Brief History of the Plymouth, Michigan Police Department

The Plymouth community was first settled by John Tibbits in March of 1825 and the village was settled by William Starkweather that same year, with his house located at the southwest corner of Main and Ann Arbor Streets. The village was originally known as, "Plymouth Corners." Many who arrived were easterners from the New England area and the first town meeting was held in Mr. Tibbits barn.

On April 12, 1827 Plymouth Township was formed and the first election was held in May of that year. Elected were the first Constables, A. Bradford and A.B. Markham. Plymouth, at that time, consisted of what is now modern day Canton, Plymouth and Northville Townships. Little documentation exists as to the duties of a constable during the frontier era but in a memoir published by Markham he states, "I was loaded down with offices. I was fence viewer, road master, collector and constable. I was after runaways a good share of my time and I found every one I went after-never lost one. When I found them I would seize them and bring them to justice." The runways Markham refers to in his writing are milk cows that would escape area farms.

In 1837 the Village of Plymouth was recorded by Henry Holbrook and had a church, five stores, a bank and three taverns. The village was incorporated in 1867 and, "Duties of the Marshal," listed were numerous including serving as police constable, collecting taxes and serving any necessary papers under direction of the common council. In addition the incorporation stated of the Marshal; "It shall be the duty of the marshal to arrest any riotous drunken or disorderly, brawling or riotous person or persons, persons or any other person whom he may find within said Village disturbing the peace of the inhabitants thereof, and to take such person or persons before any justice of the peace within said township or village."

As of this writing the Marshals who served from 1867-1878 have not been located. Once the Village was re-incorporated in 1879 the first recorded Marshal was Orson Westfall. Each year a Marshal was appointed to the position, some men held the job several years in a row. The 1898 report of the Michigan Bureau of Labor Statistics stated Plymouth had one police officer listed as the Village Marshal, Fred Dunn, who was paid $100 per year along with four constables. It was noted that the Village had no jail. The following year the report to the State listed M.R. Weeks as the Village Marshal with a total police expenditure of $125. The Village made improvements and reported in 1899 that that they had a jail, which was a wooden structure that measured 30 x 20 feet. It consisted of two cells on the corner of Union Street, across from where the old Daisy factory once stood. The land was donated by Henry Bennett so the village had a place to lock up, "out of town rowdies," such as Dan Adams in July of 1900 being assessed a $10 fine after a disturbance at a saloon in the Village or Patsy Black who was arrested by Marshal Weeks in October of 1900 for being drunk. Mr. Black was provided the option of 30 days in jail or a $5 fine, which he quickly paid.

In May of 1901 Marshal Burton Brown took over police duties only with the understanding that the council would support him in enforcing the laws and ordinances. Marshal Brown then cited the open violations occurring of liquor laws and poker games. Despite the apparent problems in the Village related to alcohol, the council approved a liquor bond for Jacob Streng to conduct business at the Plymouth Hotel. In November of 1901 the council passed an ordinance to allow the marshal the authority to arrest freight train crews for holding railroad street crossings for more than five minutes, as there had been many complaints.

Alcohol issues continued to be a persistent problem as the new decade continued in Plymouth, as evidenced in April of 1904 when President Robinson complained about the, "loose way saloons were conducted in the village and called the marshal upon the carpet." The council then made demands for the gaming tables to be stopped and stated they would stand behind the marshal in any arrests he would make, regardless of who they, "might hit."

George Springer

Mr. Springer was a very sought after cigar maker in Plymouth who also held the duty of a Deputy Sheriff of Plymouth Township for Wayne County. He also was appointed a constable by several of the Village Marshals from 1900-1912, serving two law enforcement entities. On 07/17/1903 Deputy Sheriff Springer arrested two subjects for a drive-by shooting (on a bicycle) that occurred on North Main Street after one bullet grazed the leg of Lina Blunk as she walked with her companions.

In 1905 Marshal Van DeCar received a message that a train hold-up had been perpetrated by, "a quartette of tramps," in nearby Canton. It was reported the suspects made their way to the Plymouth station. He summoned Constable Springer and searched the railroad yards where they came upon four, "hobos," seated. Upon seeing the officers, "one of them instantly jumped to his feet and made bee line for Starkweather woods." The other three were arrested and later released.

In 1912 George Springer was appointed Village Marshal and served in that capacity until 1918, when Plymouth became a home-rule village. Springer was appointed as the first Police Chief that same year and served until 1932 when Plymouth became a city. During his early tenure he hired an officer to assist him, Charlie Thumme. There was no assigned uniform early on, so Officer Thumme used his interurban trolley conductor's uniform when he was serving his police duties.

As the Plymouth area grew, crime grew right along with it. In the 1929 annual report the department was organized with Chief Springer, along with five uniformed men, two of which were full-time and one on half-time. The department also had six reserve officers. The annual report speaks of two bandits being arrested after an attempted hold-up of the Liberty Street branch of the Plymouth United Savings Bank on February 8th, 1928. The men were convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 15-30 years in prison. The breakdown for activity in 1928 was;

Traffic Violations


Drunk & Disorderly


Drunk Driving


Statutory Rape


Attempted Bank Robbery


Violate prohibition law






Breaking and Entering


Unregistered Revolver


Larceny from Auto


The Village police report humorously stated that, "285 applicants for lodging were accommodated in the Village jail during the 12 month period." The Village also purchased a bullet-proof vest and tear gas grenades. During the 1920's and early thirties Plymouth police had to enforce prohibition laws and were kept busy, as nearby Detroit was a popular center for smuggling liquor from Canada. In the 1930 report Chief Springer reported the confiscation of 153 ½ gallons of whiskey, 1403 pints of beer and two automobiles used for transporting liquor. Despite enforcing the prohibition laws the department arrested 48 people in 1931-1932 for alcohol related crimes.

A still and alcohol recovered in a raid in Plymouth on N. Harvey and Church Streets during the prohibition era with assistance of the Michigan State Police.

The Village becomes a City

By 1932 arrests had increased to 509 people being lodged in the jail as Vaughn Smith took over as Police Chief. The City reduced personnel but increased work hours and added night officers for the first time, as they needed to cover two separate business districts. The department installed a, "police telephone system," so personnel could be contacted 24 hours a day by always being within sight or sound distance of one or more phones, as each was lighted and sounded a bell when called. Central operators could call the phones until an officer answered. It also allowed officers to communicate with each other without leaving their assigned district. The department was receiving an average of 120 calls per month on the new system and the response time was less than three minutes. The City also curtailed responding to calls outside the City limits, unless it was an extreme emergency. The police department budget in 1931-1932 amounted to $7,449.52, including the purchase of new motor equipment for $365.13. During the 1930's the Plymouth police were responding to approximately 3000 calls a year.

In 1934 the department was down to three full time officers working a range of nine to eleven hours a day. Chief Smith stated that Plymouth was below the national average of one officer per thousand residents and that officers were frequently called in on their off hours to respond to calls, to which they received no added compensation. The department added a fourth officer in 1934 and in 1936 Chief Smith received an invitation from J. Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I. to attend the National Police Academy in Washington D.C. At that time he was only the second officer in Michigan to receive that honor.

Plymouth City Hall 1939

As the thirties closed, the nation drew an eye toward Europe and the possibility of war. That sentiment is reflected in the annual reports of the 1940's as there are references to, "Fifth Column," activities and the local police playing a central role in combating espionage. The department also speaks to the increased problems stemming from juveniles. The uptick in crime by youth was attributed to unrest caused by the war according to Chief Smith. During this time the Plymouth Police employed their first female officer, Marilyn Martin, who maintained the desk and communications area. She was employed a short time, two years, but obtained the rank of Sergeant prior to leaving to join the WAACS in 1943 and proudly serve our country.

Sgt. Marilyn Martin (Scheifele) c1942

On April 4th, 1948 the Plymouth Police made the news when they captured a man who had escaped custody in Muskegon after he broke out of the jail. Capt. Carl Greenlee told the escapee that no one had ever escaped the Plymouth jail. The next morning the police found the bars sawed and the prisoner gone. The Detroit News caught wind of the story and re-enacted the break-out that occurred over the weekend.

By 1951 the department employed 13 officers and had a defined command structure with Chief Carl Greenlee, a Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant, 6 patrol officers and 3 communication clerks. They also had their own firing range located in the basement of City Hall that was constantly utilized. In the 1951 annual report Chief Greenlee talks about the importance of training, as older officers train the new ones in how to deal with vast array of problems. In 1954 the jail was replaced with a new modern one located in the rear of City Hall. In addition, the department purchased an, "Interceptor," Scout car from Ford, a two-wheeled motorcycle and a, "Speed Watch," which was an electrical timing device to catch speeders. In 1956 it was reported that rookie patrolman, Dennis Johnson, prevented a mass murder. He responded to a home after an estranged husband shot his wife and was threatening to kill her and their two children. Officer Johnson responded on his motorcycle and entered the home surprised to find the suspect standing in a corner of the room with a loaded .22 automatic pistol. The Plymouth Fire Department was walking up to the home as the suspect pointed his gun out the window to open fire on the unsuspecting firemen. Officer Johnson then stated, "I don't recall exactly what happened, but I got the gun away from him."

Plymouth Police Department becomes Public Safety

In 1960 Police Chief Kenneth Fisher was named Director of Public Safety and the officers of the police department began training in firefighting to supplement the regular four full time firemen. A year later 11 police officers were fully trained and were volunteer members of the fire department. It was noted in the 1961 annual report that, "The firemen long have served as policemen in crowd control and as police patrol on special occasions." During the years 1960-1965 the officers are referred to as, "Public Safety Officers," in the annual reports. The police cars were all outfitted with fire-fighting equipment and first-aid materials. In 1965 the City of Plymouth moved away from the public safety model and hired George Schoenneman as the Fire Chief while Fisher remained the Police Chief until 1967.

1963 Public Safety Department

As the 1960's came to a close Plymouth was not immune from the unrest being felt throughout the country as people began standing up to the "establishment" and drug use was on the rise. In late 1969 the department was faced with a lawsuit after a traffic stop resulted in the confiscation of an underground newspaper called, "Fifth Estate." In February of 1970 an article was published in the New York Times that quotes a Plymouth resident saying, "You can't find grass anywhere but you can pick up a nickel bag of heroin on any corner." In response the Plymouth Police initiated a special investigation unit that was involved in targeting drug houses in the city and cracking down on drug use. Also in February Plymouth Police responded to a sniper on Holbrook Street. Two police cars were hit by gunfire after an 18 year old armed with a shotgun, a high-powered rifle and a police radio fired more than 30 rounds during a two hour stand-off with over a dozen officers from Plymouth and surrounding agencies responding. The suspect was eventually seized after tear gas was shot into the home.

Note the hole to the left of the window where the tear gas canister entered.

In 1971 and 1973 Plymouth experienced the wrath of radical groups unhappy with the war as the draft board offices on Forest Avenue were bombed in 1971 and an Army recruiting station was bombed twice in 1973. The 1973 explosions caused windows in nearby businesses to shatter and caused structural damage to the bank building it was housed in. The 1970's rolled on with Chief Timothy Ford leading the department from 1971-1981. The City police then entered into an agreement with surrounding Plymouth Township in 1981, taking over police patrol and response from the Wayne County Sheriff and Michigan State Police. The City police continued to patrol the Township until 1985 when Plymouth Township decided to form its own department. The Plymouth City Police Chief, Carl Berry, then became Chief of the Plymouth Township Police Department and the City went back to patrolling their own streets again. One of the primary issues in the mid-80's for the Plymouth Police seemed to relate to juvenile issues and, "cruising." Downtown Plymouth had become a haven for area youth to congregate and drive up and down the streets and through downtown. In 1986 it came to head as the first annual Plymouth cruise was organized by area kids in response to the Plymouth Police cracking down. Over 3,000 people showed up and clogged the city streets. Eventually Plymouth requested mutual aid and with the assistance of the mounted unit of the Wayne County Sheriff and area departments order was restored. The concept of cruising has continued throughout the eighties, into the nineties. In recent years it has dissipated and is not considered a nightly problem as it once was.

Richard Myers served as Chief from 1985 until 1991, when Robert Scoggins took over and held the position until his retirement in 2000. Chief Scoggins oversaw the disbanding of the Plymouth City dispatch center and those duties, along with the Plymouth City jail, were merged with the Plymouth Township Police. The mid-nineties saw the formation of the Plymouth Police Mountain Bike unit that originally consisted of a sergeant and three officers. The Bike Patrol unit is used primarily for patrolling the downtown area making it easier for officers to patrol the alleys and numerous events. In addition officers on bike patrol are more approachable by citizens and visitors to Plymouth.


In early 2000, a missing person investigation turned into a murder case that made national headlines as a local doctor dismembered his estranged wife in his basement and was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The first year of the new millennium also saw the department have three different Police Chiefs, Richard Miller took over in January and stayed until June, and then Steven Hundersmarck was appointed Chief until he left in October of that year. Wayne Carroll was appointed Chief of Police in December of 2000 and stayed in that post until his retirement in October of 2009. The new decade saw a large personnel change as many officers retired and were replaced by fresh faces that are leaders of the department today. Economic issues also forced changes in the department with positions such as the downtown and school liaison positions being eliminated as the officers were needed for regular patrol staffing. The department was slowly downsized through attrition and currently employs 16 full time officers and 2 administrative positions.

Despite the changes the Plymouth Police remain a full service police department committed to providing the absolute best to those served. With over a 150 scheduled events, including parades and festivals, officers are kept busy when not responding to calls for service in the community.

Plymouth Police at train derailment in 2010, Farmer Street crossing