One of the first acts of the new board of aldermen after the consolidation of Salem and Winston into the city of Winston-Salem in May, 1913, was the election of James A. Thomas as city police chief.


Some of the dates in this 1925 police publication are a bit off. Click for full size

Thomas was the longest serving chief in city history. He was elected from the ranks in 1907 and served as the chief of the Winston Police department from then until 1913. He then became the first chief of the city of Winston-Salem, serving from 1913-1929. Then, when Chief Walter F. Anderson left unexpectedly to become the Charlotte chief, Thomas agreed to serve as the interim chief until a new chief could be found. He served in that capacity from 1942-44…a total of about 24 years in a career that spanned 33 years.

He was elected as a policeman by the Winston town commissioners in August, 1898. On March 1, 1906 he became the WSPD’s first sergeant. When chief F.G. Crutchfield died a few weeks later, Sergeant Thomas became acting chief. That was made permanent on March 7, 1907.

He was suspended briefly after a series of crazy events that began at the ball park in July of 1913. You can read about that here: Take me out to the ballgame…  Take me out to the ballgame, part II…


Indian police motorcycle ad, 1913

Some firsts under Thomas:

*    1st police motorcycles, 1913, both Indian models…replaced by Harley-Davidsons in 1919
*    1st police car, 1915…police committee recommended a White Steamer ($3,200) or a Cadillac ($2,700). Aldermen approved purchase of a 5 passenger Ford sedan ($533.27)
*    25 Winchester riot guns purchased in response to 1918 attempted lynching, Feb, 1919. Read about that event here: The great 1918 “race riot”, part one…  The great 1918 “race riot”, part two…


*    Police telephone and telegraph network, 1919 ($24,380)…the department would not have radio communication until the 1930s
*    Booths for traffic control ($150 ea) installed at major intersections, 1919…1st at Fourth & Liberty…then at Liberty & Seventh and Liberty & Eighth…replaced by automatic traffic lights in 1946
*    1920, Bertillion identification system, adopted. The Bertillion system was wildly popular for a short time, although it was based on faulty science and soon universally discarded


The Bertillion system was extremely complicated and so wrong
*    A year later, a local officer was sent to fingerprinting school in DC and fingerprinting became the accepted method of identification…more about this in a later post.
*    Also in 1921,  pistols were purchased for issue to officers…they had previously used their own or confiscated guns
*    1921, a training school and manual were established for new officers
*    1921, 1st camera purchased and 1st mug shots taken, August 17, 1921…crime scene photography began in the late 1920s-early 30s, confined to serious crimes and fatal auto accidents

Excerpted from the WSPD website, with many thanks to J.R. Snyder’s excellent timeline

The second longest serving chief was James I. Waller, who served from 1950-1963. Third is George L. Sweat, 1987-99.

John M. Gold (1944-50) was the first non-local to be hired as chief. He was also the first to be hired under the city manager system of government in the late 1940s. After less than a year as director of state prisons, he returned to the Twin City as its second city manager.