History provides a sense of duty, pride at WPD headquarters

History provides a sense of duty, pride at WPD headquarters

This photograph, taken sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, is part of former police detective Tony Wood's collection. The officers, pictured from left, are Harold Canale, Omer Legare and Gerard Lebrun. The "poppy" ribbon on Canale's coat shows that the picture was taken around Memorial Day.

WOONSOCKET - Patrolman James J. Garrahan's life was spared because he followed the rules.

Garrahan was working his beat along South Main Street when he spotted a man lurking in the shadows between two buildings.

At first, the officer told the unknown man to go home, but when the suspect headed in the opposite direction of the address he'd just provided, Garrahan had second thoughts. He realized the man may have just robbed a nearby pub and attempted to take him into custody.

That's when 50-year-old Peter Plouffe shot Officer Garrahan twice in the chest.

Garrahan was found, and taken to Woonsocket Hospital. He survived, largely thanks to a copy of the police rule book he had tucked into the pocket of his uniform shirt. The book, which all members of the force were required to carry, had lessened the impact from both shots.

The year was 1924.

A display on the story now sits in Police Chief Thomas Carey's office, complete with pages from the life-saving rule book and the bullets taken from Garrahan's body, and it's just the start of a renewed effort to unite today's officers with the police force's rich past. Soon, the Clinton Street headquarters will serve as a mini-museum of the department's proud history.

Former police detective, Tony Wood, created the display, a taste from a vast collection of memorabilia he's amassed over the years. Wood and Carey are now working on creating a larger display case for the department's conference room, and hope to continue finding homes for pieces from the extensive collection.

"I think it's important to have department history because it gives officers a sense of pride," said Carey.

Wood started collecting WPD memorabilia after inheriting hundreds of photographs from the late Edmond Lanois. Lanois, a former Marine, served for 20 years on the WPD, and worked another 20 as letter carrier.

In his spare time Lanois had made it his mission to make sure the department had a photograph of every officer that served.

"They have photographs of 90 percent of the officers that ever served and that's all Ed's work," said Wood. "He spent 20 plus years doing it. Without him, all of this history would be lost."

Thanks to Lanois, in the department's roll call room, officers can look at photographs of those who came before them.

In the conference room, past police chiefs stare down from their spot in history.

Wood has taken Lanois' work a step further, digitizing the photographs and records while adding to the collection. He's also transcribed 76 typed pages of police records from the hand-written ledgers that made up the Board of Police Commissioners log books from 1911 to 1953.

In them, you can find bits of history such an entry from March 30, 1911 that states "It is voted that a "pension" system be established for the Police Department, in accordance with the provisions laid down in the "act" creating a Police Commission for the city of Woonsocket."

Other records document the police force's presence through the changing times.

From Aug. 5, 1912 "The complaint of the Woonsocket Fortnightly Club, by Mrs. H. E. Fenton, regarding the violations of the spitting ordinance at the Globe Bridge (easterly side), Railroad street and on Blackstone street, near Monument square, is referred to the Chief of Police, with instructions to see that the law is enforced."

Also that year, the Commission wrote, "It is voted that 40 Colt's revolvers, known as 'Police Positive Special' be purchased from E.R. Darling, at the price of $12.00 each."

In 1922, they documented another important moment in the force's history, writing, "A group of women representing the Rhode Island Council of Women Voters League appeared before the Board. Mrs Henry A Eldridge the President spoke to the Board and impressed on them the very urgent need of a Policewoman in this city."

Wood offered the public a peek at a portion of his collection at a banquet earlier this month celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Woonsocket Police Relief Association. A Powerpoint presentation showed all of the department's important "firsts," including the first woman officer and the first black officer.

Wood now has more than 700 photographs from 1860 to present, plus a collection of badges and unique artifacts including an old call box that he stores in his home. He also has some of the weapons previously used by Woonsocket police officers such as billy clubs, police claws and lead-filled gloves.

"A lot of them were outlawed," Wood said.

The mission, he said, is to find well-protected homes for all of it.

"History belongs to no one, so I've been looking to make sure everyone can see it," he said

Anyone with artifacts or photographs that they would like to contribute to the collection is asked to call the department's main number at 401-766-1212 and ask for Det. Sgts. John Scully or Matt Ryan at 401-766-1212.

Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas Carey, above, stands by the display on the story of Patrolman Garrahan put together by former police detective Tony Wood. (Valley Breeze photo by Sandy Seoane)
Patrolman James J. Garrahan stands by a police call box. Lanois was shot twice in the chest, but survived because a police rule book slowed the bullets.


The photo with Garrahan near the call box says Lanois got shot instead of Garrahan

The photo with Garrahan near the call box says Lanois got shot instead of Garrahan