Coal and Iron Police

The police force was constituted as a local unit of the Coal and Iron Police. For the most part, the police force over the years consistently was John (Big John) Sifranski and Paul Peple. These were mounted policemen.

As the name implied, the Coal and Steel operators as their own specialized law enforcement agency used the Coal and Iron Police. Prior to 1905, law enforcement in Pennsylvania rested with the counties and the elected sheriff was the primary law enforcement officer. The case was made by the coal and iron operators for additional protection of their property and in 1865 the Pennsylvania State legislature authorized the establishment of the Coal and Iron Police. Beginning in 1866 their use became common. This police force was supposedly to protect property, however in practice the companies used them as strikebreakers. The coal miners called them "Cossacks" and "Yellow Dogs."   According to Margaret Mulrooney, Colver residents called them "Pussyfoots" and "Gestapo"

However from what we can gather, neither Paul nor "Big John" was ostracized by the community. Antecedents abound where the teen-age boys would slip up and smack their horses or ring the bell on the fire department tower on Halloween. Paul in particular was rather large and the boys nicknamed him "Fatty Arbuckle" after a movie comedian of the era.

The proper channel for the establishment of the Coal and Iron Police was that the Governor of Pennsylvania authorized the creation of a local agency and they were directly administered from the office of the Governor. These local forces derived their law enforcement powers through the office of the county Sheriff. The operators then created their own local force using the governor's commission and paid them directly. During periods of labor unrest these local Coal and Iron police would be augmented by the hiring of additional policemen, usually from outside the area. In a July 25, 1922 article dealing with Colver, The Johnstown Tribune noted that additional Coal and Iron Police were hired during the strike. In Colver these additional police were furnished by a private security agency (we don't know the agency), but B. Dawson Coleman indicated so. It appears that there was some dissention on the part of the local Coal and Iron police over pay and Coleman was questioned over this. According to the paper his response was that the police came through a private agency and the Coal Company paid the agency and what the agency paid the police was of no concern of his.

In 1905, the lack of state wide law enforcement was remedied by the creation of the Pennsylvania State Police. The stated purpose was to act as fire, forest, game and fish wardens, and to protect the farmers, but some observers felt that it really was to serve the interests of the Coal and Iron operators. The same legislation created a "trespassing offense" that wherever a warning sign was displayed; a person could be arrested and fined ten dollars. This was seen as a direct assault on picketing.

In 1931, the then Governor Pichot revoked all outstanding commissions for private police forces and refused to issue new ones which effectively ended the industrial police system in Pennsylvania. We can only surmise the reason for the revocation, but it could have been as a direct result of the excesses of these police forces. Another explanation is that Governor Pichot was a three-time governor, but his terms were not consecutive. He was defeated in his 1926 campaign support of the coal and steel operators and the resulting revocation may have some elements of a political payback. A third reason could have been that given the ascendancy of the labor movement in the 1930's it was a political gesture to the labor movement.



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