Historical Markers
Pennsylvania State Police [Politics] Historical Marker
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Pennsylvania State Police [Politics]

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
Hershey School District Memorial Field Complex, Cocoa Ave., Hershey

Dedication Date:
August 13, 2006

Behind the Marker

Mounted policemen are awaiting inspection or orders.
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Mounted officers, Pennsylvania State Police Troop D, circa 1914.
"It is possible for a man to be a gentleman as well as a policeman. I expect you to treat elderly persons, women and children at all times with the greatest consideration. When you once start after a man you must get him. In making an arrest you may use no force beyond the minimum necessary. One state policeman should be able to handle one hundred foreigners."
 -Superintendent John C. Groome's counsel to the Pennsylvania State Constabulary, circa 1908.

Attack on the coal and iron police by a mob of Polish strikers
“Pennsylvania. - the mining troubles in the Schuylkill region - attack on...
At the dawn of the twentieth century, Pennsylvania was a war zone, caught in the struggle between the state's coal miners and factory workers and many of the companies for which they worked. Decades of struggle had witnessed hundreds of beatings, murders, strikes, and confrontations. Since 1868, Pennsylvania companies had the right under state law to hire their own private police forces, which had enforced the will of the companies. For a mere dollar, the state sold police power to mining operators, railroad companies, and other industrial establishments, which used the Coal and Iron Police to intimidate their workers, end strikes, and crush unions.

Starting in the 1890s, a series of disastrous confrontations drew national attention to Pennsylvania's unique system of private law enforcement.marker Henry Frick's decision to hire 300 Pinkerton agents to guard the Homestead Steel Works during themarker Homestead Strike of 1892 resulted in a pitched battle that left twelve dead, and outraged even the United States Senate, which concluded that the Pinkertons had usurped the state's authority. In response, the Commonwealth in 1893 passed a law outlawing the importation of armed guards from other states.

Five years later, 150 recently deputized Coal and Iron Police fired into a march of 400 unarmed coal miners, killing nineteen and wounding thirty-two others in themarker Lattimer Massacre. During themarker anthracite-coal strike of 1902, the private police again drew national outrage, when the coal companies hired street toughs from Philadelphia and other cities, some of whom used their badges to harass, arrest, beat, and in other ways intimidate striking miners.
Image depicting scenes from the battle of Homestead, as it progressed.
"Great Battle of Homestead. Defeat and Capture of the Pinkerton Invaders, July...

In response, the Pennsylvania legislature in 1905 created the Pennsylvania State Constabulary to supplement but not replace the Coal and Iron police forces that had kept unions from emerging in the Pennsylvania coal fields and steel mills. It then located three of the four original troops - Greensburg near Pittsburgh, Pottsville, and Wyoming - in the coal region.

Modeled on the Philippine Constabulary that maintained American rule in those islands following the Spanish-American War, the State Constabulary contained many ex-military and National Guard personnel. The policemen were placed on horseback for crowd control and in the belief that, as Superintendent John Groome boasted, one mounted policeman should be able to control 100 men on foot.

At first, President Theodore Roosevelt regarded the Pennsylvania State Police as a model for the nation. Soon, however, the State Police began to acquire a reputation for brutality.
Cossacks on horseback leaving a steel mill.
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Pennsylvania State Police, Bethlehem Steel Strike, Bethlehem, PA, 1910.
In the Westmoreland County Coal Strike of 1910-1911, the State Police assisted the Coal and Iron Police, over the objections of the elected county sheriff, and on four occasions participated in incidents in which unarmed miners were killed. One trooper confessed that the police's primary way of dealing with striking miners was to "ride in, scoop them up, and beat hell out of them."

By 1910, they had acquired a nickname, the marker "Pennsylvania Cossacks" given to them by Slovak miners who were frequently the police's target. In 1914, the Pennsylvania State Federation of Labor, at the direction of its president marker James Maurer, exposé called "The American Cossack." In response, Governor marker John Tener offered a spirited defense of hismarker "Cossacks."

In 1915, the State Commission on Industrial Relations backed Maurer up, reporting that the police "is an extremely efficient force for crushing strikes, but it is not successful in preventing violence in connection with strikes, in maintaining legal and civil rights of the parties to the dispute, nor in protecting of the public. On the contrary, violence seems to increase rather than diminish when the constabulary is brought into an industrial dispute, the legal and civil rights of the workers have on numerous occasions been violated ...".

ACLU map indicating State Police barracks, Coal and Iron Police barracks, locations closed to radical labor meetings, and locations of sedition prosecutions.
Map of State Police barracks, Coal and Iron Police barracks, municipalities...
During World War I, the State Police force improved its reputation. The department was a bastion of sanity in a state where the American Protective League and other vigilante groups harassed people they accused of being German sympathizers and agents. Despite receiving thousands of reported incidents of subversion, the State Police arrested only twenty-two people for violating the Espionage Act and Enemy Aliens, and did so only when investigations suggested that the allegations were legitimate.

After the end of the war, however, law enforcement in Pennsylvania again ran amuck. Companies employed more than 3,000 Coal and Iron Police during a new wave of labor unrest, and once again the officers of the State Police, its numbers now increased from 228 to 415 men, broke up labor demonstrations, arrested and beat up labor leaders, and, in other ways, acted, according to critics, as company goons rather than impartial enforcers of the law.

Outraged at the brutality and illegal actions that both the Coal and Iron Police and the state police had committed in support of the coal operators during the coal strike of 1922, newly elected marker Governor Gifford Pinchot in 1923 impaneled a state investigatory commission, and recalled or refused more than 3,600 applications for private commissions.
State troopers posed with riot guns, ready for a hurry call at Farrell, Pa., 1919.
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State troopers posing with riot guns, Farrell, PA, 1919.
Publishing his own findings under the title, "Pennsylvania's Cossacks," commission member John P. Guyer included first-hand testimony of the flagrant cases of brutality, and documented marker "methods of terrorism and abuse" that included the clubbing and beating of women and children. Pinchot, however, could not convince the state legislature to outlaw the Coal and Iron Police.

In the 1920s Pennsylvania was the last state in the union with a law that made sedition a state offense. In Pittston, Scranton, McKeesport, Aliquippa, Duquesne, Philadelphia, and other cities across the Commonwealth, mayors refused permission for public meetings - even on private property - and ordered the police to jail those who attempted to meet. Local authorities used the state sedition law to attempt to stop the activities of political and labor organizations that they deemed subversive. State courts issued sweeping injunctions to restrict the rights of striking workers, even forbidding members of the Magyar Presbyterian Church in Indiana County from singing hymns on the grounds that they might intimidate strikebreakers in a mine located a quarter mile away.

In the summer of 1933, the town burgess of Homestead refused to permit Secretary of Labor marker Frances Perkins to meet with or speak to several hundred workers who had come to see her on the grounds that they were "undesirable reds." Perkins then moved to the local post office - the one spot in town not controlled by the burgess - where she met with the workers.

Law enforcement in Pennsylvania would change dramatically during the Great Depression. During the great union organizing efforts by themarker Congress of Industrial Organizations and the markerSteel Workers Organizing Committee of the 1930s, the State Police were under the command of Governor marker Gifford Pinchot (1931-35) and marker George Earle (1935-39), both of whom sympathized with labor and refused to back up local sheriffs and police forces that tried to break strikes. In the 1930s, too, the state legislature revoked the Coal and Iron Police Law of 1868.

In 1923, the State Police took on the role most familiar to Pennsylvanians, as enforcers of motor vehicle laws, when it came to include the State Highway Patrol. In the decades that followed, the once feared Pennsylvania "Cossacks," would acquire a new reputation for their professionalism and public service.

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