. Klansmen met in Pawtuxet, openly walked through Rocky Point, and burned crosses in the fields near Hardig Brook. They were anti-Catholic and against the various ethnic groups in the Pawtuxet Valley. Lynch was appalled by this and felt that all groups had worked together in harmony.

There were a few light moments in the 1920s, however, such as the one involving Sgt. Joseph Ricketts. This was a period when the automobile was becoming very popular and still an unknown quantity in the legal sense. Ricketts stopped a motorist who was speeding through Apponaug Four Corners. There were no vehicle violation laws in Warwick at the time, but the enterprising Ricketts met the situation by charging the driver with "assault with a dangerous weapon."

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