Stop 79: The 1889 Dade City Police Department
For over one hundred and thirty years, the institution of policing has been a component of the governing structure of Dade City. In the first forty or so years, the head of the police force and at times the sole law enforcement officer was the City Marshal. This title may have been indicative of the fact that high crimes were not the norm in a frontier town with a modest population, as many were homesteaders and pioneers of one type or another with fierce work ethics. There was simply not a lot of free time to get into trouble.
MANY EARLY MARSHALS WERE ENGINEERS AND BUILDERS
The heredity of the institution was also quite different than that of the twenty-first century. Although the city commission minutes are vague, research seems to indicate that the first Marshal of Dade City in 1889, William J. Beard was trained as an engineer. Beard had the title of Marshal/Collector as a component of his job was to assist with fee collection.
When well-known historian, Helen Eck Sparkman was sorting through her large inventory of historical documents and memorabilia she came across her father’s chief of police badge. Her father was Chief of Police Louis Michael Eck. As Helen attempted to research his salary from 1930-32 documents, she realized that the payments were made to the individual by the city government and were arbitrary and sporadic from time to time.
Similarly, Helen’s father, Louis Michael Eck possessed the desired career type of early Dade City. Eck built several of the sidewalks, managed the early waterworks, and constructed the first Pasco High School building. This proficiency in construction and engineering was also evident in 1913 Marshal Ash Woodward. Woodward was trained as an engineer and moved from his Dade City chief position in 1913, to engineer of a sailing vessel plying between Key West and Panama. Ash Woodward along with a variety of other city officials were called upon as members of the Dade City Militia for strike duty in Jacksonville in 1913 by the Florida National Guard.
In 1914, Marshal Irving Leslie Beech placed street markers at the street crossings which he said “adds a decided air to the town,” as Beech was a member of the Dade City Street Committee. The Dade City Banner reports that Mayor F.D. Cosner and the city commission required dogs to be muzzled year-round or the canines would be shot by Marshal Joe Sparkman.
SUDDEN DEATHS OF SOME EARLY MARSHALS
Times were different in regard to health and medical care. Three of the early Marshals died quite suddenly and as a historian peeking back, one would like to employ a pathologist to look into the cases. Take for example, Walter Lafayette Hargraves, just 27 years old. As the acting Dade City Marshal, he was to be officially approved by the city commission within days. Hargraves entered Neal’s Shop Perfect, a swanky new drug store with an onyx and marble bar counter. The Tampa Morning Tribune of October 1924 wrote: “Hargraves was stricken only minutes before his death and had called Dr. R.D. Sistrunk with whom he was in the drug store having the prescription filled when he fell dead.” Imagine, the Chief of Police walked into the town’s main drug store and fell over dead!
A few years later, in 1928, Dade City Chief of Police, sixty-two-year-old James A. Fyffe was rounding up some rowdy cattle trespassing in the city limit for the town’s impounding yard. (After all, free-range existed!) As he passed by the feed store of James Ambrose Peek (you’ll know it today as Wozniak’s Builders), he felt lightheaded. On horseback, he shouted out to Peek and friend, Sidney Dunlap for help. (It so happened Sheriff Isaac Hudson was nearby as well.) The men managed to lift Fyffe off of his horse and into a car to transport him home and summoned the town doctor. Fyffe succumbed to unconsciousness. By 2:00 in the afternoon, Fyffe was deceased and Dade City was utterly in shock.
Marshal Josiah Kent Davis’s death in 1940 also took the community by surprise. The Banner eulogized Davis as liked by all with a “kind and friendly disposition.” He migrated to Dade City from Mississippi when he was a young boy with his parents. His father was a judge who shared the same name. After feeling poorly for a week, he was admitted to Jackson Memorial Hospital and died abruptly.
Peter Emerson who has done quite a bit of historical research on the police department, uncovered that the average salary was around $15 per month.
COURAGE AND DECISIVE JUDGEMENT
With multi-faceted skills, one cannot be deceived that the Marshal or Chief of Police, whatever the moniker, needed skills of courage and decisive judgment. Perhaps one of the fiercest of Dade City Marshal’s over time, was Bartow Daniel Sturkie. Known as “Marshal Bart,” Sturkie moved back and forth from Pasco Sheriff to Dade City Marshal. He served terms as Sheriff from 1904 to 1916 and from 1920-1924, and lived with his wife and children in the sheriff’s quarters of the 1892 jail house in Dade City. Sturkie’s obituary of November 1928, stated he served six terms as Dade City Marshal as well. Sturkie was a hands-on fellow in his law enforcement. He wore a gun belt on his hip (ala John Wayne) with two 45 Colts in holsters, and he was known to be a proficient shot.
William Marvin Gaddis arrived in Dade City in the 1930’s and served as Chief during the Great Depression (1932 to 1944). He was Chief as they prepared in last 1943 for the 1944 German POW arrivals in Dade City during World War II. Gaddis was appointed by Mayor Frank M. Ashbrook, who was solicited by the government to lease land that would house up to 350 Nazi POWs. Little known by many, Mayor Ashbrook’s own son, Corporal Frank Ashbrook was MIA and later imprisoned by the Germans in Stalag Luft 4, a Nazi Prison Camp in Poland. The irony of this from a historical standpoint is palpable. Dealing with community fears and a few POW escapees as well as two roof-top observational towers on area businesses for the observational corps to spot enemy planes, there was real angst, and the Chief and his immediate successor Chief William E Douglas (on board from later 1944 until 1952) were calming influences during turbulent and uncertain times. During Gaddis’ early term, Gaddis’ 39-year-old wife, Lucile Theresa Gaddis passed away and he was also juggling the care of his children. Gaddis entered construction as a house mover after serving as Chief of Police. By the time he passed away in 1965, he had lived in Dade City for thirty years, and two of his sons went on to become doctors. Since the moving of frame buildings was frequent and complex, one wonders if he was involved with the moving of some key buildings and houses in Dade City as his law enforcement background would have come in handy for traffic control, moving of telegraph and electric wires, and the like.
A particular example of courage was exemplified by Walton Gerald Thompson who was Chief of Police from 1969 to 1972. A member of the Plant City Police Department for more than 18 years, he resigned in 1968 to be appointed chief of Police in Dade City. He was a graduate of the Law Enforcement Academy in Tallahassee and USF and later served as an instructor in the police academy at St. Leo. He made several changes to the department when he came in which included promoting Virgil Burger to second in command and promoting two women, Elaine Ekiss to clerk dispatcher as the first corporal and Loretta Nathe as a full-time dispatcher. He ran three patrol cars around the clock and refused to take a patrol car for his own use. W.G. Thompson and his officers as well as the cool demeanor of Dade City Postmaster Alton P. Smith protected many community members and resources as they dealt with a nationally covered heist of the Dade City Post Office in 1970.
Here is a synopsis:
FAMOUS DADE CITY HEIST OF 1970
Dade City Postmaster, Alton P. Smith had worked at the Dade City post office for 37 years as of 1970. Bespectacled and unassuming, he was compared by the AP wire and the journalists to be Norman Rockwell-like in appearance.
The date of the heist/kidnapping was February 12, 1970 (Lincoln’s Birthday)
(Police Chief W. Gerald Thompson had been notified by Federal Postal inspectors a few days before the event that the Dade City Post office might be a target for a ring of burglars that had hit a number of central Florida Post offices from Orlando to Naples. Both the Chief and Smith were briefed on the operation methods of the gang and four local police officers were assigned to the case.)
At 6:40 pm, a fellow rang the doorbell at Smith’s Dade City house. Luckily his wife was visiting a relative. Disguised as a phone repairman, he pushed through the door, and then three masked men were in the house shouting their intention to rob the post office. Smith said, “when you’ve got a revolver at your temple and a machine gun down your throat, what can you do?”
After ransacking Smith’s home, they manhandled him into the panel truck, blindfolded him, and laid him face down. At the post office, they forced Smith to open the first vault and cash boxes. When they realized the other vault had a combination, they demanded Smith get the combination from the strong box. With the loot in hand, they forced Smith in the vault with a mail bag over his head and handcuffed him to a post. Smith said they indicated he would suffocate in the vault but Smith was relieved because he knew once they shut the vault door, he would be safe.
Meanwhile four Dade City policemen and nine Postal inspectors surrounded the building, and once the foursome of robbers were outside, they acted. The inspectors rammed the get-away truck and the police moved in on two of the runners. All of the money and stamps were recovered!
Federal Postal Inspectors declared that Chief W.G. Thompson and the police were extremely professional and skilled in apprehending the four men in the hold-up from the Chief to the patrolmen on the scene, Tommy Barry and Philip Ratliff. Dade City was in the national news for several days! In addition, the postal inspector said that the decisive calmness of Smith helped to circumvent catastrophe to the point he deserved an Oscar!!!
Backgrounds of the chiefs varied in early decades. For example, William Esten Douglas was a farmer/rancher and became interested in law enforcement through the fish and game commission and then later served as Chief. Leon Hudson entered via his family background as his father, Isaac Hudson served as Pasco Sheriff.
Not unlike all professions over time, the Dade City Police Department had an occasional scandal or controversy. Undoubtedly, the most infamous was Chief Norris Nixon. From the era of the ‘good ole boy mold,’ Nixon overstepped his role and became involved in illegally selling city property i.e. guns from evidence. After twelve years as Dade City Police chief, he resigned when it became known that he was under investigation. Apparently aware of his misgivings, he was a fugitive for a number of years and was given ten-years’ probation by Circuit Judge Ray Ulmer in 1983.
Chief Bernard “Bernie” Enlow followed Nixon. He had twenty years as a Major with the Clearwater Police Department and was a letter-of-the-law person. Plucky columnist Jan Glidewell wrote of Enlow, history will show that Enlow was the beginning of solving an agency’s ills as his stewardship marked a new beginning. Despite the defense of city councilman Bill Dennis and others, he was fired by City Manager Ben Bolan who himself negotiated a resignation rather than be fired, as was formally sought by three of the City Commissioners in 1993. Enlow was not of the good ole boy philosophy but one who dispersed law enforcement to all, regardless of name or status in the community. In a changing age, he offered a new model. After his firing, a financial settlement was made to him by the Commission.
Chief Thomas Todd initiated a search for a Black officer for the force. The local chapter of the NAACP had been vocal about the need. Some of the early Black patrol officers were Robert Anderson, Warren Godbolt, Lyle Oliver, and Van Hughes who undoubtedly paved the way for new generations. Later under the following chief, three Black candidates, all graduates of Pasco High School were sponsored by the police department to attend the Pasco Hernando College’s police academy: Darryl Christopher, Harold Clower, and Ed Hall. Chief Todd later resigned as chief to become an academy instructor. Other early Black officers were Robert Anderson and Warren Godbolt, a Vietnam Veteran.
In 1987, Chief Phil Thompson said, “My desire when I became chief was to create a new image.”
As the fourth chief in four years, Thompson made changes. He put the officers in dark blue uniforms with peaked Navy-style caps that depicted a departure from the country style attire of tan trousers and western shirts and hats. From relaxed to professional with a focus on public safety, Thompson implemented training protocols including cross-training of the police and fire department. He also had some challenges with professionalism in the case of his Assistant Chief Doug Nickels who was convicted of serious crimes and fired. At the time in 1990, Mayor Pat Weaver voiced a sincere faith in Thompson when she said, “I feel safe. The majority of the Dade City Police Department led by Thompson just want to serve and help people.” Phil stayed on the job for twenty years, and upon his retirement in 2007, former Mayor Hutch Brock praised Thompson’s professionalism and contributions to the community. Courageously dealing with early onset Parkinson’s made his departure bitter sweet, but his twenty years had brought stability!
MARSHAL OR CHIEF OF POLICE?
Pursuing the records of the City of Dade City’s police, one quickly notices the diverse titles of Marshal and Chief of Police. If we were to have Marshal Bart Sturkie sit down with current Chief of Police in 2023, James Walters, one would notate the differences in their roles. Walters supervises 30 sworn and trained officers while Marshal Bart had one deputy. Marshal Bart had a great deal of autonomy and spur-of-the moment decision-making. In contemporary times, the Chief is an integral part of the city government and is well versed on law and trained in a variety of areas including prevention that would not have been in the realm of understanding of an early Marshal.
One very significant difference over time has been traffic control. A turning point for Dade City was the 1923 building of the National Highway through Dade City. At the November opening, the Dade City Commission was so excited that they hosted a barbecue at the old fairgrounds for nearly 7,000 people and they erected two temporary Walls of Isolation from the netting used in the tobacco houses. Strategically they invited hosts of people from Hillsborough, Sumter, Hernando and several other counties to drive through the “Wall of Isolation” at the Hillsborough County Line and the Hernando County line to christen the “paved roads,” which they felt would revolutionize Dade City. The building of a solid paved road through the Finley Penetration Method with a two-million-dollar bond meant a complete transformation of Dade City. Citizenry felt it would open up their world which was indeed the case. For the law enforcement world, it was also a turning point as it meant law enforcement officers would now be policing the roads for pedestrians and vehicles. Layers of laws and procedures were coming that would bring more complexity to the role over time as well. At the opening of the National Highway (now U.S. 301) on November 23, 1923, the numerous news coverage read, “All Roads Led to Dade City.” For the Marshal and his assistant on duty at the momentous event, the world also meant change.
Continued changes and expansion in the role continued to evolve. Lavonne Gloria Barnhart was the first policewoman on the force in 1974. Unfortunately, she was fired or resigned within a year. Margaret Angell was also one of the first women patrol officers on the force. She was recruited to the police force by Dolly Anderson and remembered the great work of Vivian Davenport as an early female officer. Margaret also worked for the Sheriff’s department, later becoming the first female Private Investigator in Pasco County. In a 2021 interview she talked fondly of the skills that women contributed to law enforcement in their ability to reason and problem-solve with voice tones and empathy.
Programs such as DARE and SADD were emerging on the national level and indicative of the changing times in which law enforcement was adding a definitive prevention component. The Pasco School system partnered with the Sheriff’s office and area city police departments to implement a School Resource Officer program in 1989. Dade City was reluctant to enter but did add a School Resource Officer, Ron Bock who was replaced by Peter Emerson during that school year.
Undoubtedly a true change agent was Chief Raymond Eldon Velboom who became chief out of an applicant pool of thirty-five in 2007. Of forty years in law enforcement, ten were as a Dade City Chief. With a degree in criminology from FSU, he worked with the Orlando Police Department and was a special agent with FLDLE, first on the governor’s protective detail and later as an intelligence supervisor. His interpersonal style was revered by the Dade City community as he combined professionalism with caring and commitment and was adamant that the police force be certified and up-to-speed on training.
Velboom was incredibly proud of the new Dade City Police facility which opened in 2016. Acknowledging that the new facility mirrored the needs of the evolving police force, Velboom said “it is a high-tech facility all around. Architects performed a detailed assessment with him and other police leaders. Having an Emergency Operations Center, evidence-processing space, and a crime scene-processing laboratory reduced time for finger print recovery.” A spacious lobby and two interview rooms as well as an indoor kennel for Ryko, the K-9 officer were state-of-the-art.
Locations that have housed the Dade City Police Department locations have included the Old 1917 City Hall (Stop 7 of the tour) (current address of 37951 Meridian Avenue), followed by the 1925 City Hall/George Dayton Building (razed building around 2012) at roughly the same site as current location at 38032 Meridian Avenue. The second city hall emerged from the Real Estate Boom era, intended originally to be a six-story luxury hotel. When the city was left with delinquent taxes on the potential hotel, the Works Progress “WPA” task forces of the New Deal completed and modified the construction and the city utilized the limestone-fronted building (Stop 5) as a city hall until 2013. During these two ‘city hall-occupied time periods’, the police, fire, and sometimes the library were squeezed into the spaces. The third space, the first truly dedicated space for the police force, was at 38042 Pasco Avenue. Former Chief of both Fire and Police, Bob Cabot clarified that the 1983 Pasco Avenue location was largely a brain child of Mayor Charles McIntosh and his city manager Ben Bolan who developed a Public Safety Department which Cabot directed for a short time. Explaining that there were 23 officers on staff from approximately 1980 until 2004, space was always limited. Fortunately, times were changing as the state-of-the-art 2016 location at 38030 Meridian Avenue has opened a new era with space for labs, conference rooms, offices and community services.
Chief James Walters, a 27-year veteran of Dade City Police Department, became acting chief when Chief Velboom retired, as Walters was sworn in as chief in August of 2018. He grew up in Citrus County. His vision for the department and commitment to training and professionalism is well-defined. He has built upon the professionalism and strong community involvement by the late Chief Velboom.
Chief Walters is an integral part of the Dade City fabric. He is currently leading during unprecedented population growth and he builds upon the service of many. His outgoing personality is paired with his ability to listen and identify needs. During his time in office, the mark of his leadership is visible. The Blue banners around town profess, “serving since 1889.” His focuses on inclusion and outreach with community policing are highly evident. Events such as the annual awards ceremony in which acknowledgments and declarations are given as well as the annual community Christmas event showcase the commitment of the force.