State Capitol Police Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

Author: Clyde Roper

The first five State Capitol Police Officers in 1967. Left to right: Needham Wilder, Ray Benson, Chief Ray Sorrell, Linwood Carter and Tommy Williams.

State Capitol Police Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

This month the State Capitol Police celebrated its 50th anniversary, reaching the historic milestone of half a century of service to the people of North Carolina and state officials, employees and visitors.

The force was created following a budget request from Governor Dan K. Moore in 1967. Governor Moore was acting upon the recommendation of General Services Director Lawrence Watts, Jr. Watts had seen a need for improved security at state facilities that was highlighted after a rash of vandalism and thefts occurred at state parking lots.

The General Assembly appropriated $34,704 for each year of the 1967-68 biennium to establish a State Capitol Police Force to patrol state government facilities in Raleigh and to supervise the operation and security of state government parking lots. The new force’s first chief was Ray Sorrell, formerly the chief of police in Garner. Chief Sorrell’s first day on the job was August 13, 1967. He served as the head of what was originally a seven-man force. News reports at the time stressed the new force would be a professional police department staffed by experienced officers with “standard police equipment and vehicles.”

Prior to the formation of the State Capitol Police, the state relied on a force of security guards (or night watchmen, as they were then called) who provided security after regular business hours. After the State Capitol Police Force was created, 18 security guards remained a part of the force. They provided a security presence when the uniformed police officers were not on duty.

Originally a part of Watts’ General Services Division of the Department of Administration, the force was first headquartered on the ground level of the East Administration Building on East Jones Street. In those early days, routine duties for officers included patrolling approximately 30 state-owned buildings (including the Capitol and Governor’s Mansion) and investigating petty larceny, breaking and entering and vandalism crimes. SCP Officers were also charged with investigating car crashes on state property.

Now retired, Ray Sorrell says being the agency’s first chief was one of the great honors of his long law enforcement career.

Back in 1967, just a few weeks into the job, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to observe United States Capitol Police operations. Sorrell met with their chief, who assigned a lieutenant to work with him and who showed the tar heel how they did things in the nation’s capital. Sorrell says he learned much from the experience that was helpful to him when he returned home to his brand new police department.

“We started it from scratch. I didn’t even have an office…I didn’t have anything. [I] Just took it one step at a time. You got one thing fixed and situated and then moved on to something else,” Sorrell recently recalled.

Today, Sorrell remembers the high points, like providing crowd control and security for the Apollo 11 Fifty-State Tour, as well as the many challenges that came with the job. With duties ranging from the oversight of thousands of state parking spaces to providing security at rock concerts and the state fair, the officers of the new State Capitol Police always had plenty of work to keep them busy. “It was a job every day, seven days a week,” according to Sorrell. “I’m proud that we were able to be there to do it.”

Next month, the State Capitol Police will host a reception in honor of its anniversary and will invite retirees, former officers and administrative personnel to help them celebrate the historic occasion.

“The men and women of the State Capitol Police are proud to carry on a tradition of professional, dedicated service that began 50 years ago this month,” said Chief Glen Allen. “We will always strive to honor and remember those who served before us while never forgetting our primary mission of providing a safe and secure environment for employees and visitors to the State Government Complex and at the other state-owned properties we patrol.”

Copyrighted image from The News & Observer; copy courtesy of Mae Thompson Carpenter

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