Detective Hussey continues to provide glimpses into the sometimes 'off center' world of Law Enforcement.
James Thileson had come to work for the City of Lakeland's Department of Police in the late forties. Jim's family was one of the few that had founded Polk County. Jim's father fought in France in World War One, and lived to tell about it. Jim graduated from the old Lakeland School and joined the Navy during World War Two. He fought valiantly in the south pacific and was decorated for his bravery. When the war ended and Jim was discharged, there was never any question that he would return home. One of Jim's brothers had become a city firefighter. The pay was pretty good and the job had good benefits and a real future.
Jim had always been his own man though, and when he saw an ad in the local newspaper for police officers, he decided that it could be right up his alley. The am radio was abuzz with news of J. Edgar Hoover and his G-Men, and a radio show called "Dragnet" with Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday was very popular. Law enforcement was seen as a glamorous profession. Jim took the test for police officer, passed it and was given a job as a beat policeman downtown.
There were no backup units and no police radios in those days. When the police station, located in the fire department downtown on Cedar Street had a call for an officer, they would flip a switch in the office, which in turn would light a red light, located on a power pole downtown.
When the officer walked by and noticed that the light had been lit, he would go to the pole, unlock the call box with his key, and pick up the telephone receiver. The phone would ring automatically at police headquarters and the officer would be dispatched to the call.
Thileson worked his way up through the ranks and by the time the late sixties had rolled around, he had reached the rank of Captain. As the nineteen-seventies arrived, Jim's health was failing. He had heart problems and diabetes. He could no longer conduct his duties as captain and as a personal favor to his lifelong friend, the then also ailing Chief of Police, Leo Brooker, promoted Thileson to the rank of Inspector. It was a new rank and one that had never been used before. It has not been used since.
Jim's position was kind of a general assistant to the chief. He attended city commission meetings, made sure maintenance on the new Police building at 20 Lake Wire Drive got done, and in the words of some of the officers, "He should hold the rank of General because all he does is walk around being a general nuisance to everyone."
As Inspector, Thileson's illness worsened, so did his demeanor. He would stop people and chastise them for their haircuts, he would follow guys around and catch them leaving their zone or stopping for coffee, and he would just be plain nasty to everyone. Many a rookie would be screamed at for no apparent reason by the inspector. Whatever good things he had done as a young cop, had been forgotten. Most of the new guys called him "the old asshole" behind his back. Everybody hated him. He was just taking up space.
In 1974, the inspector was diagnosed with terminal cancer and went home for good. The road cops, who are known for being unforgiving, asked if anyone knew where the cancer had come from...perhaps they could get some for some of the other administrators.
In November of 1974, there was a new Chief in town. Herbert William Straley had come from somewhere up North and by all account was a little crazy. He was in the habit of firing the messenger who brought him bad news, and many an unsuspecting cop has been the recipient of an "ass chewing" for something he had no clue he had done. You just didn't tell the Chief he was wrong.
Once he was on his way to work and called the station on the police radio. "One," the voice bellowed across the radio.
"Go ahead, unit one," the rookie dispatcher replied.
"Patch me through to the Sheriff!"
"I'm sorry Chief, but we don't have those capabilities."
"You're fired!" the Chief screamed. "Now get me someone who can do what I want."
Another dispatcher ended up calling the Sheriff on the telephone and holding the receiver next to the keyed mike so the Chief could yell at the Sheriff. His reputation was well known.
Also in November, Sergeant Andy Yatchesky was working internal affairs out of the office of the Chief of Police. Andy was growing accustomed to the chief's daily tirades and was always looking for a way to get on his good side. Officer Billy Hyatt knew that the Sergeant would love some information that no one else had. Billy formulated a plan.....
To be continued ... come back next week.