LOOKING BACK: 170 years of law enforcement in Birmingham

Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published June 15, 2016


Law Enforcement has gone through many fascinating changes over the last 170 years in Birmingham. 

In 1846, Birmingham elected its first marshal, as required by law. At that time, Birmingham was only a small village with some outlying farms. Marshals had few responsibilities, and besides the occasional chicken thief or vagrant, crime was almost nonexistent. When needed, a back room at the National Hotel was used as a jail cell, but criminals would serve out their sentences in a Pontiac prison.

Village trustees were resistant to the idea of spending any money on night watchmen or police, seeing the expense as needless given the low crime rates in the town. In the late 1890s, Almeron Whitehead, founder of The Eccentric, paid $1 a week out of his own pocket for a night watchman after the trustees rejected his proposal to hire one. Whitehead was concerned that a fair in a nearby town would bring undesirables to the area.

In 1919, the first police chief was elected, and by 1921, Birmingham had a police force of three men, each making between $140 and $160 per month.

This photo, from the collections of the Birmingham Museum, shows the Birmingham Police Force in 1930. At that time, Birmingham hadn’t yet been incorporated as a city. In the front row to the left is Police Chief John P. Hackett, who was appointed in 1930 and served in that position until 1948.

In 1941, during Hackett’s tenure, the force grew to 19 men.

By the end of 2015, the city employed 31 officers, with a chief and a deputy chief. In May 2016, Chief Don Studt retired after six years of serving as chief and 42 years total on the force. Deputy Chief Mark Clemence was appointed to take his place. 

— Caitlin Donnelly, museum assistant at the Birmingham Museum