History of the Sylva Police Department

(References: Newspaper articles from The Sylva Herald and The Asheville Citizen)

In 1889, the first police officer for the Town of Sylva was J. C. Fisher. On May 6, 1889, S. A. Davis was elected as Sylva’s first marshal. In those days the marshal carried a pistol, handcuffs, and badge. That was all the equipment he had to enforce the criminal laws in Sylva. Not much transportation was available; he either rode a horse or walked. From the late 1800s through the 1920s, town records have been lost.

In the early 1930s, James A. Turpin was a policeman and was paid a salary of $125.00 per month. On March 13, 1933, C. B. McCoy was employed as night policeman. An ordinance was passed during this time regarding the parking of vehicles and trailers. James A. Turpin was appointed Chief of Police and during the month of December, 1934, Chief Turpin paid out of his own pocket $32.18 for extra help during the holidays although the town reimbursed him for the money he spent. In 1937, Chief Turpin resigned; Leonard Holden was appointed Chief of Police, and William Allen was hired as night policeman. On May 30, 1939, W. O. Allen was appointed Chief of Police by the town board. Most of the lawbreakers in those days were caught for fighting, being drunk, or stealing.

John O’Kelly was serving as night policeman. On July 11, 1941, C. G. Middleton was appointed Chief of Police with a salary of $135.00 per month. In 1942, W.B. Cope was sworn in as policeman and N. D. Davis was hired as night policeman. On August 18, 1945, Chief Middleton took a leave of absence from the force and N. D. Davis assumed the duties as Chief of Police. Throughout all the town records, parking problems within the town are evident. Two-hour parking meters were installed on Main Street and Mill Street. Violation of parking on Mill Street carried a $3.00 fine. On May 29, 1947, the town board voted to buy a police car, and the board asked the Chief of Police to attend all town meetings. On June 6, 1947, officers N. D. Davis, James Mason, and George Evans were dismissed as officers of the town. Karl M. Warlick was appointed Chief of Police, and on July 24, 1947, Howard Buchanan was hired as an extra policeman. In September 1947, new parking meters were installed and Earl Childers was a policeman. On March 26, 1948, Robert H. Ensley was appointed Chief of PoIice. Chief Ensley met with the town board and asked for a two-way radio for the police car, but the request was denied. On May 16, 1949, Dillard Hooper was appointed Chief of Police and Carl Beasley and Wesley Hoyle were police officers.

In the early 1950s, Chief of Police Clifford Seago and his officers Worth (Penny) Bryson and Roy Sparks were preparing for the centennial. Mayor’s court was being held regularly and most of the fines were $5 - $25 for fighting, stealing, and moonshine. In 1951, the town purchased a new police car from Cogdill Motor Company (a 1951 4- door Plymouth) for $650.00. On July 11, t953, George Evans was sworn in as Chief of Police. W. B. Cope, Jesse Shelton, and Fred Bumgarner were policemen. Other officers employed by the town during the 1950s were Joe Green, Bert Wilkey, Fred Buchanan, Harold Wilkey, and Fred Bryson. September 1957 records show the police car had been wrecked and Woody Hampton had offered the town $200.00 for the car. Bart Cope agreed to let the town use his car for $10.00 if they would furnish the gas and oil.

The police department was operating out of a 17-foot trailer purchased by the town board in the late 1940s. The trailer was located on the lot of Earl and Harry Cagle’s Phillips 66 Station beside the old Tuckasegee Bank. The same trailer was used until the early 1960s when the police department was moved into the Old Tuckasegee Bank building. During this time, town records show the town parking lot was not being used, and the parking meters were changed so that nickels could be used for parking time.

In 1960, an extra policeman was hired to read meters and check for parking violations. On June 5, 1961, Clifford Seago was sworn in as Chief of Police. In July 1961, Holmes Allison was hired policeman and Dave Harris was hired in October 1963. On April 20, 1964, Georgia T. Clark was hired as the first female police officer with the title of Traffic Police and Meter Checker. For many years during the 50s and 60s, one means of communication was three telephones located on Main Street and the officers used these phones regularly. Some of the officers who served from 1963 through the late 1970s were John O’Kelly, Thomas Guy Jones, Wood Smith, Granville Mull, Kenneth Cope, Thad B. Deitz, Earl Coggins, Larry Buchanan, W. N. Stroup, Edward A1len, Archie Long, Harold McMahan, and Lindon Allen. In October 1977, Chief of Police Clifford Seago retired and Harold McMahan became Chief of Police. The police department moved from the Old Tuckasegee Bank building across the street to where Gillespie’s Produce Stand was located beside the Lloyd Hotel. Mr. Landis agreed to rent the building to the Town of Sylva for $50.00 per month.

In the early 1980s, the police department moved into a new building located at 2 Old Dillsboro Road. This building was shared by the Sylva Volunteer Fire Department, which occupies the building to this day. Police officers at this time were Chief Harold McMahan, Assistant Chief Edward Allen, Jeff Jamison, Ray Lewis, Richard Bryson, Bill Stroup, William Stephen Collins, Billy Lee Peek, Ralph Lindon Allen, and Mary Gladys CIawson. Officer Clawson was one of the first women in the town or county to perform the same duties as the male officers. In 1990, the Sylva Police Department moved out of the fire department and to a new location, 11 Allen Street, next to the Sylva Municipal Hall. This building was built in 1927 and served as city hall and fire department. The highway patrol had an office in it at one time, and in 1989 the building was completely remodeled.

On June 1, 1988, Jonathan Mark Holcombe was sworn in as police officer, and on November 4, 1989, Davis Crawford Woodard was hired as full-time patrol officer. At present, the Sylva Police Department has officers trained to handle almost any type of crime committed. For complicated crimes, the NC State Bureau of lnvestigation will assist when asked. The state has agents that specialize in all types of crime.

This agency operates under the NC Attorney General’s office. Prior to July 1, 1973, there were no requirements for a person to become a police officer. Members of the town board picked individuals they thought would make good officers. During the period July 1, 1973, through July 1, 1978, the NC Criminal Justice Training and Standards Council was formed. An officer was required to have 160 hours basic training in law enforcement and placed on one year’s probation. On July 1, 1978, the requirement was increased to 240 hours until September 1, 1984. In September 1984, the council was dissolved and a new commission was formed – The NC Criminal Justice Education Training Standards Commission. From September 1, 1984, through July 1, 1989, training was increased to 412 hours. On July 1, 1991, the minimum requirement for training was set at 432 hours. Most schools are presently 500 hours or more and requirements will be increased in the future. Education is a MUST for law enforcement officers.

Today, before an individual becomes a police officer, he must have a high school education or equivalent, a medical examination, background check, and be fingerprinted to see if he has a criminal record. After 1993, defensive driving became a requirement. Once an officer is employed as a full-time policeman, advanced training schools in criminal law begin. There is no end to education and training.

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