A HISTORY OF
THE CANAL ZONE POLICE
William F. Kessler
Chief, Police Division
March 31, 1982
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The sentence of death by
hanging in the Coulson case was the first ever rendered by the courts of the Canal
Zone. Because of repeated appeal attempts by Coulson's attorney, the sentence was
not actually carried out until March 12, 1909, when Coulson was hung by the neck in the
Culebra jail. Coulson was the first man to be sentenced to death by hanging in the
CanalZone; however, he was not the first man to be actually hung. That ignominious
honor went to Hubert Stout, a black Barbadian who was convicted of first degree murder and
hung for his crime on November 20, 1908. Arrest statistics for the fiscal year
ending June 30, 1907, demonstrate how the number of arrests rose with the population.
During the year, 6,236 persons were arrested compared to 3,356 for fiscal year 1906.
This was an increase of eighty-five per cent. The increase was due in large part ot
the increase in population, but it was principally due to the change in the make-up of the
population resulting from the importation of European laborers by the Commission. The
European laborers were restless, suspicious, and excitable. They had a different class of
temperament than that of the West Indian laborer. The number of arrests for
intoxication, disorderly conduct, fighting and crimes of violence increased as the number
of European laborers increased. On the whole, the West Indian laborer was docile,
law abiding, and had confidence in the ability of the government to treat him fairly.
These characteristics made the maintenance of order among the West Indian a lesser
In 1908, the police force was increased to four hundred and seven men who served in police stations in twenty-five town and labor camps. One of these stations was a two-man affair at Naos Island, and another one was in the Sabanas District. The others were in Ancon, La Boca, Corozal, Pedro Miguel, Paraiso, Culebra, Empire, Las Cascadas, Gorgona, Bas Obispo, Tabernilla, Bohio, Gatun and Cristobal. The Canal Zone had become a stopping place for fugitives from justice fleeing the United States and other foreign countries.
One such case occurred as early as 1908, when H.F. Chandler, a representative of a detective agency in St. Paul, Minnesota, arrived on the Isthmus in search of John Cosgrove, who was wanted by the authorities of Spooner, Wisconsin, on charges of embezzlement and forgery in the sum of $16,000. A detective from the Zone Police was assigned to assist Chandler in his search. Cosgrove was located working as a flagman on a Commission dirt train at Las Cascadas. He admitted his identity, waived extradition, and agreed to accompany the detective back to the United States to stand trial on the charges against him. Captain Shanton's replacement as Chief of Police was Grosvenor A. Porter. Porter was the son of a Confederate blockade runner, and was a member of the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. In addition, he served as a United States Marshal in the Indian territory during the early 1900's. When appointed to the position of Chief, Porter was an assistant to a special agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
On August 10, 1910, the police station at Frijoles was transferred to the village of New Frijoles on the Panama Railroad relocation. The new site was on the south side of the railroad track, which ran nearly east and west on a high bank overlooking the new town. This brought the to number of police stations, or outposts, between Gamboa and Gatun to two. One was located at Monte Lirio, about seven miles from Gatun where the policeman was stationed in an old boxcar. The other covered a section from New Frijoles to Monte Lirio, and also covered a territory of about seven miles.
In August 1910, the Department of Civil Administration sent representatives to Jamaica to purchase horses for use by the Zone Police. Eleven horses were purchased at an average cost of $115. With the purchase of the eleven horses, the total number of horses in use by the Zone Police was forty-six.
In September 1914, three motorcycles were ordered from the United States for the use of the Police and Fire Divisions. The Central Police Station at Ancon and Cristobal were each supplied with a motorcycle, while the third was to be used in reserve by the Police and Fire Inspectors. The motorcycles assigned to the central police stations were to be used in the enforcement of speed regulations, patrol services, and for emergency calls. They were to replace three horses which were no longer fit for service.
The uniform of all officers from the Chief to first class policemen was a campaign hat with roughrider dents and leather hatband, khaki coat with five buttons of prescribed design, four pockets, single standing collar and shoulder straps, khaki foot breeches, puttee leggings, and tan shoes. The Uniform policemen wore khaki helmet, khaki coat and trousers as described above, leggings and tan shoes. White standing collars were worn by all officers in uniform. For each two years of service in the Police Division, a quarter-inch wide service stripe of brown-colored braid was worn on each sleeve by all officers.
In addition to regular law enforcement functions, the Zone Police assisted in the depopulation/relocation program of the Canal Zone during 1915. In the process of accommodating the creation and subsequent expansion of Gatun and Madden Lakes, 1,136 houses were either evacuated and destroyed or dismantled and moved to new locations. The police were also assisting United States Customs in the suppression of the opium traffic which had made a resurgence after the Panama Canal opened to the world's shipping in August of 1914.
On July 8, 1917, Guy Johannes replaced Mitchell as Chief of the Police and Fire Division. Johannes, who had arrived on the Isthmus of Panama as a member of the provisional Marine Brigade that set up the first permanent American military post in December 1903, was sworn in as a Policeman First Class in 1906. Johannes, whose appointment had gained the approval of the Governor of the Canal Zone, was the first civilian to serve as the Zone Police Chief.
The actual work in Canal villages was of a simple routine nature, complications arising mainly in the port areas. Some of the trouble was experienced with the opium or narcotic traffic on the Isthmus. A continuous patrol of the harbors was maintained to strictly enforce navigation laws and prevent smuggling and other irregular ship traffic. A launch patrol was maintained on Gatun Lake and the Chagres River. Details of police also worked on the locks, and motorcycle patrols remained on duty in the Balboa and Cristobal pier areas. By 1922, the drug problem had been brought under control.
During 1931, all employees of the Panama Canal and the Panama Railroad were fingerprinted by Zone Police detectives for indentification purposes.
On September 14, 1943, the horses owned and used by the Police Division were either released to other Divisions, sold, or retired. Chief A.O. Meyer, appointed to his position July 1, 1943, felt the horse had outlived its usefulness in a modern society.
In a general order dated July 31, 1943, Chief A.O. Meyer ordered the discontinuance of the term "first class policeman." Thereafter, all police officers, except those of rank, would be referred to as policemen. When it was necessary to differentiate between the two distinct pay rolls, the designation of gold and silver would be used.
On April 30, 1944, all Canal Zone Police services furnished to the Division Engineer were discontinued, and substations at Curundu, Camp Chiva, and Camp Harrison were turned over to the military police.
On May 1, 1944, the Division Engineer released eight sergeants and twenty-one gold roll policemen who were performing duties in its construction camps and housing areas. During this time thirty-one men left the Police Division for varying reasons. This left the Division with fifty-four ranking officers, two hundred and thirteen gold policemen, and forty-eight silver policemen. This was considered to be the minimum force required to efficiently police the Zone.
On June 12, 1944, the Canal Zone Police radio-telephone system was installed. The new UHF radio system enabled the police for the first time to communicate between station and patrol car, patrol car and station, and station to station. This gave the Police Division thirteen fully equipped radio patrol cars. Ten of the cars were placed in constant service, seven in the Balboa District and three in the Cristobal District. The various townsites were divided into patrol areas and were patrolled in a manner that allowed no more than two to four minutes of time to elapse before a policeman would arrive on the scene when help was needed.
The first major uniform change in Zone Police history was implemented in 1945. Uniform color was changed from khaki to steel gray. Officers were issued service-style hats, and the Sam Browne belt was used for the first time. Shirts were long sleeved and worn with a tie. Jodhpur pants, boots, and leather puttees completed the Zone Police officers' uniform.
Sixteen policemen were used for radio patrol service and relief in the towns of Balboa, Ancon, Diablo Heights and Cristobal. They enforced civil law by making arrests, and in addition were required to conduct routine police investigations. The town of Diablo Heights had been built after 1938. The areas patrolled in Ancon, Balboa, and Cristobal had expanded since 1938 with the additions of Williamson Place and Gavilan in Balboa, Chame and the Old Corral in Ancon, and Camp Beird in Cristobal. No regular police service was maintained in these areas prior to 1938.
On October 1, 1949, the police beat at the Canal Zone Air Terminal at Albrook was discontinued as the airlines stopped their operations in the Canal Zone.
Effective July 1, 1950, the Police and Fire Division was separated into two separate divisions, each headed by a chief reporting directly to the Director of the newly formed Civil Affairs Bureau. At this time, Police Headquarters was formerly transferred from the Administration building in Balboa Heights to the Civil Affairs Building, the former site of the recently closed Canal Zone Air Terminal. On October 1, 1950, George Herman was appointed Chief of the Police Division. On this date, the Police Division changed from a forty-eight hour work week to a forty-hour work week.
On December 31, 1951, the Police substation at Cocoli was closed and abandoned.
Queen Elizabeth II and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, made an official visit to the Canal Zone on November 29, 1953. On the Pacific side of the Isthmus one of the most pressing problems to be dealt with was the Division's manpower level. From a security standpoint it was considered necessary to block off every street and roadway along the Queen's planned route. In addtion, ten motorcycle policemen and a carload of plainclothes officers preceded the Queen's car in the royal convoy. Officers were tied up in communications work, crowd control, and assigned to regular police details which had to be carried on. Faced with inevitable manpower shortages, the military police and Locks Security Guards were called in to assist the Police. To effect the necessary coverage, every available policeman of all ranks in the Balboa District was used, plus twenty temporary transfers from the Atlantic side.
On August 14, 1955, R.W. Griffith became the ninth Chief in the Police Division's history. Prior to Griffith's retirement in 1957, a major change in the Canal Zone Police Officer's uniform was initiated. The uniform was changed to a two-tone blue color, which was to remain the official color of the Canal Zone Police throughout the duration of its operation. Trousers were dark blue, while shirts were light blue and long sleeved. The hat was service style, dark blue, and matched the trousers. Stripes designating rank once more appeared on the shirt sleeve.
1957 also saw the first Canal Zone Police patch developed for the uniform. The patch, which was worn on the left shoulder, was triangular in shape. The Seal of the Canal Zone Government appeared in the center of the patch. The words "Canal Zone Police" flanked the seal on each side, and a red, a white, and a blue tip capped the three corners of the triangle.
Benjamin A. Darden was appointed Chief of the Police Division in October 1957. At this time, political unrest in the Republic of Panama began to manifest itself in sporadic violence targeted against the Canal Zone community. The Canal Zone Police had handled mass border disturbances centered around Panama's claim to sovereignty in the Canal Zone for some time. But Darden realized that it had become essential for the Canal Zone Police to allocate the necessary funds to develop the capacity to train and equip police personnel in the handling of large-scale riot situations.
In accordance with Chief Darden's plans to deal with the ever-increasing political tension on the Isthmus, the Governor of the Canal Zone directed that all police officers be required to reside in the Canal Zone as a condition of their employment. The reasoning behind the directive was that should a civil disturbance affecting the Canal Zone occur, the governor wanted all police officers in a position to be able to respond immediately if called to quell the disturbance.
By 1959, leaders of Panamanian student groups began to openly broadcast over local radio stations for the people of Panama to join them in a flag-bearing visitation in the Canal Zone on November 3, the date of Panama's independence from Columbia. On November 3, the Canal Zone Police authorities permitted peaceful groups of Panamanian students to place small banners on the Miraflores Swing-Bridge and other landmarks in the Canal Zone.
However, several student groups were not satisfied with the Canal Zone's gesture of symbolically allowing the Panamanians to express their aspirations of sovereignty. Physical violence touched off the arrest of two Panamanians who attempted to reaffirm Panama's sovereignty in the Canal Zone through the destruction of property along Fourth of July Avenue. Similar riot conditions occurred in Cristobal on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus.
In the course of the rioting, much property damage was caused to local Panamanian business establishments situated along the Canal Zone/Republic of Panama borders. One hundred and twenty injuries were reported to area hospitals, and thirty-five Canal Zone Police officers sustained injuries because of the border clashes.
In 1960, the Police Division discontinued the use of red Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Motorcycle patrol had fallen into disfavor because of three line-of-duty fatalities directly related to motorcycle accidents received by members of the force.
In a memorandum to the Governor, dated January 18, 1960, the Civil Affairs Director requested that the title of Major assigned Chief of Police be discontinued. The position title officially was designated Chief, Police Division. The original purpose of the title of Major was for war-time expediency. During the post-war years, the Chief was rarely seen in uniform, and the military title tended to be confusing to people unfamiliar with the police organization.
On December 20, 1961, a specially furnished interrogation room equipped with a tape recorder was opened for use in the Balboa Police Station. A new polygraph machine was purchased for use in the interrogation room of the Balboa Police Station.
In December of 1961, instructions were issued by the Chief of Police Eugene S. Shipley changing the police uniform shirt to short sleeve. This uniform change applied to all ranks below that of lieutenant, but did provide for exceptions for personnel who required long sleeves for medical reasons.
During the later part of fiscal year 1962, radio and traffic patrol car colors were officially changed from green to black and white. The color combination was black with a white top, doors and trunk cover. The vehicle identification door markings were changed to a decal which illustrated a reproduction of a Canal Zone Police badge.
The Thatcher Ferry Bridge was a $20 million suspension bridge built across the Panama Canal. Constructed at the site of the former East and West Ferry Slips, the bridge connected the Pan-American Highway and linked the cities of Panama and Colon with the rest of the Republic. The bridge was named in honor of Maurice A. Thatcher, the sole survivor of the Isthmian Commission.
Opening ceremonies of the official bridge dedication were to be carried out on the afternoon of October 12, 1962. Undersecretary of State George W. Ball was to deliver the keynote address. The President of Panama, Roberto F. Chiari, and numerous other dignitaries from the Americas were in attendance.
Public opinion in Panama was against the naming of the bridge after Maurice Thatcher. Leftists within the Republic favored calling it "The Bridge of the Americas." Demonstrations were scheduled for the day of the bridge dedication. The Canal Zone Police, alerted to the planned demonstrations, compiled a group of police officers from both districts to the bridge to protect the dignitaries in the event the demonstrators became violent.
At the height of the ceremonial proceedings, the crowd of over 5,000 spectators turned hostile. Clashes broke out between the Canal Zone Police and the crowd at the police-line barricades. The situation graduated to near-riot proportions. The Canal Zone Police did not attempt to contain the demonstrators, and the contingent of fifty-five police officers removed the dignitaries from the platform and directed them to safety via a bridge exit.
The demonstrators, having successfully marred the dedication ceremonies, poured onto the center-span of the bridge and marched back and forth displaying anti-American banners. The two commemorative plaques set at the entrance to each bridge approach were pried loose and destroyed. However, that proved to be the extent of the property damage. Aside from five injuries suffered by police personnel, there were no reports of personal injury as a result of the demonstration.
On November 17, 1962, a group of Panama National Guardsmen were attempting to arrest an American serviceman in the Canal Zone near the Tivoli Hotel. A spectator who became involved in the incident was shot by one of the Guardsmen in the leg. The man later lost the leg as a result of the injury. The Panama Government refused to release the Guardsman to Canal Zone Police custody.
In October and November of 1962, ten crosswalk guards were hired by the Police Division to handle the many crosswalks in the CanalZone. By doing this the police officers were relieved of this responsibility.
During the last quarter of fiscal year 1963, the Police Division purchased one handie-talkie portable radio for use by foot patrolmen. The initial test radio greatly enhanced the foot parol officers ability to be linked with his central station and motor patrol units in a system of instantaneous communication. The portable radios were readily adopted, and brought another dimension to the tools available to the Police Division.
At 4:45 p.m., January 9, 1964, Balboa Police Station Desk Sergeant Robert Lawyer telephoned the Balboa District Police Commander Gaddis Wall, who was to later serve as Chief from 1968 throught 1972, and informed him that about two hundred Panamanian students were marching into the Canal Zone up Gorgas Road towards Gorgas Hospital. As the major political issue of the period involved Panama's emotional claim of sovereignty in the Canal Zone, Captain Wall told Sergeant Lawyer to begin calling in off-duty policemen in the event they would be needed.
A police car picked Captain Wall up at his home and immediately drove to a point on Heights Road at Cashew Place. From there he could see about two hundred male and female students from the National Institute marching up Gorgas Road, completely filling the roadway. The students leading the group were carrying a Panama flag and a National Institute banner. The students continued marching, and when they were in front of the Canal Zone Governor's quarters, they paused and sang the Panama National Anthem. The students then continued to march. Police personnel were stationed at Heights Road and Roosevelt Avenue to divert the students back to Panama should they take that route. In addition, an official police photographer was called in to take pictures of the demonstration.
The students did not go down to Heights Road and Roosevelt Avenue, but instead circled behind the Administration Building and went down the steps leading to the Goethals Memorial Monument. When it was discovered that the students were taking this route, police personnel were stationed at the bottom of the steps to stop them from going any further to the Balboa townsite. Police personnel did manage to contain the peaceful advance of the students at the bottom of the steps.
The leader of the students, a Panamanian youth dressed in the National Institution uniform, talked briefly with Captain Wall near the Goethals Memorial. Shortly thereafter Chief Shipley issued instructions that permitted four of the students to proceed to the flag pole in front of the Balboa High School under police escort, display their flag, and sing the Panama National Anthem to symbolize Panamanian sovereignty in the Canal Zone. Chief Shipley made it clear that they would not be allowed to raise the flag on the flagstaff. The leader of the Panamanian students attempted to explain to his large group of followers what had been agreed to. The students loudly shouted their displeasure with the compromise. Finally, after about forty-five minutes of effort, the students agreed to the proposal. The leader of the students, however, stated that he would need five students to go to the flag pole, instead of four. This was immediately agreed to. The students were at this point slightly leery of the situation and wanted assurances that the five would not be harmed by the group composed of four hundred Canal Zone residents and students gathered around the Balboa High School flagpole. They were given that assurance by Captain Wall. The principal of Balboa High School and the Superintendent of Schools were asked to speak to the Canal Zone students and explain what was going to take place and advise them not to interfere. This being done, the five students were allowed to pass through police lines and go to the flag pole. When they arrived at a point just outside the hedges which surrounded the flag pole, it was discovered that a sixth student had joined the group. He was carrying a large banner which stated that Panama was sovereign in the Canal Zone.
An argument developed among the six National Institute students. One of the six insisted on raising the flag. This student left the group and returned to the main group of Panamanians gathered at the front steps below the Adminstration Building. He returned shortly thereafter, still arguing that Panama's flag be raised on the flag pole. At this point, Liaison Detective Pedro Martin and Policeman Felipi Cazobon, acting as interpreters, attmepted to persuade the group to go ahead with the ceremony as agreed upon earlier. At this time, the American students at the high school began singing the American National Anthem. This angered the Panamanian students. They insisted on being allowed to stand inside the hedges which surrounded the flag pole. They were allowed to do this by Captain Wall. However, they still insisted on raising the Panamanian flag on the flag pole. The American students had formed a ring around the flag pole, and now the two groups of students were shouting at one another. Because of the increasing likihood of a physical confrontation between the students, a police detail was set up between the two groups.
Captain Wall, realizing that the students would not settle for anything less than raising the flag, ordered them to stop the ceremonies and return to the main group. The students refused to obey the order and continued to argue and shout. Captain Wall ordered the detail of policemen to remove the students from the area, using their twenty-six inch riot batons to push them in the direction of the main group. The Panamanian students resisted violently. In being pushed backwards, two of the students tripped over the hedges which surrounded the flag pole and they fell. They got up and continued to resist violently, and once again they fell. When they reached Gorgona Road, they displayed the now-torn Panamanian flag to the large group there. The sight of the torn national banner enraged the remainder of the students. Several rocks were thrown from the group, one striking Policeman Patton on the front of his helmet liner. The students, apparently by direction of their leaders, then began to run in the direction of the Administration Building. As the students passed the Administration Building, glass could be heard breaking on the east side of the building. The students continued up Heights Road in the direction of the Governor's house. Once beyond the Governor's house, the students began rolling empty fifty-five gallon drums down the road, and glass could be heard breaking on the roadway near the hospital. The students marched on down Gorgas Road to Fourth of July Avenue, throwing rocks at the policemen as they went. Chief Shipley got on the radio and informed all units that as long as the students kept going in the direction of Panama they were to ignore the property damage.
A cordon of fifteen policemen at Gorgas Road by St. Luke's Church was formed with Lt. Richards in charge. The students were at this time stoning the policemen, breaking street lamps and traffic control standards, and throwing rocks at cars that went by.
When the students arrived at Fourth of July Avenue, a group of between three hundred and five hundred people was forming on "J" Street. This large group joined the students at the National Institute. The demonstrators then moved out onto Fourth of July Avenue in mass, and again were throwing rocks. The police booth at the Ancon Gymnasium was broken into and the furniture taken and smashed. The demonstrators then moved up Culebra Road where they set fire to three cars parked there. Cars were also being burned on Fourth of July Avenue in front of the District Court Building. The rioters then set fire to Braniff offices on President Kennedy Avenue, and also to the Canal Zone Pharmacy.
The main body of the demonstrators marched down President Kennedy Ave. in the direction of the Tivoli Guest House. Canal Zone Policemen were sent from the Gorgas Road location to the Tivoli Guest House to bolster the officers already there. A great deal of congestion was caused on Roosevelt Avenue due to the Police's rapid evacuation of the Tivoli.
From a point opposite the
north end of the Tivoli parking lot to Frangipani Street, people could be seen coming from
streets leading out of Panama headed in the direction of President Kennedy Avenue.
The detail of policemen at the Tivoli had to use tear gas to keep the crowds from coming
any closer to the Tivoli Guest House. The large unruly group of demonstrators then went to
Shaler Bus Terminal and burned the shed located there. The mob continued down
President Kennedy Avenue to the Ancon Railroad Station, numbering now about two thousand
Panamanians. Once there, the crowd began to throw molotov cocktails at the Ancon
Laundry and at the Ancon Train Station, starting both places burning. Firemen had arrived
and were attempting to put out the fire at the train station. However, the mob stoned the
firefighters which hampered efforts to extinguish the blaze. The mob continued to
advance toward the train station, and the small squad of police officers defending the
Canal Zone border fired their revolvers over the heads of the oncoming
demonstrators. This caused the group to retreat somewhat. Vehicles which were
attempting to enter the Canal Zone from Frangipani Street were being stoned and molotov
cocktails thrown at the vehicles. Rioters pushed many vehicles onto Frangipani
Street in an obvious attempt to prevent people from fleeing into the Canal Zone.
A large crowd in the back of the Ancon Freight House was throwing rocks molotov cocktails at the Building. Several policemen moved into the area in an attempt to disperse the crowd. The policemen had no more tear gas, so they fired shotguns and revolvers over the heads of the demonstrators to keep them away from the freight house.
Meanwhile, at the District Courthouse, the demonstrators had torn down the fence on Fourth of July Avenue and were trying to reach the District Court's offices and Judge Guthrie Crowe's private residence. The small number of policemen stationed at the Courthouse quickly ran out of ammunition. Molotov cocktails were thrown at Judge Crowe's house, forcing him to send his family to safety in the company of United States Marshall Clayborn McClellan. Fire personnel arrived on the scene and attempted to put out the fires. However, the demonstrators continued to pelt the firemen with rocks in an attempt to prevent them from putting out the fires. Time after time the several thousand demonstrators charged Crowe's house only to be forced back by the policemen stationed there. Judge Crowe, who had remained in his residence and helped the Canal Zone Police combat the rioters, later stated, "I have never seen policemen conduct themselves in any better fashion, under fire and most trying conditions. They acted with great restraint and were hopelessly outnumbered at all times."
The Limits Intersection of Balboa Road and Fourth of July Avenue, initially was the quiet spot. The crowd of over two thousand demonstrators rapidly moved from the area of the Institute to the Limits. At the Limits a very small group of policemen stood between the mob and the residential areas of Balboa. As the crowd became more and more unruly, the policemen moved their lines to the area by the police booth. Stones were being thrown at the policemen, and the mob charged the lines of the policemen. The policemen were poorly equipped to handle the demonstrators, not having any tear gas or shotguns. Therefore, as the crowds charged, the men shot over the heads of the demonstrators with revolvers forcing them back. Time and time again the crowds came and time and time again they were forced back by the policemen. Eventually, additional men and the necessary supplies were sent to the Limits.
About 8:00p.m., January 9, 1964, Lieutenant Governor David Parker, the Acting Governor of the Canal Zone, telephoned General O'Meara, commander of the United states military forces in the Canal Zone. O'Meara was informed of the gravity of the situation and immediately assumed commmand of the Canal Zone areas. The military was then sent in to secure the boundary on the Pacific side of the Isthmus and remove rioters. Thoughout this time frame, the Canal Zone Police continued to serve on the boundary line along with military personnel who, for the most part, were unfamiliar with the locale. When marshall law was effectively declared, the Canal Zone Police, placed under control of the military, were responsible for all security in the interior of the Canal Zone.
Much of the action at this time centered around the Tivoli Guest House and the Shaler area. Sniper fire began from the area of the Legislative Palace. At the same time large groups of demonstrators continually charged the Tivoli area, and were forced back with the use of tear gas. Concertina wire was strung along the boundary to prevent the large groups from entering into the Canal Zone.
Riot conditions did not develop as fast in the Cristobal District. However, they were not long in coming. Word spread fast of the confrontation at the high school, and it proved to be the excuse that was needed by many of the persons who came out to riot. Personnel in Cristobal District were placed on alert, and riot squads formed. At 9:14 p.m., a group of about fifteen hundred persons marched into the Canal Zone to Cristobal's Administration Building and were kept under surveillance by members of the police riot squads. By this time the Army had already been called to Balboa, and a decision was made not to wait until the last minute to make a decision to call out the Army in the Cristobal District. A short time after the mob entered the Canal Zone, they began to throw rocks and break windows. It wasn't until 10:30 p.m., that American military troops were able to relieve the badly outnumbered Canal Zone Policemen. By this time, fire had broken out at the Colon Railroad Station, and numerous windows had been broken out at the Central Employment Office, License Section and the Railroad Station. After the troops arrived the mob turned its attention to the Masonic Temple and the YMCA. At the YMCA the mobs had broken windows and were looting the building. Upon the arrival of the police and the Army, the building was in the process of being looted, and four persons were arrested in the building.
As of 8:00 a.m., on the 10th of January, there had been twenty-seven casualties including three deaths. Many dependents of military personnel living in Colon were evacuated during the first few hours of the demonstrations. Many of these were housed in various locations in the Canal Zone. About 8:00a.m., January 10th, about two hundred demonstrators went to Coco Solo Hospital to try and disrupt operations at that location. However, Special Forces people were sent to prevent the demonstrators from getting close to the facility. Tear gas was used to keep the demonstrators away.
For the next week, the destruction and violence became sporadic. The police operated with personnel divided into two twelve-hour daily shifts for a considerable length of time. As time went by the situation gradually returned to normal. However, the tension and the vivid memories of the violence and ill feelings did not quickly fade. As in many demonstrations of this kind, the hoodlums and troublemakers took advantage of the situation for their own gain. This element of the rioting served to only worsen the violence and prolong the destruction in Panama and the Canal Zone.
Diplomatic relations between the two countres were broken during the 1964 Panama Riots. The Organization of American States was called in to mediate the situation. Formal hearings were held by the OAS in an attmept to help both the United States and the Republic of Panama understand the cause of their differences and seek its solution.
The Canal Zone Police were placed on alert status in May of 1964 due to the continued political unrest in Panama. This situation was intensified because of the Republic's scheduled Presidential elections that month. While there were no major incidents in the Canal Zone, several fires were set in the Republic of Panama and fragmentation bombs were set off. On May 22, 1964, five men, one American and four Panamanians, were arrested in a private residence located at Curundu, Canal Zone, for making fragmentation bombs. On June 8, 1964, a demolition expert was killed while he was attempting to dismantle one of the bombs which had been confiscted in the May tweny-second arrest.
Also in May of 1964, five civilian dispatchers were hired to replace the five policemen who had previously performed these duties. In addition, five police privates who were assigned to the Balboa Piers were relieved of this assignment and replaced by guards of the Terminals Division. In taking these measures, the Police Division made ten additional police officers available for regular police duties.
In August of 1964, the first of four armored trucks was placed in service for use in civil disturbances. One was placed in service in the Cristobal District, while the other three were assigned to the Balboa District. The vehicles were encased in quarter-inch armor plate which made the vehicle extremely heavy and awkward. Under ideal conditions the vehicle could dispense a great deal of tear gas and also afford the crew maiximum protection. However, their extreme bulk made them less than ideal for police use. These vehicles were taken out of service in 1972.
In January 1965 six sergeants were promoted to the rank of lieutenant to serve in the newly established position of shift commanders. This meant that each shift would have a lieutenant shift commander, a sergeant roundsman, a desk sergeant, and the remainder of the platoon composed of police privates.
In February 1967 the emergency recall system was completed. This system allowed the central police station to alert groups of policemen in their homes to come into the station because of a crises or emergency situation. The entire emergency recall system was hooked into the telephone at the officers' residence. This feature relieved the central stations of the job of manually calling in officers on an individual basis. In the years after 1964, political unrest was to become commonplace in the Republic of Panama, and the possibility of it spilling over into the Canal Zone was quite real, as evidenced in the 1964 riots. There was a need for the capability to call large numbers of officers into the station at a moment's notice.
On the evening of October 11, 1968, the government of Arnulfo Arias was overthrown by the Panama National Guard. President Arias and several of his cabinet members were given political refugee status in the Canal Zone. There was a great deal of property damage and loss of life in Panama. Because of the violence, the Canal Zone Police were placed on alert. During the weeks that followed the coup, many other supporters of Arias asked for and were granted ploitical refugee status in the Canal Zone. Throughout this period of delicate international diplomacy., the Canal Zone Police were responsible for the safety of Arias and his followers.
On the morning of December 14, 1969, an attempt was made to overthrow the Government of Panama's strongman, General Omar Torrijos. The coup attempt was headed by National Guard Colonels Ramiro Silvera and Amador Sanjur. General Torrijos, at the time in Mexico, returned to Panama to stop the attempted coup. On June 8, 1970, the two colonels escaped from Panama's Carcel Modelo where they were being confined for their part in the coup. Upon their escape, they fled into the Canal Zone and received political asylum. The colonels later were sent to the United States. However, tension in the Canal Zone heightened as General Torrijos became increasingly critical of the Police Division's role in protecting the lives of his political enemies.
In April of 1970, the drug problem in the Canal Zone had reached epidemic proportions. A significantly high percentage of the Police Division's time was being devoted to narcotics arrests. To combat this new problem a new narcotics section of the Balboa Detective Section was established. Two men were assigned the duties of drug related offenses. In May of 1971, the new Detective Section Annex was officially opened. The Canal Zone Police Detective Section had grown under the influence of Chief Wall, who had served as Chief of Detectives in the Cristobal District during the 1950's. Wall placed a premium on scientific criminal investigatory techniques, and helped improve the equipment available to the Police Division in regards to ballistics, handwriting analysis, and other areas. Upon Wall's insistence, existing crime-scene photographic equipment was updated, and a photography laboratory constructed.
On May 24, 1971, the worst traffic accident in the history of the Canal Zone ocurred when a passenger-filled bus crashed through the guard rail on the east approach of the Thatcher Ferry Bridge. The bus plunged over the guard rail and landed in the La Boca tank farm ninety-nine feet below. Rescue operations carried out by members of the Canal Zone Police and other emergency units helped keep the death toll down to thirty-eight people.
In the months that followed William F. Kessler's appointment to the Chief position, (replacing Charles S. Smith when he retired after thirteen months as the Chief) the Police Division decided to do away with the ten-series code which had been used in previous years. It was replaced by a clear-speech method, clear speech was preferred because it proved effective in avoiding confusion in critical police communications.
The rapidly increasing amount of vehicular traffic passing through the Canal Zone's jurisdiction demanded improved enforcement techniques by the Police Division. In March of 1974, the Canal Zone Police purchased three radar guns.
Though the Canal Zone police had employed radar methods in traffic enforcement for years, the new speed guns were mobile and hand operated. The technological improvement in radar equipment more than doubled the number of speeding violations issued by the Division within a year.
On August 18, 1974, the Canal Zone Police took the initiative to provide the Panama National Guard with a Liaison Office within the Balboa Station. It was hoped that close contact with the National Guard would lead to the exchange of mutual police information and help rebuild relations that had become strained over the years. Captain Guillermo Ferrofino was the National Guardsman named to serve as head of Panama's Liaison Unit.
On July 10, 1975, thirty-six Haitians were found adrift at sea by the M/V Rirruccia. The Haitians were found in a small wooden boat which was unsuited for the number of passengers it was carrying. The M/V Rirruccia picked up the Haitians and brought them to the first port of call, Balboa. Immigration officials met the boat when it arrived at Pier 18. The Haitians refused to get off the boat. After a short time, the Haitians agreed to disembark and were bused to the Corozal Immigration Station. The French Ambassdor to Panama was notified of the situation and immediately made plans to return the refugees to Haiti. A twenty-four hour police guard was placed on the Haitians while they were at the Immigration Station. The police guard was later increased when the Haitians stated that they would not go back to Haiti for fear of political reprisals from their government. However, no escape attempts on the part of the Haitians developed. On July 14, the group was bused to Tocumen International Airport for the flight back to Haiti. Once at Tocumen, the pilot of the BOAC flight refused to take any of the Haitians aboard fearing for the safety of the other passengers. The group was then taken back to the Corozal Immigration Station and other arrangements were begun.
The French Ambassador finally was able to have the Haitians flown out of the Canal Zone's Howard Air Force Base by way of a chartered airplane. This agreement was concluded only after it was stated that a contingent of Canal Zone Police Officers would accompany the Haitians on the flight to ensure its safety. On August 11, 1975, the Haitians were taken to Howard Air Force Base and boarded a chartered COPA flight for Haiti along with fourteen Canal Zone Policemen who accompanied the flight. Once in Haiti, the Haitians were turned over to the authorities and the police officers returned to Panama on the charter flight. A total of 1,028 work hours by the Canal Zone Police were involved in the Haitian affair.
In the early morning hours of December 24, 1975, newsmen from the Republic of Panama were observed filming three fully uniformed members of the Panama National Guard directing traffic in the Canal Zone at the intersection of Gaillard Highway and Frangipani Street. A further check of the boundary line revealed two other National Guardsmen at the National Avenue-President Kennedy Avenue Intersecton. Additionally, four other traffic officers of the Panama National Guard were stationed at traffic control points in Canal Zone territory along the boundary. The National Guardsmen reportedly had been ordered into this unilateral action by Panama's Director of Traffic for the official purpose of expediting the backlog of holiday traffic in the Panama City area. The Guardsmen had also been instructed by their superiors to issue "courtesy citations" to any vehicle bearing Canal Zone license plates committing traffic violations.
Panamanian officials requested permission from the Governor of the Canal Zone to leave the National Guardsmen in place until January 9, 1975, the twelfth anniversary of the 1964 United States/Panama Riots. The National Guard had reportedly received intelligence that leftist students would attempt to march on the Canal Zone to commemorate the tragic event. Panama reasoned that the National Guardsmen would prevent such an attempt from taking place.
A proposal was submitted to the National Guard that was readily accepted. The agreement reached allowed a twenty-four hour joint patrol in the Canal Zone Police's boundary car, and an eleven-hour joint foot patrol at "J" Street and Fourth of July Avenue. It was further agreed that the two National Guardsmen on joint patrol would act only as observers, and were not empowered to perform any law enforcement function in the Canal Zone. They were allowed to carry weapons for their own protection, however. Joint patrol began that day at 3:55 p.m. The idea of joint patrol was extremely unpopular with members of the Canal Zone Police. The operation was hastily planned and contained few guidelines.
Further, the officers felt that joint patrol was another attempt on the part of the Panamanian Government to force the issue of sovereignty over the Canal Zone. The joint-patrol program ended on January 9, 1976, with no apparent success.
During the 1976 United States presidential campaign, the Panama Canal became a major issue. Patriotic fervor swept through communities in the United States where the vast majority of American citizens, when speaking of the Canal, believed, "We bought it, we paid for it, and it's ours!" But, as the idea of Panamanian sovereignty over the Canal Zone had become the basis for the continuation of the Torrijos Government in Panama, there was no realistic way the trends toward a new Panama Canal Treaty could be reversed.
On October 26, 1976, one week prior to the American presidential election, a 1976 Toyota Land Rover parked in the Balboa Retail Store/Commissary parking lot exploded and caught fire at 3:40 p.m. The Land Rover was ripped and torn by the force of the explosion which detonated at the rear of the vehicle in the area of the gas tank. The explosion caused the vehicle to burn due to the rupturing of the gas tank. Two vehicles parked nearby were badly damaged.
Upon request of Chief Kessler, a United States Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team was sent to the scene to examine the vehicles and debris to determine by what means the blast had occurred. After examing the wreckage, a cause for the explosion could not be determined due to the large quantity of water used by Fire Division personnel to extinguish the fires. However, the blast appeared to have been greater than one caused by an ordinary gas tank explosion.
It was raining at the time of the explosion, and one early theory as to the cause of the blast was that lightning had struck the gas tank of the Toyota. The parking lot was crowded wth afternoon shoppers at the time of the incident, but no one reported seeing any sign of lightning. At 1:39 a.m., October 31, 1976, an explosion device was detonated under the rear portion of a 1969 Toyota owned by Police Officer William Drummond. At the time of the explosion, the vehicle was parked unattended in the driveway of Drummond's residence. There were no injuries as a result of the explosion, but moderate property damage occured to Drummond's two privately owned motor vehicles and the front of his residence.
The Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team again was summoned to the scene of the explosion by the Canal Zone Police. A determination made from the evidence collected revealed the explosion was caused by a timed-explosive device detonated by a battery/clock-type mechanism. Although it was never proven, there appeared to be no coincidence that Drummond's home was chosen for the site of the explosion. At the time, Drummond was a Canal Zone labor leader who was highly critical of the proposed treaty. The bombing was believed to be a scare tactic to silence his criticism. With the Drummond bombing, it was evident that the explosions were not isolated cases, but were deliberately set to demonstrate the vulnerability of the Canal Zone's civilian population to armed terrorist attacks.
At 7:25 p,m,. October 31, 1976, the most powerful destructive bombing incident occurred in the parking lot of the Coco Solo Hospital. A series of three separately timed explosions caused three cars in the parking lot to be destroyed. Residents of adjacent buildings were evacuated, and the hospital area sealed off by police units. The investigation showed a total of seven vehicles had been damaged by the explosion. There were no personal injuries. The west entrance to the hospital luncheonette had been blown open. Glass on the main entrance door to the hospital was shattered. Nine windows were broken in a ward used as a nursery. The operating room was temporarily rendered unserviceable. Wreckage from the blast was scattered seventy-five yards about the area.
A small plastic soap dish with a seven-inch partially burned fuse had been fastened by a magnet under a 1964 Buick in the parking lot. As a result of the explosions, a 1967 Chevrolet was turned upside down after the blast. Because of the extreme damage to the hospital, it was estimated that a large quantity of C-4 explosive was used.
About 12:41 a.m., November 1, 1976, on the eve of the United States presidential election, an explosion occured near House 0926 on Amador Road in the Balboa townsite. The bomb caused no personal injuries, and damage was moderate to extensive to the residence. It was believed that the bomb had been thrown from a passing vehicle off an exit ramp of the Thatcher Ferry Bridge which crossed over Amador Road.
Subsequently, all entrances leading into the Canal Zone were manned by Canal Zone Police Officrs. Police Division personnel, who were detailed to twelve-hour shifts, were stationed on the east and west approaches of the Thatcher Ferry Bridge, as well as on its centerspan. Chief Kessler was granted authority by Canal Zone Governor Parfitt to stop and search all vehicles entering the Canal Zone.
After the unprecented enforcement procedures enacted by the Police Division, there were no further instances of bombings in the Canal Zone. At the time, it was unclear if the cessation of terrorist activity resulted from the fear of eventual capture, or was related to the newly elected American Presiden't decision to support the negotiation of a Panama Canal Treaty.
The Carter-Torrijos Treaties of 1977 mandated that the Police Division be phased out of existence at the completion of a thirty-month transition period on March 31, 1982. Law enforcement responsibilities would then be totally assumed by the Panama National Guard, who would assume complete jurisdiction in the areas of the former Canal Zone.
The National Guard began the transition period on October 1, 1979, with one hundred Guardsmen assigned to work with the Police Division, now officially referred to as the Canal Commission Police. In August 1980, the second phase of the transition was completed as one hundred additional National Guardsmen joined Joint Patrol operations. By June 1981, the Joint Patrol entered into its third phase of implementation, as the National Guard increased its personnel to full operating strength. With phase three came the National Guard's patrol vehicles. Only the Canal Commission Police shift commanders and patrol sergeants were able to operate marked Police Division vehicles in the former Canal Zone area.
To logistically support the Joint Patrol operation, office space within the Balboa and Cristobal District Central Stations was relinquished to the National Guard and Panama's National Investigative Unit, the D.E.N.I. Police Headquarters was moved from the former Civil Affairs Building to make space for the National Guard, and transferred to the site of the renovated Balboa Housewares Store.
On March 31, 1982, a simple ceremony was held at the foot of the Administration Building in Balboa to mark the final day of the Police Division's operation. A special commendation from the International Association of Chiefs of Police was presented to the remaining Police Division members in recognition of their significant contribution to law enforcement in the Canal Zone. The commendation read in part:
the Canal Zone Police Division was established in 1904 for the
purpose of preserving the integrity of the United States interest
in an unfamiliar and challenging setting: and
the Canal Zone Police Division has performed its mission for
a period of 77 years, transforming every crisis into an opportunity and
every difficulty into a positive action, meeting its obligations
professionally and loyally: and
the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977 terminated the 1903 Isthmian
Canal Treaty, thereby transferring the Canal Zone to the Republic
of Panama, which will bring to an end the work and responsibility of
the Canal Zone Police Division on March 31, 1982; now therfore, be it
that the International Association of Chiefs of Police does hereby
hail the Canal Zone Police Division for its 77 years of productive,
professional law enforcement activity, and commends it for its
dedicated service, having performed brilliantly in a multicultural,
multilingual, international setting, fraught with perilous times and
laden with salutary experiences . . ."
The Canal Zone community and its police organization yielded to the progressive ideas of the times. The Panama Canal, it was believed, was to be best served through the exercise of jurisdiction by the Republic of Panama over the entire Isthmus. Having outlived its utility to the Isthmian waterway, the Canal Zone Police disappeared from the Panamanian landscape like its former police districts which had been covered by the flood waters that had created the Panama Canal.
Printed in the Canal Record...1983
March 24, 1998