The Portland Irish have had a long connection with the local police department, on both sides of the law. As early as 1860, we find an Irish emigrant who belonged to the force.
The Cumberland County Sheriffs had upheld local law since the creation of the county in 1760. But inevitably more was needed. The first known Portland policeman was William Joseph Symmes, elected an “Inspector” in 1797. The local police or “watch” officially went into effect less than a year later. The watch was superseded by a city police force in May 1849, led by a city marshal. In April 1860, city regulations were passed to ensure that the police were garbed in distinctive uniforms. Patrolmen were to wear “a dark blue frock coat, single breasted, dark blue pants, black silk or satin vest, blue cloth cap of uniform style and shape, with glazed cover.”
From 1846 until 1877, policemen were politically appointed, to serve a term of one year. At the end of that year, officers were expected to seek reappointment and pay their political debts. Michael Ward was one such policeman. He was born in County Tyrone, Ireland in 1824 and was serving as an officer in 1860, when he had at home a wife and five children, ages eight and under. Ward is the first known Irishman to serve on the local force. His brother Patrick was involved in local Democratic circles. Others soon followed Ward. Thomas Curran was a policeman in the late 1860s and Robert McCloskey, an Irish emigrant, railroad switchman, and night watchman, served in the early 1870s.
One of the first officially appointed permanent policeman of Irish blood was Hugh F. McDonough, serving on the force from March 1883 until 1893. A native of Ireland and a resident of Portland since age five, he later rejoined the force, running a restaurant at the same time. McDonough became a captain in 1907. Roger McGrath, another Irish native and briefly on the London constabulary, served with distinction from July 2, 1883 until May 6, 1907. “He was considered one of the most efficient officers,” according to his obituary (Eastern Argus, 6 Feb 1915). His son John E. was a police lieutenant in NYC.
In the 1890s, local Irish John T. Keating, Thomas E. Quinn, Henry McCormick, Michael J. Madden, and William White became officers. Between 1900-1915, a whole slew of local Irish men joined the ranks, with names like Cady (Capt. Stephen H.), Casey, McDonough, Feury, McGonagle, Dorsey, Donovan, Foley, Conley, McGovern, O’Brien, Silk, Newell, Kearns, Glynn, Molloy, Herbert, Dodwell, Dolan, Donahue, Flaherty, Skerritt, Flavin, Thornton, Hamilton, Powers, and Brown. In 1913 alone, ten policemen joined the force, eight of which were Irish. In 1915, there were some 45 Irish or Irish-Americans in the PPD.
When Police Inspector James E. Dawson died suddenly of a heart ailment at age 40, several local theaters joined forces to present a benefit for his wife and many small children. The benefit was held in September 1906 and included local Irish-American performers Harry Lappin, Matthew Hanlon, Sadie McDonough, “Baby Doherty,” as well as several Portland police officers. Even the famous comic actor Buster Keaton (1895-1966) and his actor father Joe were on hand to assist in the shows (Portland Evening Express, 22 Sep 1906). James Dawson was born here, the son of Irish-born John and Sarah Riley Dawson, and was the great-grandfather of former mayor Jack Dawson.
Elmer W. Waterhouse was the last city marshal and first chief of police (1906-08). The third chief was Daniel L. Bowen (1879-1945), the first head of the force of Irish blood. During his reign (1914-1919), many improvements were made in the department. During World War I, he shortened hours of duty so policemen could conduct important civilian work. He also had speed signs posted in the city for the first time and issued his men a uniform type of revolver, following the murder of patrolman Charles E. McIntosh by two suspected robbers. Previously to this officers carried guns anywhere from six inches to a foot long. A former alderman, Bowen was also an inspector for the Portland Overseers of the Poor (Obituary, Portland Press Herald, 10 Aug 1945).
About 1913, Miss Margaret F. Fell became the matron of the police. She was a former tailoress, born in Portland the daughter of Irish emigrants Michael, a mason, and Catherine. Her brother Michael R. Fell was a local police officer that had died in May 1913, aged 54. Another local Irishwoman, Mrs. Mary E. Bulger McDonough replaced Margaret as matron in 1917. Mary was the widow of John A. and her daughter Elizabeth M. became the first Portland policewoman May 23, 1921.
Mary Bulger McDonough served as matron until her death in June 1936, when her daughter took over the position. Elizabeth, six years a police clerk, fifteen years a special officer, and almost twelve years matron, was truly a pioneer, like her mother before her. She died in November 1954 and was interred in Calvary Cemetery, South Portland.
In July 1927, Portland Police officer Daniel J. Carr, Jr., of Irish blood, surprised a burglar as he broke into Canavan Drug Co. on Allen Avenue. The robber fired five shots at Carr, one of which hit near his heart. Miraculously he survived, aided by fellow officer James S. Whitmore, who lived down the street.
Officer Carr survived, but tragedy struck just three years later in August 1930. Patrolman Michael T. Connolly, a native of County Galway, was found washed ashore on East End Beach, tied with his own handcuffs. It is believed that he may have come across bootleggers on his nightly rounds, but no one was ever charged. His murder remains a mystery to this day. Connolly left behind a young wife and children. A police boat was named for him in the 1980s and a remembrance lecture was given in his honor at the Maine Irish Heritage Center (the old St. Dominic’s Church, of which he was a member) in August 2005.
In 1938, Lieutenant John H. Tolan retired from the police force. He was born in Portland in 1874, the son of Irish emigrants. A veteran of the Spanish-American War, Tolan served on the force 35 years. His wife was the former Agnes Sullivan, whose brother Edward J. “Eddie” Sullivan was the American manager for the famed actress Sarah Bernhardt. John and Agnes’ son John was a Portland fire lieutenant who lost his life in the line of duty in 1956.
Besides Chief Danny Bowen, who even played a police chief in a 1915 Francis and John Ford movie filmed here, several other chiefs have been of Irish blood. These include Edward R. Dodwell, John F. Newell, John M. Mulkern, and Michael J. Chitwood.
Edward R. Dodwell was born in Portland in 1884, the son of Matthew J., a house carpenter, and Mary Larkin, children of Irish natives. He started his career with the police as civilian chauffeur and over the years was appointed a regular patrolman, traffic officer, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and in 1938 head of the Detective Bureau. Dodwell was named acting chief in 1940, chief a year later, and died November 12, 1943.
John Patrick Francis Newell (1885-1969), who was born here the son of Lawrence and Margaret Greaney Newell, natives of Ballintleva, Belclare, Tuam, County Galway, replaced Dodwell. He was on night traffic duty at Monument Square for eight years. In 1917 Newell arrested a notorious thief named “Bad Willie” Gray as he was leaving an office with a bag of loot. Later, while stationed at Morrill’s Corner, he routed a young gang who were “systematically preying on the contents of freight cars.” Newell also led fifty children to safety when fire gutted part of an orphan asylum about 1913.
Chief Newell retired in May 1948 and was succeeded by John Michael Mulkern, another Portland native and son of Galway people. His son Robert was married to Newell’s niece Gertrude. Mulkern joined the force as a reserve patrolman in 1917 and after rising up the ranks, was appointed head of a newly created traffic bureau in 1940. He became Deputy Chief in 1945 and died of a heart attack as chief in September 1951.
Over the years there have been many Irish-American officers, Deputy Chiefs, and acting chiefs. Today we find William Ridge, from a Galway family, as Deputy Chief.
He served under Chief Michael Jude Chitwood, who a few years ago transferred back to Philadelphia.
Chitwood was born in 1944, of Irish-Cherokee heritage, raised in Catholic schools, and joined the Philadelphia police in 1964. His “real-life crime fighting exploits and physical resemblance to actor Clint Eastwood earned him a reputation as Philadelphia’s Dirty Harry” (Boston Globe Magazine, 28 Jul 2002). After a long career as a homicide detective and narcotics officer, he was appointed Portland Police Chief in 1988. A controversial figure and so outspoken he was dubbed “Media Mike,” Chitwood nonetheless did some outstanding police work here and was admired by many.