In its 160 years of existence, the Tiffin Police Department has evolved from only a few officers to more than 25. It's also progressed from a couple of cruisers to several and from black and white photographs to their digital counterpart.
In recognition of National Police Week, which launches today, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 128 Secretary Candie Cunningham delved through the many documents and photographs of the department, revealing the rich history of the police department and the FOP.
"It's kind of important to me to document history," she said.
The FOP was founded in 1971 in Tiffin and now has 83 members and 31 retirees, Cunningham said. Members consist of the Tiffin Police Department, Seneca County Sheriff's Office, Green Springs Police Department, Bloomville Police Department, Republic Police Department, Ohio Adult Parole Authority, Seneca County Youth Probation, Tiffin Municipal Probation Department and the Seneca County Paper Service.
"It's a support system for law enforcement," she said.
The non-profit organization profits youth sports programs and youth scholarships in Seneca County and also hosts Safety City, Shop with a Cop, the Special Olympics Torch Run, Youth Sports Leagues and the Red Cross Blood donation.
The Halloween parade at the Tiffin Developmental Center and litter pick-up on Riverside Drive also are hosted by the organization.
To recognize the service and sacrifice of U.S. law, which is the theme of National Police Week, the FOP will be having a graveside memorial today at St. Joseph Cemetery for police veteran Carl M. Smith Jr., who died Feb. 28. The service, which is to begin at 3 p.m., also will include a reunion for retirees afterwards.
Smith retired from the police department after 25 years of service, and his son, Carl Smith III, of McComb, retired from the department after 24 years of service.
Smith, who served at the police department from 1977 to 2001, said he saw many changes occur during his years as a Tiffin police officer.
"In 24 years, you do see changes. One of the big things was, they started putting computers to work," he said.
When Smith began working, not all of the officers carried portable radios. Instead, call boxes located in downtown Tiffin were used to communicate with dispatch.
"It was basically a telephone. You'd go to the closest one, unlock the box, pick up the phone and it would ring directly in," he said. "We basically had portable radios in the car. We still walked and checked doors and handled calls while walking downtown."
Smith said by the time he retired from the department, officers weren't often seen walking and patrolling downtown.
"When my dad was on, he walked a lot. That was their job," he said.
The move to digital cameras was another technological advance Smith said was beneficial and more efficient for the department.
"We used to take black and white photos. Before I left, they started to get digital cameras," he said. "They were pretty nice; you could see each photograph and re-shoot."
Jim Shobe, a retiree of the Tiffin Police Department and 18-year veteran, said changes were widespread in the department during his years of service.
"We had two cars when I started. One on either side of the river," he said.
Shobe said there were two cruiser drivers, and every other police officer walked.
The department also went from typing on typewriters to using recorders and then to utilizing computers.
He said there was a big spurt of changes in the 1970s.
"They went through phases over the years, first traffic and criminal divisions, then narcotics and then we had a detective bureau and drug unit. It kept evolving," he said.
He and Larry Stephens, a former Seneca County Sheriff, were among the first officers in the narcotics bureau.
The bureau was busy, he said, and in July 1974, it helped take down one of the biggest cocaine smuggling rings east of the Mississippi River.
Shobe, who was a sergeant from 1978 to 1986, also served in the detective bureau and worked in the juvenile bureau.
"We had murder investigations. We did just about anything that your big cities have. We just didn't have it as often," he said.
The current police chief of the Tiffin Police Department, Dave LaGrange, said one of the most significant changes he has seen in his 10 years as chief has been the growth in technology.
When he started, there was only an internal e-mail system and the department didn't have access to the internet.
"We've expanded into those areas," he said.
Equipment now used at the police department consists of patrol cars, detective cars, a canine car, police bicycles, mobile data in-car computers, computer aided dispatch, e-911, in car-state LEADS checks, video surveillance, and other advanced technologies.
Another significant yet discouraging change in the department has been the reduction in the force due to budget constraints, LaGrange said.
"Technology is a forced multiplier, but the reduction in force can offset that," he said.
Thirty-one officers would make the police department operate at full force, but that level is down five officers.
LaGrange said the department is gearing to hire another officer.
Along with hopes of a recovering economy, LaGrange said he also would like to see a new police headquarters in the future.
"The one hope I've held out is that we can get a new police headquarters," he said. "It's very cramped in here."
Along with the tight quarters, the detectives are in the basement of the building, making it hard to share information with officers on the main floor, he said.
Despite economic difficulty, LaGrange said the Tiffin Police Department has and always will be an important element in the Tiffin community.
"Any community is only as strong as the laws it's willing to enforce. If you enforce little things, generally you don't have to enforce big things because they don't come up," he said.