History of the Bradenton Police Department
History of the Bradenton Police Department

The City of Bradenton Police Department was formed in 1903 when Mr. W.S. Young doubled as the City Fire Marshall and Sanitation Inspector for the salary of $60 per month. He remained chief until 1918 when he left to serve in World War I. The Department has a rich history - starting from its rural beginning and growing into a modern full-service police agency. The Department currently has 120 sworn officers with additional support staff of over 30 civilian employees and volunteers.
                        officers in 1930s

Chief Clyde Benton began his career at the department as a motorcycle officer in 1926. He was sworn in as chief a few years later in 1932. His tenure was marked by a focus on the prevention of auto accidents and crime in an era of county growth. He also had a mind for modernization. While he was chief, Bradenton became one of the first towns in Florida to train its officers in fingerprinting and crime detection. The department was also one of the first to install radio equipment for 24-hour instant contact between patrol cars and the station. He believed in making officers visible at schools, directing traffic and participating in school programs and large social gatherings. Additionally, he started a program which made available an escort to any citizen who felt intimidated during trips to the polls during elections, which was credited with improving relations between local law enforcement and the African-American community at the time. Of note, during World War II, the department staff decreased to only two or three officers who worked six and seven days a week. Chief Benton retired in 1955.

BrittChief Mack Britt started his law enforcement career in 1936 as chief of the County Patrol, the forerunner of the state highway patrol. When the legislature created the Florida Highway Patrol in 1939, Britt was chosen from among 5,000 applicants to join the 31-man unit. He then convinced the state that the perfect place to train the troopers was in Bradenton. They did their drilling in a field where the Police Department currently stands, and they practiced motorcycle riding at what is now LECOM Field. Britt remained with the FHP until 1955, moving up the ranks to captain and troop commander. He then accepted the job as Chief of Police for Bradenton and served as Chief for a force of 24 officers until 1960. It was also at this time that the police department moved to a brand new building off of the Manatee River, complete with a reception center and lobby, dispatch center, and municipal court room. Still the headquarters for the department, the Bradenton Police building is named for Chief Britt, under Clyde Gill’s recommendation.

Upon retiring, Chief Britt intensely tested the four lieutenants under his command. After receiving top marks, Harry Wilkison was sworn in as the new Chief of Police. Earlier in his life, Wilkison served in the Coast Guard from 1933 to 1948, later joining the department in 1951 as a patrolman. While serving as Chief, he established civil service tests for all employees, created a new detective division, and procured the department’s first polygraph machine.
                                                       Old building and vehicles
During his tenure, Chief Clyde Gill formulated an idea for the creation of a new specialized unit to be deployed in high-risk, emergency situations, aligning with a relatively new concept in policing at the time. As such, after months of development and testing, BPD’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team was formed in December of 1976 and consisted of five members: Lieutenant Dick Ference, Sergeant Jim Price, Detective Butch Delhagen, and Patrolmen Eddie Rigsby and Larry Dellaposta. The formation of the team coincided with the airing of a new primetime television show, but the team members were quick to stop any comparison between SWAT and the eponymous program. “The tv show just makes the team look glamorous and easy. That’s just not the way it is”. (Delhagen)

former officers
In January of 1978, Valerie Ester became the department’s first female uniformed officer under Chief Lawrence Diehl. A former bus driver, she was one of two women in her academy’s graduating class.

Chief Charlie Wells joined the City of Bradenton Police Department and stayed with Bradenton until he was elected Sheriff of Manatee County in 1985. During his time as Chief, the Department established official Narcotics, K-9, School Resource Officer, and Marine Units.

Prior to his time at BPD, Chief Vito “Vic” Badalamenti served honorably in the US Air Force, then as a New York state trooper for 21 years. He joined the department in 1980 and was selected to Chief five years later.

Chief Daniel Thorpe worked for BPD for over 20 years, the last six as Chief, and was well-known in the city for holding his frequent “Chief’s In” meetings in parking lots and along roadsides, where he and other officers would grill hot dogs for residents and afford them an opportunity to foster community relationships by answering their questions and concerns. “I could sit downtown in my office all day and get phone calls, or stand out here and talk to hundreds of people”. – Chief Thorpe

Albert Hogle served briefly as Chief, following a 28 year career as a narcotics officer with the Sarasota Police Department, where he eventually served as Commissioner and Mayor of the City of Sarasota. Following his brief tenure in Bradenton, Chief Hogle served as the Chief of the Longboat Key Police Department. He was known as a calm, caring, laid-back leader who always made time for anyone who needed him. While at BPD, Chief Hogle initiated the Safe Streets program, revamped the Narcotics Unit, and created an oversight team to manage hiring and ethics issues.
Chief Michael “Razz” Radzilowski began his career as an officer with the Washington DC Police Department in 1970. Over the next 31 years, he moved through the ranks before coming to Bradenton as Chief. He initially planned to run the department for two or three years, then retire. Instead, he served as Chief for 13 years. Chief Radzilowski and the department focused on a community policing philosophy in order to foster a positive relationship with residents and officers, which was credited with helping the crime rate drop 69 percent under his administration.

Melanie Bevan became the Chief of the Bradenton Police Department in February of 2016. In her time so far, the department has focused further on engagement with the community and partnering with special interest groups. This community-oriented policing strategy also includes increasing police presence at neighborhood watch meetings and a new “Walkin’ the Beat” program, in which officers patrol their zones on foot. Additionally, having earned a doctorate in organizational leadership herself, Chief Bevan has emphasized the importance of higher education and advanced training in her personnel.

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