Warwick's Police 1930 - 1935

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the young Warwick police force made some positive changes, but maintained a somewhat less than adequate reputation. Many of the problems the force encountered stemmed from the almost impossible task of enforcing prohibition. Many of the same problems that faced Spacial Liquor Constables Michael B. Lynch and Michael Riley resurfaced with the passing of the 18th Amendment in 1919.

Bootleggers, hijackers and gangsters

At first, Warwick residents scoffed at the amendment and compared it with earlier temperance movements fostered by mill owners such as Enos Lapham. Soon, even those who didn't use, or favor, alcoholic beverages feared the new law would seriously curtail business by greatly diminishing the crowds that came to Rocky Point and Oakland Beach to drink and be entertained. Warwick quickly became notorious for its bars, saloons, shows, and fast houses and infamous for bootlegging and smuggling. With its many speakeasies in Oakland Beach, Pawtuxet and Apponaug, Warwick gained the reputation of being a "wide-open town." As might be expected, to paraphrase Al Smith, Prohibition begat the bootlegger, the bootlegger begat the hijacker and the hijacker begat the gangsters, allowing organized crime to obtain a foothold in Warwick.

An "early warning system"

There are still a number of residents around who remember when in a number of restaurants you could get a drink any time. In some of these establishments, wires and alarms were strung to warn of raids from the "feds" and also from rival gangs. There were strong feelings that the local police were often those who warned of the impending raids. Observers of the times commented that, in many instances, before the raids occurred in the morning, trucks could be seen carting off the illegal goods from Warwick. They also noted that by 6:00p.m., the "speakeasies" were again open for business.

To further frustrate those police who were doing their best to enfoce prohibition was the attitude of the courts. One prominent attorney, whose clients were often "rumrunners," explained that those arrested were very seldom tried. "Clients pleaded guilty, were fined $100 for the first offense and $200 for the second. After the second offense, the drivers were replaced and would switch routes with rumrunners from Massachusetts or Connecticut."

The City Charter 1931

With so much bad publicity coming to Warwick as a result, the Town Council in 1930 made an attempt to enforce prohibition by removing Chief Ellis Cranston and appointing Henry Ledoux in his place. Some gains were made, but the problem wasn't resolved until the repeal of prohibition.

In addition to the prohibition problem, Warwick, like most towns and cities in Rhode Island during the early Depression years, was experiencing financial woes. All monies to conduct town services had to be appropriated by the financial town meetings. As Warwick had grown to over nine thousand qualified taxpayers, town meetings had become too large to be practical. As a result, in 1931, Warwick decided to become a city with a mayor and city council type government. The City Charter was accepted on April 21, 1931, and an election was called in November 1931, with the first mayor and City Council to assume office in March 1933.

Brereton and O'Brien

Thirty-eight year old Pierce Brereton was elected as the first mayor of the city. He was faced with serious problems relating to the Depression and the high rate of unemployement in Warwick. In 1934, a Democratic sweep brought John O'Brien in as mayor. O'Brien was successful in getting the General Assembly to pass an amendment to the Warwick City Charter which gave the mayor greater power over the police and water boards. He used this power to abolish the old Board of Police Commissioners and created a five member Police Commission, with the mayor as one of the members and the other four selected by him. O'Brien now had the power to control the police. He used this power to remove Henry Ledoux from office and reorganize the police force.

The Crime Castle episode

Ledoux was involved in a scandal concerning Warwick's celebrated "Crime Castle" case, which involved the Rettich gang at Warwick Neck. O'Brien, according to a news report of the time, "...declared evidence uncovered so far in the probe of the police department had indicated the Carl Rettich estate, housing the 'crime castle' had been police-protected for the last three years." In the shakeup, eleven police officers were dismissed and four policemen, including two sergeants, were called before a grand jury.

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