History of the Delaware State Police - 1950-1954
The 1950’s marked a period of tremendous growth for the state police. Several new facilities were constructed to meet the needs of an expanding department, including the building and dedication of a new headquarters complex in Dover. A new technological weapon would be utilized in the war against crime, and already existing technologies would find new applications in the effort to increase safety on the highways of the First State. The decade would also see its share of tragedy, as four troopers lost their lives while in the performance of their duties.
The decade began with the construction of a new building near the intersection of Routes 40 and 13, at State Road in New Castle. The unique structure served as Troop 2 until February 1958, when the new state police headquarters was opened in Dover. This building, due to its appearance and design, was commonly known as the "Ferry Boat." The troop was built to address the increased traffic resulting from the opening of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in 1951. As this was a temporary troop, operations were later moved to the old headquarters building at State Road located north of Routes 40 and 13.
The state police pistol range was finished in 1950, located on National Guard property just south of New Castle. The range included 16 mobile electric targets. To commemorate the new range, on September 10, 1950, seventeen teams from eastern states participated in a regional competition.
The 1950's also opened on a tragic note with the death of Corporal Leroy L. LeKites, who was struck and killed by a car while investigating a motor vehicle accident on US 113 north of Selbyville on January 13, 1950. Corporal Lekites was assisting Trooper Ralph Richardson at the scene of a two-vehicle collision on US 113 north of Selbyville when the troopers heard a speeding car approaching. When he stepped into the roadway in an attempt to stop the vehicle, the driver slammed on his brakes, lost control of his car, and struck Corporal Lekites. The driver of the vehicle fled the scene but was apprehended at his home several hours later. Funeral services for Corporal Lekites were held at the Salem Methodist Church in Selbyville on January 17, 1950, and he was subsequently laid to rest at the Roxanna Cemetery in Sussex County.
The year also saw the death of Detective James D. Orvis, 34, who died from a heart attack while attending a course on legal medicine at the Harvard Medical College in Boston. Detective Orvis had just completed the weeklong course and was to return home when he collapsed shortly after leaving the college building on November 17th. Detective Orvis’ body was returned home to Clayton, Delaware and he was laid to rest at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Dover on November 20, 1950.
Tragedy struck the department again on Memorial Day, May 30,1951, with the death of 31 year old Trooper Raymond B. Wilhelm. Trooper Wilhelm died in an auto crash on US Route 40 near Glasgow, in an attempt to avoid striking a dog with his vehicle. He was rushed to Delaware Hospital where he died shortly after the collision.
Technology provided major advancements in the areas of criminal investigation and traffic enforcement during this decade. Both the polygraph and RADAR have played a vital role in the division’s mission since their inception in the 1950’s. In September of 1951, a polygraph machine was purchased and placed in service one month later. The department sent two troopers to Washington, D.C., to take an eight-week course of instruction for the Keeler Polygraph. Since the early 50’s, the state police have utilized at least two polygraph machines for criminal investigative work. In 1956, a second polygraph was purchased and placed at Troop 3 to alleviate the inconvenience caused by two operators using one machine. Later, in February of 1959, the first recruit applicants were given polygraph tests as a part of the hiring process.
On March 13, 1952, the state police first used RADAR devices specifically designed for traffic enforcement, charging nine people with speeding on the DuPont Parkway. The first set was borrowed from the highway department. The use of this technology was highly controversial; adding to the controversy was the use of unmarked police cruisers for enforcement. The issue became quite volatile when the chairman of the State Highway Commission was stopped for speeding.
Near the end of 1955, the state police announced they would be utilizing three RADAR units around the clock. The new smaller units were no larger than a suitcase and were permanently installed in the trunks of 1955 Ford Interceptors. In the fall of the following year, the state police began using RADAR in all three counties.
Another technological advancement which is still in use today was first introduced on May 15, 1954, when a new seven station statewide teletype system went into operation at state police headquarters on State Road. The installation was performed by Diamond State Telephone Company, enabling two way communication via typed messages.
A landmark United States Supreme Court decision on May 15, 1954, held that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. Delaware State Police remained sensitive to these issues and at one time were ordered by the State’s Attorney General to investigate threatening phone calls to the Milford Special School Board concerning integration of classes.
Problems of juvenile delinquency and crime were a primary concern during the 1950’s as the FBI statistics reported that rates for crimes by youths were increasing in nearly every category. A particularly disturbing trend was the increase in violent crimes committed by young people. The Delaware State Police was one of the first organizations in the country to recognize the need for a specialized division which would address these problems. On November 22, 1954, at the 4th annual conference of the Delaware Commission on Children and Youth, it was recommended that the state police and Wilmington Police establish a Youth Division. It would be formally implemented in 1957 by Colonel Harry Shew.