James F. Lynch makes his mark in police work
During the 1930s, Warwick felt the full impact of the Great Depression and the Hurricane of 1938. It also had its share of political problems and confusion. In 1936, while Democrats were sweeping into office on the coattails of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, Warwick was teh exception to the rule. It selected a young Republican, Albert P. Ruerat as mayor over the Democratic incumbent, John O'Brien.
It was, however, an extremely close election with charges of fraud and chicanery concerning the election ballots. Eventually, Ruerat appealed to the Superior Court to decide the results. He won the election by a scant 549 votes. Ruerat went on to become a very popular mayor. He was successful in the next five elections and in his sixth bid for the chief executive post in Warwick, he won by a plurality of 4,335 votes.
When Ruerat was elected to office in 1936, Warwick was regarded by many as a "wide-open town". The police force, despite some positive changes by former Mayor O'Brien, was held in very low esteem. Warwick was known more for its speakeasies gangsters, gambling houses, and political chicanery than for its record as a well-administered city. Warwick was regarded as an "economic catastrophe," and the mayor's salary was a mere $1,250, and his job was regarded as a "part-time" service. It was not until after World War II, when Warwick began to emerge as a unified city rather than a string of villages, that improvements in the police force began to make definite strides.
One of the men who played an active role in seeing the police emerge to a potent force was James F. Lynch, grandson of the almost legendary High Sheriff Michael B. Lynch. In 1935, when Police Chief Henry Ledoux was removed from office by Mayor O'Brien, James Lynch began his career as a permanent member of the force. The police department when he first came on was so small and rural, that officers walking the beat had to carry nickels with them to make a call from a public telephone in order to report to headquarters.
James F. Lynch's police career did not approach that of his famous grandfather in longevity, but it did span a period of over thirty years. James Lynch's career began shortly after Warwick became a city, continued through the difficult times of the Depression, the Hurricane of 1938, World War II, Hurricane Carol and the years of rapid growth in the 1950's and early 1960's. After serving as a patrolman for four years, James Lynch, in 1939, was promoted to sergeant. In 1953, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. While he was happy with the promotion, he regretted the fact that he had to give up the use of his motorcycle.
A major turning point came in his career when he was made Deputy Chief under Forrest Sprague. That position had remained vacant since 1945 and was an indication of the growth of the Warwick Police Department by the 1950's. Lynch's administrative duties were expanded in April 1959, when the police force underwent a major reorganization. Lynch was given the task of running all the platoons and the detective division as well. In December 1959, Lynch was named Chief of Police by Mayor Raymond E. Stone. In an article written in 1959 concerning his career as a police officer, Lynch cited as some of his most memorable experiences the pursuit of a young man who had murdered his mother and father, police actions take during the textile strikes, and his role in helping to suppress the Newport Jazz festival riots.
In addition to his police work, for more than half the time he served on the force, Lynch was also known as the man who owned the building his grandfather knew as Mike Carroll's Shamrock Cafe. Instead of running the establishment as a tavern, Lynch made it an ice-cream parlor and it became a popular gathering place for Warwick's teenagers in the critical period following World War II. Lynch owned the building at 1331 Greenwich Avenue from 1948 until 1964.
When Lynch retired in 1963, U.S. Congressman John E. Fogarty called him "one of the most practical police chiefs I have known." Former Mayor Raymond E. Stone said Lynch was "a real tough cop when he had to be but a kitten when the circumstances required." Both Stone and former Mayor Horace E. Hobbs gave Lynch credit for making the office of chief of police one of the most responsible and respected positions in Warwick city government and for making the Warwick police department respected throughout the state.