Within our Craft, it is universally accepted that a man is first made a Mason in his heart. I am certainly no exception, however before I was ever made a Mason, I was a cop. I joined the Cranston, Rhode Island Police Department in 2004 as a rookie patrolman, and remain working there today as a detective assigned to the department’s Special Victims Unit. After joining Harmony Lodge #9 F&AM in Cranston, Rhode Island in 2010, I was quickly struck by the similarities between Freemasonry and law enforcement— both advocate its members practice moral rectitude, be fair in their dealings with others, treat people as equals, and keep their passions and behavior within acceptable boundaries. Two Brotherhoods not unalike. And it is because of the teachings and philosophies that Freemasonry and law enforcement share that I always sought out places where the two would intersect, and I often reflect on ways I can apply my Masonic working tools to my vocation. I found this to be the “light” of which I was in search.
That “light” shined a little brighter in January 2019, when I was reading through a Cranston Police Department Retirees Association newsletter that was distributed amongst the department’s active members. I happened upon a short article written by retired Cranston Police Sergeant and historian James Ignasher about a Cranston Police Chief’s badge engraved with the Masonic square and compass on its back. This was astounding to me, in that while I enjoyed a multitude of times where my profession and the Craft would converge, none ever incorporated my own police department. The detective in me took over, and I needed to find out more.
City of Cranston Police Department
Note the difference in style of the badge being worn and the Masonic badge.
The badge, it turns out, belonged to James G. Miller (1876-1941), whose career with the Cranston Police spanned over four decades. Before Cranston was formally incorporated as a city and had a municipal police force, it was an agricultural town of about 1,500 residents patrolled by a variety of constables working under the supervision of an elected Town Sergeant. Miller, who was born and raised in the Blackstone area of Massachusetts, worked as one of these constables beginning in the late 1890s, and when the city did officially establish its police force in 1910, Miller was one of the original ten patrolmen sworn into it. By 1912, Miller was serving as the department’s first detective.
Three years later, in 1915, Detective James Miller became Brother James Miller, as he joined Doric Lodge #38 in Cranston (Initiated: February 10, 1915; Passed: May 12, 1915; Raised: May 26, 1915; and Signed By-Laws: June 9, 1915).
Some fourteen years after signing the Doric Lodge #38 by-laws, Brother Miller completed his accession through the ranks of the police department, and in 1929 he was named as the sixth Chief of the Cranston Police. During his tenure as the city’s top cop, Brother Miller was known for his compassion and innovated, forward thinking. There are practices put in place by Brother Miller that are still used to this day.
Which now brings us to his Chief’s badge with the square and compass. Based on what is known of the Cranston Police during the period of Brother Miller’s time as Chief, the pictured badge did not fit the specifications set forth by the city or police department. The inconsistent styling of this badge vis-à-vis what was issued to and worn by members of the Cranston Police at that time would lead one to believe that the Masonic badge was what is commonly referred to as a “presentation badge,” or a gift not necessarily meant for every day wear, but for display or as a keepsake.
Armed with that knowledge, this detective was led to the voluminous archives of Doric Lodge #38, which are now maintained by Harmony Lodge #9, in search of any evidence of when or why this badge was presented to Brother Chief Miller. Much to my dismay, after a long and thorough search through the minutes and records of Doric Lodge from 1929 to 1941, I did not locate any entry that would allude to the badge being presented to him in or by his own lodge. And with no discernible markings on the badge by its craftsman, its origins remain somewhat mysterious.
Death Notice of James Miller recorded in the minutes of Doric Lodge #38 (with a misprint of the actual date of death).
Note the short biography, which was out of the ordinary for death notices recorded in the lodge minutes during that period.
Brother James Miller’s name amongst other brethren in the Doric Lodge #38 necrology from 1941. Again, note the distinction of his time as Police Chief.
My search for light, however, was not entirely fruitless. I did locate an entry in the records of Doric Lodge commemorating the death of Brother Miller. Unlike the other death announcements in the lodge records around the time of Brother Miller’s death, his entry was accompanied by a short biography: “Brother Miller was appointed to the Cranston Police as a special patrolman in 1898 and was later appointed to the regular force and in 1913 became the departments [sic] inspector in charge of all investigations. In January 1929, he became chief of the Department and served as such until his death.” The uniqueness of this entry reflects the admiration and respect that the lodge had for Brother Miller and his position within the Cranston Police Department, and is an appropriate tribute to a life of service spent in the quarries of Freemasonry and in the protection of the citizens of Rhode Island.
Additionally, I discovered that besides Brother Miller, two others of the original ten patrolmen sworn into the Cranston Police upon its formation in 1910 would take the oath and obligation of a Master Mason: Officer Henry Clay Debow joined Doric Lodge #38 in 1920 and Officer George Smith joined Jenks Lodge #24 in 1922.
Captain Henry Clay Debow, 1929
He was one of the original ten patrolman sworn into the City of Cranston Police Department upon its formation in 1910. He later joined Doric Lodge #38 in 1920.
It is said that after Chief Miller’s death in 1941, Brother Debow, an ardent outdoorsman, was tapped to be the next Cranston Police Chief. Debow however declined the position, due in large part to his desire to remain on the night shift so as not to interfere with the hunting and fishing that he enjoyed during the day time.
Brother Debow, who was raised on farm in New Brunswick, Canada, became a Cranston constable in 1903. As the Cranston’s city police force was formed in 1910, he too was an original member. Aside from working along side Brother Miller as a detective, Brother Debow was the first member of the police department to hold the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain. Ever the outdoorsman, Brother Debow was tapped to replace Brother Miller as Chief upon his passing, but elected to defer that appointment to stay on the over night so as to not interfere with his hunting and fishing that he enjoyed during the day time. Brother Debow was the first member of the Cranston Police, and possibly the state, to use a dog (his loyal Irish setter, Lady) to track and capture a fugitive.
Brother Henry Clay Debow’s grave in Pocasset Cemetery, Cranston.
Close to a century separates the time that Brothers and fellow Cranston Police Officers Miller, Debow and Smith, and I took our respective oaths—one on the Masonic altar and the other to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution on behalf of its citizens. Both the City of Cranston and its police department have grown exponentially in the past 110 years. Upon some personal introspection into my membership in both Freemasonry and law enforcement, I pray that I continue the legacy of applying Masonic teachings usefully to policing. There may not be a more appropriate time in the history of policing in this country than now.
But perhaps my greatest take away from this research project is this: Freemasonry is local. We as Masons justifiably boast about our Brothers who founded this nation, who became President, who are in Hollywood, or who compete in the professional sports arena. But there are countless Brothers who impact their own local communities. Men like Jim Miller, Clay Debow, and George Smith. Three out of the first ten members of my police department were members of our fraternity. That’s actually a greater percentage of signers of the Declaration of Independence and about the same percentage of U.S. Presidents who were Freemasons. I would encourage every Brother to go out and discover what impact Freemasonry had on their local communities. Or better yet, to go make that impact themselves.