Our Town

The Long Arm of the Law: Part II

T. M. Roberts - Mayor;A. J. Balment - Alderman;C. J. Little - Alderman; F. J. Scott - Alderman - Herald
T. M. Roberts - Mayor;A. J. Balment - Alderman;C. J. Little - Alderman; F. J. Scott - Alderman
— image credit: Herald

Jim Cameron

HEADLINE CRANBROOK HERALD FEB. 12, 1931: MAYOR AND THREE ALDERMEN RESIGN FROM MUNICIPAL SEATS. Climax Came at Special Meeting Held on Thurs. Evening Last. Alderman Attridge Charges Every Bootlegger In City On Petition – Mayor Roberts, Aldermen Balment, Little and Scott Hand in Their Resignations.

And what, you ask, was the cause of such an event?

From 1898 to 1905, Cranbrook was policed by one or two B.C. Provincial Police constables in conjunction with the (Royal) North West Mounted Police and the Canadian Pacific Railway police. Things generally worked well enough and Cranbrook enjoyed a lengthy period of peace and order.

Cranbrook incorporated in November, 1905, at which time it was decided to form a local city police force consisting of a Chief Constable, one patrolman, a jailer and a police magistrate, all overseen by a police commission consisting of the mayor and two aldermen. The provincial and mounted police continued to maintain a presence, due chiefly to Cranbrook's growing importance as a district centre. The city police system continued in much the same manner as the former provincial system; the crime rate was comparable to other cities of the same size and the townsfolk seemingly content.

Police Chief Baron, appointed in 1905, gave way (perhaps grudgingly) to Cory Dow in 1907. Chief Dow led the force until 1913 when he was replaced by Percy Adams who appointed Constables Herrigan and Venus (who soon thereafter implemented a criminal fingerprinting and photograph system) as his assistants.

A police report for the year 1914 gives some idea of the general affairs of the time:  164 white male prisoners, 32 white female, 4 negro male, 3 negro female, 3 Indian male, 1 half-breed male, 2 Hindoo male, 7 Chinese male, 1 Japanese male, 6,269 meals served. The prisoners cleaned the creeks running through the city, maintained Baker Street, weeded and cleaned the cemetery and pulled numerous stumps on the emerging byways of the town.

Obviously, Cranbrook was by no means free of crime. Prostitution, gambling, drugs, illegal liquor, violence, and robbery were ongoing problems but they were problems that tended to stay on their own side of the fence, so to speak. In 1916, Chief Adams enlisted in the army and was replaced (until his return two years later) by Chief Hersey. It was a somewhat different situation in which Chief Adams found himself upon his return. The country was in the throes of prohibition and the brewing and sale of illegal alcohol was big business. Too big for Chief Adams to handle, apparently, as he was relieved from duty in 1920, reinstated the same year, and once again relieved in 1921. He was replaced by David Halcrow, a veteran of the Edinburgh police and, it was hoped, the man to "clean up" the ever-increasing bootlegging and gambling problems. Throughout the next decade the city police attempted — or were seen to attempt at any rate — to rid the town of vice, spurred on by occasional warnings from the provincial government. One such warning took the form of a letter from Attorney-general Pooley received by council in November, 1930, and it was this missive that invariably led to the resignation of council-members three months later.

The provincial-powers-that-be stated that conditions in Cranbrook were not satisfactory and that a change in the police force was needed or else the provincial police would take charge and present the city with the bill. Money talks and the city fathers listened.

The simplest solution appeared to be to permanently disband the city police and replace them with a provincial force, saving a degree of salary expenses in the bargain. So saying, in January, 1931, city council discussed the situation and voted unanimously to make the change on a one-year trial basis.

A group of local ratepayers soon protested and council agreed to reconsider the matter. A motion was passed to postpone the change until such time as a referendum could be held.

It all came to a head the following week during a council meeting attended by nearly 100 citizens. Long-time Police Commissioner Shankland passed along a petition containing over 300 signatures — which included a large percentage of ratepayers — asking that council reconsider the entire matter. Commissioner Shankland indicated that he interpreted the petition as meaning that the council should either carry out the wishes of the property owners or the council should resign. Mayor Roberts rose and stated that he agreed with the interpretation and promptly quit. He was immediately followed by Alderman Balment who declared the petition a vote of non-confidence in the council.   Alderman Flowers took control of what was left of the council and accepted the petition. Alderman Attridge bluntly stated that the city police spent too much time hunting and fishing and noted that nearly every hotel pub owner and bootlegger in the city was on the petition. The resignations caused a rift in the community and a notable stir throughout the province. It was, in short, a bad night for City Hall, made worse by the resignation of Aldermen Scott and Little the next day.

Still, somewhat miraculously, the entire council sat down together the following week and voted 5 to 2 in favour of resolution No. 369, which called for the policing of the city by provincial police. The petition was returned and the council moved on to regular business.

It was not, by the way, the first time that a Cranbrook mayor and councilmen resigned their positions en masse. As to it being the last, well, that belongs to a history as yet unwritten.

janusthenandnow@shaw.ca

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