Bristol has had 13 police chiefs since Howard G. Arms first took the position in 1893. As far back as 16 years earlier, it was decided to have watchmen out at night, two in the south village downtown area of Bristol and one in the north in establishing a protection force. There were other groups employed to help with this service before it was deemed necessary that there be a chief of police for these men.
Those who served in that position have been Arms (1893-1906), Ernest T. Belden (1906-1942), Edmund S. Crowley (1942-1956),Thomas V. McCarthy (1956-1964), Robert J. Grace (1964-1966), William J. Mead, Jr. (1966-1978), John F. Oliver (1978-1989), Anthony Vastola (1989-1992), William R. Kohnke (1993-1996), John DiVenere (1997-2011), Eric Osanitsch (2011-2012), Thomas Grimaldi (2012-2015) and Brian Gould, the present chief.
Chief Belden served the longest by far, 36 years, and here is his story:
Born in Minnesota on Jan. 23, 1870, he resided on Stearns Street in Bristol with his wife, the former Lillian A. Stone.
Then he joined the Bristol department on Jan. 7, 1896 it was as a supernumerary officer on a five-man force. When he retired on Jan. 7, 1942 with 45 years of service, there was a contingent of 40 men in the department. Women would later also became members of the force and the first was Chief Grace’s wife, Emma, who was hired in 1960.
During his time as head of the department, Belden had to deal with a lot of changes as well as the growing population. He was said to have done this well in handling the current situations as well as looking to the future. He had been appointed a regular member of the force on Jan. 9, 1897, the start of his multiple promotions. He was given the rank of captain in April of 1902, the first member of the department to hold this position. In 1906, he replaced Arms as chief.
During his employment with the borough form of government and later with the city format in 1911 under the City of Bristol, Belden was held in high esteem by the men who worked under him as well as those who evaluated his work at chief. He was a man of outstanding quality and always willing to give his time to his men in allowing them to confide in him and/or give them advice. Many looked to him as a big brother.
Two major tragedies took place for Belden when officers under his command were killed in the line of duty. James McNamee was gunned down by a Waterbury hold-up man in 1930 and James Burns was shot and killed while on duty in 1941. I recently wrote about these two heroes and in the case of Burns, there was a picture of the police chief and another local official with the killer also in it. You could read Belden’s feeling about the killer in his eyes as he ever so slightly was glancing over at him out of the corner of his eye. This murderer had killed a man under his command!
In honor of Chief Belden’s retirement, a testimonial was held in his honor at the Eagles Hall on April 27, 1942. There, he was presented a purse from the mayor, Daniel Davis.
Belden died on April 1, 1944 at his home at the age of 74 and funeral services were later held at Bristol Baptist Church.
Some of the information on Chief Belden was obtained from his biography in the “Builders of Bristol” series.
Write to Bob Montgomery, c/o The Bristol Press, 188 Main St., Bristol, CT 06010. Call 860-973-1808 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.