The History of the Hamden Police Department


The Hamden Police Department, as it exists today, was established on December 1, 1923 with the hiring of its first officer, James Whelahan. Whelahan was appointed by the selectman as Hamden's first salaried officer. Prior to this Hamden was policed by constables who answered emergency calls and patrolled highways more or less on their own time. They used their own cars to do patrol work. They were not paid salaries but received fees in cases brought to court ending in convictions. By 1923, however, the town was growing rapidly and the need for an official police force was apparent.

In 1924, two more officers were hired: Harry Barrows and George Moehl. The police department at this time,was appointed and supervised by the board of selectmen. Motorcycles were the primary vehicles for transportation. Three more officers were added in 1925. Also in 1925, an act of state legislature created a police commission for the town. The police commission was given direct charge of the police department and over the next five years the department grew in size and equipment. 

By 1930 the department had grown to 16 officers. The department's operating budget in 1927-1928 was $23,890.03. By 1930-1931 the
budget rose to $37,263.30.

During these early years, the department had no headquarters, reporting directly to the selectmen and then the police commission. There was no modern radio system. When an emergency arose, the telephone operators assisted in locating the officers by calling the firehouses, town hall, and even their homes. The officers worked 8 hour shifts and in the event that on duty officers could not be located, off duty officers responded on their own time.  

In 1925 Officer Whelahan was promoted to Sergeant and in 1926 to Captain. In 1929 James Whelahan was appointed the 1st Chief of Police of the department. Officer Barrows was promoted to Sergeant in 1927 and Captain in 1929.  Chief Whelahan served as Chief until 1934. From 1934-1935 Captain Harry Barrows served as acting Chief. On October 17, 1935 Harry Barrows was appointed as the 2nd Chief of

Patrol cars worked through the New Haven Police radio broadcasting unit during these years and could be contacted anywhere on the beat. In 1935 the department had 2 radio cars and 6 motorcycles. Prior to 1935 prisoners were locked up in the old Town Hall cells. Headquarters was established in the basement of the new Memorial Town Hall in 1935 and contained a block of cells.  

 In 1940 the department consisted of 20 Sworn personnel with 1 Chief, 1 Captain, 1 Lieutenant, 4 Sergeants, and 13 Patrolman.

Tragedy struck the department for the first time on April 21, 1943 shortly after 11 pm when Patrolman Milton Hodder was killed in the line of duty after he was struck by a vehicle just after 11 pm while directing traffic on Dixwell Avenue at the High Standard plant. 

 Patrolman Hodder was at his post in front of the High Standard plant to regulate the traffic of the changing shifts at the plant and the normal flow on Dixwell Avenue. The vehicle, which struck Patrolman Hodder, contained 2 soldiers on leave from the military. After striking Patrolman Hodder the vehicle fled the scene but was forced to the curb a few hundred feet north of the accident by an alert motorist. The operator was charged with the death of Patrolman Hodder. Patrolman Hodder was survived by his wife, 2 sons, and 2 daughters. Police Chief Barrows commented that he considered Patrolman Hodder one of the best policemen in the department and had been commended 3 times in his career. Patrolman Hodder was appointed a Supernumery Policeman on November 10, 1927 and regular officer on May 1,1928.

The department was led, during these times, by Chief Harry Barrows. Frank Cattaneo was named a Captain in 1934 and served as second in command. In 1942 Cattaneo was named the Deputy Chief and continued to serve as second in command. In 1942 the department consisted of 27 sworn personnel with 1 Chief, 1 Deputy Chief, 2 Lieutenants, 4 Sergeants, and 19 Patrolman.

By 1950 the department consisted of 52 sworn personnel with 1 Chief, 1 Deputy Chief, 3 Lieutenants, 1 Detective Lieutenant, 4 Sergeants, 1 Detective, and 41 Patrolman. The position of Detective Lieutenant and Detective were added to the department's budget in 1950. Officer Hugh Mulhern was appointed Hamden's first Detective on October 9, 1950.


In December 1952 the department moved out of the basement of Town Hall and into its own new facility. The facility was built at a cost of $115,000.00 and had only 9,000 square foot of space including the basement.

The new facility was built next to the Hamden Public Library, which was built in 1951. The new police building was designed to look like the library next door to it. These buildings were located next to the old Hamden Memorial Town Hall.

The 1950's saw the Detective Bureau expand considerably with several Detectives and Supervisors added to this division including the position of Detective Captain in 1956. On October 10, 1957 Chief Harry Barrows retired after 33 years of service, 22 of them as Chief. On October 11, 1957 the department's Deputy Chief, Frank Cattaneo was named the 3rd Chief of the department. Hugh Mulhern was named the department's Deputy Chief. Chief Cattaneo lasted only 5 months and resigned on March 13, 1958. On the same day Captain Robert Thatcher was appointed the 4th Chief of the department.

In 1959 Chief Thatcher brought back the use of the police motorcycle with the purchase of 4 motorcycles. This type of motorized patrol was last used in 1939. Interestingly enough, Chief Thatcher was one of the last Officers to ride the police motorcycle back in 1939. The use of the police motorcycle continues to this day by the Traffic Division to assist in speed enforcement and escorts among other things. The type of motorcycle currently used today is the Harley-Davidson Road King.

The department continued to grow rapidly along with the population. In 1960 the department had 67 sworn personnel.

By 1970 the department had a sworn personnel total of 92.             

Tragedy struck yet again on July 27, 1964 at approximately 1:30 am when Officer Frank Donarumo was killed in the line of duty. Officer Donarumo was crossing the railroad tracks on State Street just south of Foote Street to inspect trucks that were parked on private business property.

Officer Donarumo's police cruiser was struck by a Diesel New Haven Passenger Train. Officer Donarumo, aged 29, was killed instantly. He was hired on November 25, 1958 and was a 6-year veteran. He was the recipient of 7 departmental commendations. He left behind a wife and a small child. He was the 2nd Hamden Officer to die in the line of duty.

In 1981 the Library moved across the street into a new building and the Police Department took over the old Library building, and now occupied both buildings. 

In 1982 the department formed the Street Crime Unit. The unit was comprised of a Sergeant and several officers from the patrol division who were temporarily assigned there. The Unit’s main responsibilities included narcotic, vice, and gambling investigations.

In 1996 the Department formed a Community Police Unit and placed 4 Officers there. The Unit had many functions, one primary goal was to focus on developing a positive relationship between the community and the police department. Blockwatches were formed where neighborhoods met together with the Community Police Officers to discuss their specific problems. The Department purchased bicycles in 1999 and the Community Police Officers were assigned to ride them in certain areas of Town that would benefit from that type of patrol.

In 1997, after an agreement was made between the Police Union and the Town, a new K-9 Unit was established. The Union agreed to purchase a dog and donate it to the Town while the Town was to supply a dog also. The K-9 Unit was expanded to include 3 Police Dogs in 1999.

On August 31, 1998 Chief John P. Ambrogio retired after serving for 42 years, the last 24 years as the Chief. On September 1, 1998 Inspector Robert Nolan was appointed the department's 7th Chief.

In 1999 the Police Department placed an Officer at the Hamden High School and an Officer at the Hamden Middle School. These Officers were called School Resource Officers. They handle all incidents on the school grounds when police intervention is needed. This program has been successful and continues to this day.

In September 2002 the department upgraded its radio system. At a cost of 1 million dollars the new system had many advantages over the older, outdated one. The older system had many ‘dead’ spots in Town where officers had problems communicating with headquarters. The new system improved this greatly and also provided officers with the ability to communicate with other local police agencies in the area right from their police cars.

On November 19, 2005 Chief Robert Nolan retired after serving for 34 years, the last 7 years as the Chief. On November 20, 2005 Deputy Chief John Kennelly was appointed the department's 8th Chief.

On June 30, 2006 Chief John Kennelly retired after serving for 36 years, the last 8 months as Chief. On July 1, 2006 Deputy Chief Thomas J. Wydra was appointed the 9th Chief of the Hamden Police Department.

In 2006 the Street Crime Unit and the Community Police Unit were combined and formed the new Street Interdiction Team. The new Team shared the same goals as the previous Units and continued with the emphasis of interacting with neighborhoods and their specific problems and needs.

Today the Hamden Police Department has a sworn total of 107 personnel with 24 civilian staff and 22 crossing guards for a total of 153 personnel. The department currently has 1 Chief, 3 Deputy Chiefs, 2 Captains, 6 Lieutenants, 17 Sergeants, 14 Detectives, and 64 Patrol Officers. The Department hopes to move into a modern facility in the near future.