SEBRING When Rooter Rush visited the Sebring Police Department decades ago as a teenager it wasn’t his choice back then. He recalled Wednesday he got in trouble for mischief involving sprinklers and minor alcohol law violations.
Those visits to the Police Department, he said, were enough to send him on a different path.
And when he entered the Police Department Wednesday, he did so voluntarily. Rush was one of dozens of people who attended the Police Department’s 100-year celebration that included a memorial celebration for fallen officers in Florida and specifically those in Highlands County. Sgt. Jimmy Roger Moore, who died during an automobile accident on June 30, 1976, was the only Sebring office to die in the line of duty.
Records at the Sebring Historical Society indicate the Sebring Police Department is a far cry from the law enforcement in Sebring that began in 1913 with a town marshal.
The first town marshal earned $5 a month, but that was eventually increased to $40 a month, according to “The Way it Was,” a book written by Alan Altvater Sr.
Not only did the marshals watch for crime, but they also maintained the areas between the sidewalks and the streets, impounded cattle and swine that escaped fences and collected trash deposited in trash cans along the streets, Altvater wrote.
Sebring did not have a police chief until 1925 when William “Lotus” McCullough was hired, staying in that position for a year.
Altvater noted that in the 1950s the Police Department stopped depending on foot patrols and started making more use of patrol cars.
The current Police Department has been housed in a former post office since 1972. It was previously part of the City Hall, then located on North Commerce Street, near the circle.
But at least as of the early 1940s, the Police Department didn’t have an actual building, according to The Historian, a bulletin published in 1993 by the Sebring Historical Society. An article written by Henry Mitchell in the January 1993 edition said that the Police Station consisted of a telephone with loud bell on a light post.
“The policeman usual sat nearby in the police car,” Mitchell wrote. “If there was no answer, the telephone operator would take a message or call the policeman’s home in emergencies.”
But apparently by the 1960s, the department had grown significantly. Historical pieces indicate the 1990s were one of the most turbulent periods during the department’s history. When Robert Glick became police chief in 1991, he strictly enforced the department’s code of conduct, resulting in the firing or resignations of five officers according to an article by Carol Goad, archivist at the Sebring Historical Society.
The city also combined the Sebring fire and police departments, with Glick becoming public safety director. However, after Thomas Dettman became public safety director in 1998, the public voted in 1999 to separate the departments and Dettman became police chief, the position he presently holds, the article said.
Dettman said he believes the Police Department of today has fine officers who do good jobs.
During a program to mark the anniversary, Mayor George Hensley said the officers are known for helping people.
Among the attendees of the 100th year anniversary ceremony who talked was Mary Curl, the widow of Lonnie Curl, who served as police chief from 1959 to 1972 and died in 2006.
Mary Curl said she recalls the Police Department moving into the former police office. She said she also remembered that during her husband’s tenure, the only route to and from the Sebring International Raceway was Kenilworth Boulevard and that four officers were busy handling traffic. She said she was would make coffee for the officers.