The Westchester County Department of Public Safety was created on July 1, 1979, through a merger of the Westchester County Sheriff’s Department and the Westchester County Parkway Police.
The Westchester County Sheriff’s Department: 1683 to 1979
The history of the Westchester County Sheriff’s Department has roots dating back to 1683 when Benjamin Collier, the first sheriff, was appointed by the governor and council of New York. Sheriffs continued to be appointed by the governor until 1846 when the New York State Constitution established provisions for popular election of sheriffs. That year, James M. Bates of Bedford was the first person to be elected to the position of Westchester County Sheriff.
The election of sheriffs in Westchester County continued until 1974, when Thomas J. Delaney was voted into the position. Delaney served until the merger with the parkway police in 1979. He was then appointed as the first commissioner-sheriff of the newly created Westchester County Department of Public Safety.
The sheriff’s department's investigatory jurisdiction included major crimes, high profile cases, and organized crime control. Vice investigations—gambling, narcotics, pornography and prostitution—were also an area of specialty for sheriff’s investigators.
The sheriff’s department also operated a tactical response team. Made up of specially selected deputies, the unit trained extensively with special weapons (including AR-15 assault rifles and .308 sniper rifles) and tactics. Capabilities of the squad included execution of high-risk search or arrest warrants.
The Westchester County Parkway Police: 1929—1979
The Westchester County Parkway Police can be traced back to the spring of 1929 when the Westchester County Park Commission annexed a group of fifteen men from New York City to patrol the newly constructed Bronx River Parkway. Named the Westchester County Park Patrol Force and placed under the command of Superintendent Herman W. Merkel, the agency reported to Park Keeper William J. Byrne. Under these appointments effective June 1, 1926, patrolmen received an annual salary of $1,900 .
At its inception, a vast majority of the parkway patrol’s work was done via surplus World War I motorcycles. This necessitated the establishment of a full motorcycle service and repair shop under the department’s control.
By the early 1940s, the parkway police had grown to a total of 94 officers. Of that number, 73 were assigned to uniformed patrol. The parkway police serviced the same parkways now patrolled by the Westchester County Police.
In June 1953, the parkway police relocated from their headquarters on Pondfield Road in Bronxville to a new building located adjacent to the Hawthorne circle. This building would later become the headquarters for the Westchester County Police.Thanks to Sgt. Michael Lavin and Lt. Frank Donovan for sharing this history with us. More information on the history of the Westchester County Police can be found in their book, "Images of America: Westchester County Protect and Serve," available from Arcadia Publishing.