In 1794, the first organized police force in New Bedford was created to protect against theft. The men were called Watchmen and protected businesses and gardens. The group was named the Bedford Association.

As New Bedford grew, largely in part to its whaling industry, so did the need for a more organized police force. In 1824, the Bedford Association became the Night Watch. Their primary focus became preventing robberies in the businesses.

In 1847 the village of New Bedford was officially incorporated. The need for a more organized policing force led to the Night Watch becoming police constables led by Henry Hathaway. Henry Hathaway is more famous for helping John Boyle O’Reilly escape a penal colony in Western Australia in 1869. Learn more here.

From 1847 to 1876, the constables patrolled the city at night protecting the businesses. In 1876 the New Bedford Police Department was officially formed. Hathaway became the department’s first police chief. It consisted of 26 regular officers, and 83 part time officers.

The Police Department has been housed in many different areas of the city since its inception. The first police station, as with many others, was given to the police department after being used for different purposes.

Many of the departments’ stations started their lives as libraries, schools, townhouses, banks, even a grocery store. Today the department operates out of four main buildings in different sections of the city.