As early as 1785 petitions were sent to the New Jersey State legislature in an attempt to divide what is now Atlantic County from Gloucester County. Mays Landing was the largest and busiest community in the area and had more taverns then churches. It was a very rough area, and the push for a separate county was partly due to the need for law enforcement and the need for a local court. At the time, court for the area was held in Gloucester City and created a hardship for the residents in the Mays Landing area. Also, it was a four day journey by wagon and many criminals escaped before they ever made it to court.
Weymouth Road was a robber’s paradise. A band of robbers based in Mays Landing were adept at robbing the stage. A robber would gallop up behind the stage and cut the leather straps that held the baggage in place. The baggage would then tumble onto the road, often without the driver knowing he had been robbed. These robbers made travel unsafe and plundered as they pleased. Even when caught, the long distance to court in Gloucester City provided great opportunity for escape.
Atlantic County was founded February 7,1837 and Isaac Smith was appointed Sheriff shortly thereafter by Governor Philemon Dickerson. He served as an appointed official until the fall of that year when he was duly elected. Isaac served as Atlantic county sheriff for three one year terms.(The sheriffs term of office was eventually changed from one year to 3, and consecutive terms were forbidden. However the state constitution was again changed in 1947 allowing consecutive terms.)
The need for law enforcement notwithstanding, major responsibilities of the early sheriff included maintaining control of prisoners in the jail, serving legal documents and maintaining security in the court. Atlantic county sheriffs have also conducted at least three executions from the hanging tree which stood in Mays Landing near the old courthouse. The last was conducted September 20, 1907 when Joseph Labriola was hung for murder by Sheriff Seth E. Johnson.
One early Sheriff, perhaps even Isaac, had a unique way of preventing the local ruffians who worked at the iron works in Weymouth from bringing their guns into Mays Landing on the weekend. He pointed a cannon down the main street and sternly informed them that if they wished to enter the town, they had better leave their firearms behind. They wisely complied.
Every good Sheriff deserves a jail. This practice began in England in 1503 when the English Parliament decreed that local Sheriffs should have custody of all common jails and prisoners in his county. The first jail in Atlantic County was in a spring house on Captain John Pennington’s property in Mays Landing about a half mile down River Road. The first court was held July 25, 1837 at Pennington’s Inn on the same property. (The first real courthouse was built in 1838. It was 40 feet square and, though hard recognize, comprises Courtroom #2 in the old courthouse.)
A permanent jail was completed in 1840. It was a sandstone structure 28 by 40 feet designed by Thomas Ustic Walter, a Philadelphia architect best known for his work on the U.S. Capitol and its dome. This jail housed prisoners until 1932 and was then used for vocational training. For a short time in the 1970’s it was used for document storage. Other jails were completed in 1932 and then in 1962. The present Atlantic County Justice Facility was opened in September of 1985. However since the splitting of the Sheriff’s Office in September of 1987 the Department of Public Safety now controls the facility.
Former constable Henry Hoffman stated in an interview that his job in 1932 was to stand in the back of the courtroom and make sure nobody chewed gum or otherwise disturbed the court. He and his fellow constables also escorted prisoners and assisted the courts in both Mays Landing and Atlantic City. The concept of a Deputy Sheriff is more recent in Atlantic County. Peter D’Andrea, who became a Deputy Sheriff in 1957, stated that he and his fellow officers were more active in law enforcement, in addition to the usual duties in jail and court. They worked closely with federal law enforcement, usually involving illegal stills and drugs. Deputy D’Andrea participated in at least 10 raids himself. Early deputies attached pewter stars to their own cars and initially wore civilian clothes. Uniforms were first worn under Sheriff Gormley.
Margaret Adams joined the department in 1956 and became permanent in 1958. She went on to become the first female sergeant in the department and also the first female lieutenant. She worked on the second floor of the old jail in an all male environment in a time when such things were just not done. In addition to being female, Margaret was also African-American and had to contend with the social attitudes of the fifties. In 1981 at the age of 62, Margaret retired with 25 years service.
There were only seven deputies in 1957. Deputies D’Andrea, Mulholland, Curcio and Manning were assigned to general law enforcement in Mays Landing. Deputies Carpenter, Johnson and Brown were assigned to Atlantic City, but served legal papers only.
In 1962 Addis Bauman Started the Atlantic County Identification Bureau. A special officer with the Galloway Police Department, he was completely untrained and taught himself how to classify fingerprints. To provide lesson material for himself, he quietly appropriated FBI wanted posters from the local post office. Addis hired his own son Jeff Bauman in 1967 and fully trained him. Jeff Bauman served as chief of the ID Bureau, which at one time was clearly the best in New Jersey. Departments from all over the state of often brought their latent print to the Baumans. Denny Catalano came to the ID Bureau about 1980 and is considered the best latent print man east of the Mississippi. Denny once examined a latent print and said that he had seen it before. He then walked over to the fingerprint files and immediately retrieved the match.
Paul Ambrose joined the department May 31, 1967. He related that the department’s only car at the time was a 1964 Chevrolet with a magnetic sign. He patrolled from Longport to Somers Point with about 18 other deputies. At that time, Egg Harbor Township did not have a police department.
About 1969, Deputy George Bryan was dispatched to Mullica Township to oversee the police department. George served as acting Chief for about one year and then returned to his normal duty. In 1971 a dispatch unit was created which is presently called communications and located in the old jail. George Hadad was the first dispatcher and worked 8 a.m. to 4p.m. Monday through Friday. In 1972 Charles Oldroyd was hired as additional dispatcher and later became a Senior Communications Officer.
In 1972 Carl Fonte and officers from the jail trained dogs for general police work, but the canines were dropped within a year. In spring 1986, two bloodhounds were recruited to search for missing persons and bodies. The hounds were handled by officers Salvatore Rodio and Steven Caldwell. In 1987 Officer Ronald DeMoulin’s canine was trained to detect illegal drugs. By the end of 1988, however, all the dogs were gone.
This was not to be the end of canine use by the Office however. In 2009 newly elected Sheriff Frank Balles ordered that a canine unit be reformed. Ofc Ronald Demoulin immediately began training with Dillinger, a Belgian Malinois and graduated from the K9 academy as a patrol dog in April of 2009. Also added was Ofc Eric Milne and Luke, a bloodhound who completed his training in May of 2009. Ofc Grant Cunningham was the third officer who with Cobra completed his training as a K9 handler and patrol dog in July of 2009.
In 2001 the county provided funding for a county radio system that upgraded the Sheriff’s Office radios along with the rest of the county from the various systems that were currently in use to an 800 mhz system that allowed officers from the various agencies in Atlantic County to all communicate with each other.
Perhaps history and esprit de corps of the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office in years past can be summed up by retired officer Paul Ambrose, who said, “We were a proud group. We were family! If anyone of us had a problem, we just helped out. No question about it!”