Department History

Where We Are & Where We Came From
On 1 July 2013, the Woburn Police Department consisted of about 100 people.The law enforcement staff consisted of a Chief of Police, 3 Captains, 7 Lieutenants, 9 Sergeants, 54 Police Officers, and 19 Reserve Police Officers. The department was assisted by 5 full time administrative staffers and a custodian. There were two part time administrative staffers, a part time Parking Ticket clerk and a part time False Alarm Billing clerk. The department had a full time and a part time Animal Control Officer. There were three part time prisoner monitor / matrons. The Police Department also supervised 26 School Crossing Guards.

According the Annual Fiscal Year Report for the year that ended 30 June 2013, the Woburn Police Department logged almost 37,000 events, sought court action against 1,067 people, held 70 intoxicated people in Protective Custody, issued about 5,900 traffic tickets and 1,200 parking tickets.There were 1,002 UCR reportable crimes.

The population of Woburn is estimated to be slightly above 40,000. Until the recent economic slowdown, it was estimated that the daytime population of Woburn was over 80,000.

The First 200 Years
It took a while for Woburn’s Police Department to get to its 2013 size and activity level. Woburn was settled in 1640, incorporated as a town in 1642 and incorporated as a city in 1889. Woburn went for more than 200 years without a Police Department. Woburn was primarily rural, and it’s citizens quiet, industrious and proper. Woburn was a dry town, and liquor could only be purchased from the town’s Liquor Agent, and then only for medicinal purposes. The town was about to change, as was the entire United States, with the first of several immigration waves. The Irish were coming.

The Police Department is Formed

Woburn’s first attempt to start a Police Department, to consist of six “suitable, discreet, and efficient persons” was voted down at a town Meeting in 1848. Records indicate that no one was appointed to fill the positions. It seems that the uproar created in August of 1847 by a burglary into a private bank and the theft of the contents of the safe may have been the catalyst for the idea of a Police Department. Although there was a private “night watch” service available for a fee, there was no publicly funded police service until 1851, when town reports indicated that one man was paid for police services. Two more men were added the next year and by 1855 there were ten men, all part time and appointed annually by the selectmen. The first Chief of Police was appointed in 1861, and formally named Chief in 1863. In 1864, members of the department were not allowed to consume alcohol, either on duty or off. There were 101 arrests reported and the majority for alcohol related offenses. It was the war against alcohol and it’s effects that would play a large part in the history of the department until the middle of the 1900s.

The Irish immigrants labored in the growing leather tanning industry and shoe factories, and settled in Woburn. They relaxed differently than the original Woburn residents and alcohol was part of their relaxation. The immigrants lived in several areas of the town, and to aid the department in it’s efforts, cells were added in the firehouses that were in those different neighborhoods. Police Department efforts focused on illegal bars, bootlegging, disorderly conduct and domestic related events. The Woburn Center area was a bustling commercial area of shops, banks and churches. The town was run by the Board of Selectmen, which began to change in 1881 when the first man of Irish blood was elected. Shortly afterwards, Irish names began to appear on the roster of the department.

In 1895 Chief McDermott reported that the department had arrested slightly more than 900 persons, and that two thirds of the arrests were related to alcohol.

Woburn Becomes a City

In 1889, Woburn incorporated as a city. In the 1890s, the first standardized uniform for the department was adopted. It included a long outer coat, a badge on the left chest, and a British “bobby” style helmet. The department moved into a wood frame building in Woburn Center which included 11 cells. The building was shared with the District Court, and was next to the City Hall, which was also a wooden building.

By the early 1900s, the Irish immigrants were joined with more European immigrants. The Irish were still coming and but were joined by immigrants from Italy, Greece, and the Scandinavian countries. By 1908 the department consisted of a Chief of Police, one Lieutenant and 14 Patrolmen.

In 1908, the department had it’s routine of small city policing shaken, when the department was alerted to watch for three men who had committed a crime in Billerica, a town to the north. The three suspects were observed getting off a trolley, and were followed on foot along Common Street and then Main Street by Patrolmen Walsh, O’Neil and Fountain. When the men reached Church Street near the Congregational Church they were ordered to stop. Instead, they turned and fired at the officers. Walsh and O’Neil were struck by bullets, and the men fled. Two ran into a residential area followed by the unscathed Officer Fountain and the third man fled in a different direction. As they fled, the men shot two citizens, one a 12 year old boy who was returning home after skating on nearby Horn Pond. Two of the men were captured in a nearby town, and the third was never caught.

The department remained at about 15 members into the 1920s. Among those hired around 1920 was Charles McCauley, who would later serve as Chief. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, it was reported that members of some police departments in the area refused to deal with the sick or the dead. The Woburn Police continued to provide help to anyone in need. It was noted that in 1920 the annual salary for the Chief of Police was $2,865, a Sergeant was $2,300 and a Patrolman was $2,100. A Reserve Patrolman was paid an hourly rate of 65 cents.

The Depression Years
In 1930, the city began a new City Hall building, on the location of the old town hall and police buildings. The new facility was opened in the fall of 1931. The Police Department occupied the basement of the new building. There was a state of the art communications desk, a locker room, garage for department vehicles and indoor pistol range.

Along with the new building came a new mayor. William Kane is still a legend for those who lived in Woburn during his many years as mayor. He ran on a platform of lower taxes and “shaking up City Hall”. Kane did not plow the streets or sidewalks after snow storms, as a tax saving measure. He ordered a horse drawn iron cage to be built. The cage was going to be used (it appears that it was never actually placed into service) to display people arrested for drunken driving and other alcohol related offenses. He also created a WPD mounted unit that became known as “Kane’s Cavalry”. The horses were old draught horses for the city owned poor farm, and staffed by older and larger police officers. Kane also was sued by the entire WPD (and the Fire department) for failure to pay wages.

The Baby Boom Years
Following World War 2, returning veterans began change Woburn. They came back, married, and contributed to the Baby Boom. As Woburn began to grow, so did the roster of the department. During July of 1951, a new Chief of Police was appointed. The command staff consisted of three lieutenants and three sergeants. The department had been staffed by men who predominately of Irish descent. When the new chief was appointed, the first officer of Italian descent, Albert Metrano, was appointed the same day.

Until the late 1960s, there was no police academy. Officers were issued two badges, one for the hat and one for the shirt, a .38 caliber revolver and six bullets. Training consisted of advice and suggestions from older command staff officers, and veteran patrolmen if the older patrolman liked you. New officers were assigned to walking beats. Those beats included as many as five in a bustling Woburn Center, several beats in outlying areas, and even a foot beat in a railyard located just off the Center. The few patrol cars were two door vehicles painted black and white. The Police Department also provided ambulance service to the city, and was manned by the officers who were walking the two foot beats closest to the police station. Before radios were made available to the foot patrol officers, a police call box system was in place throughout the city, with lights or horns to alert the beat officer to call. The foot beats would slowly be phased out, and by the mid 1980s the only foot patrols were in Woburn Square.

In January of 1961, the first African-American, John Fields, was appointed to the department. The department purchased its first traffic radar unit in 1963, and Officer Fields would become famous (some speeders might say infamous) as its operator for most of his career.

The 1970s

Woburn was affected, as was all of the country, by the unrest of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The disrespect and distrust of authority, drug use and other society changes all effected Woburn. A small group of young adults created turmoil that lasted several years. This group comprised of late teenagers and early to mid twenty year olds were involved in a series of arson and fire bombings. Eventually 21 people would be charged for the fire bombings of public and private property. A key witness to the case went missing, and in 1972 the man’s arm and shoulder were found in the local dump. The rest of his body was never found, and the case remains open. Guns involved in crimes, once rare, became more common.

During 1970 the department’s organization changed as it continued to grow, as the rank of Captain was added. That year, three Captains were appointed from the ranks of the Lieutenants. That year also saw the formation of the police union in the city. The department continued to change, to reflect the times and the citizens of Woburn. The first Hispanic officers, Jose Rodriquez and Paul Lucero were appointed in 1974. The department added its first female officer in August of 1978 when Sharon McMichaels was appointed as a reserve officer. McMichaels would later resign as a reserve officer to return to private industry. Elizabeth Higgins, currently serving as a detective was appointed in 1985 as a reserve officer and a regular officer in 1987.

During the mid 1980s, it became apparent that the police station that was state of the art in 1931 was obsolete. The city began researching designs and costs and eventually approved a new facility. The building that currently houses the Woburn Police Department was formally opened during September 1990. The department moved from about 2,500 square feet into almost 30,000.

Today the department tries to keep pace with the times. The department has been accredited since 2006, and was just re-accredited in June of 2011. Our computer system allows cruiser officers access to information our predecessors could not imagine. The 911 system can localize the location a cell phone caller to about 100 feet. Officers are regularly trained, and even reserve officers receive training to a level that would amaze the officers appointed as recently as 1980. We have highly trained detectives, crash reconstruction officers, and officers with other specialty training. If there is an issue that we do not have the manpower or resources to deal with, we are a member of a regional police group that has pooled officers and resources.

From it’s first day more than 150 years ago all the way up to this moment, the Woburn Police Department has done one thing – Protect and Serve.

Sad News
Since our inception in 1848, the Woburn Police Department had been fortunate in that no officer had been killed in the line of duty. That long run of good fortune ended on December 26, 2010, around 9 p.m.

Officer John B. “Jack” Maguire, a veteran officer of 34 years service, was shot and killed.

During the height of a blizzard, a career criminal with a long and violent record went into a department store to rob the jewelry counter at gunpoint. The man held a gun to several clerks and forced them to open a safe. The robber took a large amount of jewelry and then fled outside into the snowstorm. Several witnesses and store employees called 911 and Officer Maguire, another officer and a patrol sergeant were dispatched. The three police officers had just cleared from another call in the area, and each was close to the department store. The first officer on scene saw the man fleeing, radioed for assistance and chased the gunman on foot.

Officer Maguire, seeing the direction of the foot pursuit, drove his cruiser to a location to prevent the escape of the gunman into a residential area. Officer Maguire got out of his cruiser on Washington Street. Shots were exchanged and Officer Maguire was struck with several shots. His shots struck and killed the gunman. Officer Maguire was attended to by the patrol sergeant and the Woburn and Reading Fire departments before being transported to a local trauma center. He was pronounced dead shortly afterward. The lookout for the gunman and the driver of the getaway car were arrested in the area.

Officer Maguire was appointed to the Woburn Police Department on June 26, 1977. He was sworn in by his father, Police Chief Thomas Maguire, and wore Badge 23 which had been his father’s badge number.

Officer Maguire had celebrated his 60th birthday three days before his death, and had given notice of his intention to retire in October 2011.

Officer Maguire is survived by his wife and three adult children.


The information here was taken from two sources.

Local historian John D. McElhiney has provided us with his police-related research notes gathered for his book, Woburn – A Past Observed (Sonrel Press, 2000). The notes and the book were used as resources.

In 2008, the Woburn Historical Society produced a DVD on the history of the department that is rich in old photographs and interviews with WPD retirees. The DVD is narrated by Mr. McElhiney and interviews are conducted by Kathy Lucero, both Woburn Historical Society members.

We are deeply grateful for their permission to use their materials in creating this brief history.