Department History

The history of the BPD, the early years...
Back in 1877 a town meeting was held and it was decided to employ night watchmen, two men in the south village and one in the north village due to the increase in burglaries. Other groups employed during this period also included the Mutual Protective Association and The Society for the Prevention of Horse Thieving, which was a very serious crime. Sixteen years would pass before the town would vote to establish a formal police department.

Here is a time line tour from 1893 to the present.


Chief Howard G. Arms 1893-1906
Bristol's first police chief, Howard G. Arms, served as sheriff before the department was created by the city burgesses on November 20, 1893. At that meeting the board, the precursor to the city council, adopted the recommendation of the special committee on police that a chief and three policemen be hired. The new police chief would get a headquarters and a telephone for his official and personal use as compensation. A year later, Arms' pay was established at $21 a week and he was issued a uniform. The first policemen, two night officers and a Sunday patrolman, were paid 25 cents an hour. Chief Arms retired on April 1, 1906.


Chief Ernest T. Belden 1906-1942
At the age of 26, Earnest T. Belden joined the force as a supernumerary in 1896, rising quickly through the ranks and becoming the departments first captain. When it needed a chief, the city looked to the Minnesota native to lead the young force. He did so for 36 years. Among other innovations, Belden was there when the city purchased its first police car in 1921 and when an early pistol range was established in 1937. Several used cars were looked at, but the city opted instead for a brand new Hudson touring car with a $2,500 price tag its first "cruiser". Belden attended funerals for two police officers under his command who were killed in the line of duty by gunmen - James McNamee in 1930 and James Burns in 1941. Chief Belden retired in 1942 at the age of 72.


Chief Edmund S. Crowley 1942-1956
As the police department prepared to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the city went out of town to find a replacement for Chief Belden. The City Hall hierarchy looked one state over to Rhode Island, hiring a Providence sergeant to take the reins of the department. The city's third chief was credited for the modernization of the department during World War II and beyond. The installation of two-way radios in cruisers paid off in a short time with the arrest of a criminal whose description was broadcast over the air. Chief Crowley retired in March 1956.


Chief Thomas V. McCarthy 1956-1964
Born in Bristol on August 23, 1899, Thomas V. McCarthy held virtually every position in the department before being named chief. First appointed supernumerary in 1924, he became a regular patrolman two years later; a sergeant in 1941, lieutenant in 1944, captain in 1955, and chief upon Crowley's retirement in 1956. In the 1940's and 50's, McCarthy worked on four sensational murder cases while assigned to the detective division. McCarthy was 56 when he became Police Chief. He died in 1974, 10 years after his retirement.


Chief Robert J. Grace 1964-1966
One month after Chief McCarthy called it quits, the Police Department was rocked by the worst scandal in its 71 year history. Ten officers and supervisors were suspended, and many ultimately fired or forced to resign, after an anonymous tip from a milkman was delivered to Mayor James P. Casey about a burglary ring involving city cops. It was in that setting that Lt. Robert Grace assumed the position of chief in 1964. Because of his short tenure as chief, the library's archives pay only passing attention to Chief Grace. His successor, however, later would recall the day in 1945 when two patrolmen; Grace, and Patrolman Mead, parlayed an otherwise routine accident investigation into the apprehension of the so-called "Silk Stocking Gang". Police departments throughout the state had been looking for the bandits who flipped their car on Wolcott Street. The two officers got a week off with pay. Chief Grace's first wife, Erma who became the city's first policewoman in 1960 - died in 1965. Chief Grace retired a year later.


Chief William J. Mead, Jr. 1966-1978
In July 1942, eight months after the U.S. entered World War II, a 24 year old pipe fitter for New Departure-Hyatt followed his father's footsteps and became a Bristol police officer. He and Patrolman Grace apprehended the notorious "Silk Stocking Gang" in 1945 and were rewarded with a week off with pay. Mead was captain when the 1964 burglary scandal erupted. He said in a 1978 interview that the city "got rid of some bad apples". Chief Mead rode out several political storms, including a 1974 ouster attempt by the mayor, and protests from the black community over the shooting death of a shoplifting suspect by a police officer in 1971. Mead died in February, 1999. He was remembered fondly at his funeral by working and retired officers alike, as a chief who proudly fought to improve the department's image.


Chief John F. Oliver 1978-1989
In August 1978, the Police Board and City Council looked to the state's capital for its seventh police chief. John F. Oliver joined the Hartford Police Department in 1953. by 1971 he had risen through the ranks to become captain. When Oliver became chief of the Bristol Police Department in 1978, he said he was attracted to the city's "small town ambiance". But just two years later, the city became the scene of a statewide motorcycle rally protest over the light sentence of a former state legislator got for his involvement in a car crash that killed a biker. More than 500 motorcyclists descended on the city for what Oliver would recall as a standoff, with the crowd taunting police. Chief Oliver who developed heart problems, left on disability retirement in 1989.


Chief Anthony Vastola 1989-1992
Anthony Vastola was a former New York City Police captain who served three years as Bristol's chief. Beginning with his highly politicized selection in 1989 and ending with his abrupt resignation in February, 1992. His standing order for "accountability" was both liked and disliked by officers under his command. In the end, Chief Vastola modernized many of the rules of Command & Control that are still in operational existence today. He and his family moved to Florida after his departure from the Bristol CT Police Department.


Chief William R. Kohnke 1993-1996
After a year and a half with Captain Daniel Ahearn serving as Acting Chief, William Kohnke from Colorado, was chosen as Police Chief and sworn in June 8, 1993. Kohnke initiated many progressive programs in Bristol. By obtaining technology grants, this web page was conceived and established in 1996, one of the first in the state. The installation of Mobile Data Terminals in the cruisers is another cutting edge tool in crime fighting. He also established the ERT (Emergency Response Team), a highly trained tactical group specially equipped to deal with barricaded persons, hostage situations and other emergencies. Kohnke resigned in 1996 and went on to become Chief in Pompano Beach, Florida.


Chief John DiVenere 1997- 2011
John DiVenere was sworn in as Bristol's tenth chief in April of 1997. His career with the department began in 1978. This was the first time in thirty years that the department appointed a chief from its own ranks. Under his command, the department streamlined its operations through new technology and identified crime hot spots. As a result, overall crime decreased through aggressive enforcement. Under his leadership, DiVenere had created specialty units, increased manpower, and put more officers on the street by hiring civilians to operate the dispatch center. His police career spanned 33 years.

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Chief Eric Osanitsch 2011-2012
Shortly after DiVenere's departure, Captain Eric Osanitsch was appointed acting chief by the mayor. Later that year, in July of 2011, the Bristol city council appointed Osanitsch as the new police chief. He held the distinction of being chief number eleven in the police department's history. He began to rebuild the department and modernize department procedures. After leading the department for one year, he made the decision to retire after twenty-six years of service. Although he retired, his police career did not end. He became the police chief in the Town of Winsdor Locks. Looking back, Osanitsch was credited with getting the BPD back on track.

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Chief Thomas Grimaldi 2012-2015
On October 24, 2015, Chief Grimaldi officially retired from the PD after serving as Chief for three years. His overall service to the City consisted of twenty-six years. After the departure of Chief Osanitsch in 2012, Grimaldi was named acting chief and then promoted to chief the same year by Mayor Ward and the city council. As chief number twelve, he continued to build the department's manpower and promoted the philosophy of community policing. During his tenure as chief, the PD achieved Tier 1 State Accreditation, developed a career program for aspiring officers, and implemented walking beats and bike patrols in the city. Staffing was increased in the Traffic Division and a new motor unit was implemented. The department also received over $1.8 million in grant funds for equipment and salaries. While officially retired from the BPD, his career will continue in law enforcement. He accepted a police chief position with the Port Orange Police Department in Florida.