The year 2015 marked the 100th birthday of the nation's oldest law enforcement union, the Fraternal Order of Police. In 1915, the life of a policeman was bleak. In many communities they were forced to work 12 or more hours a day, 365 days a year with little if any time off, for very little pay and no voice in their profession.
Police officers didn't like it, but there was little they could do to change their working conditions. There were no organizations available to make their voices heard; no other means to make their grievances known. They had no voice.
This soon changed thanks to the courage and wisdom of two Pittsburgh patrol officers. Pittsburgh Officers Martin Toole and Delbert Nagle knew that in order to be heard police officers must first organize. Like other labor interests, if they were to be successful in making life better for themselves and their fellow police officers, they had to become a union. Officers Toole and Nagle began secret meetings with individual officers that shared their beliefs. They managed to enlist 21 others who were willing to take the risk of participating. They met in secret on May 14, 1915, which was declared to be the first meeting of the Fraternal Order of Police.
In that meeting, with their jobs at risk, these courageous officers formed Fort Pitt FOP Lodge #1. They decided to use the name "Fraternal Order" and “Lodge” instead of “Union” and “Local” because of the strong anti-union sentiment prevalent in the country at that time. Prior attempts at forming police unions in several major cities at that time were met with heavy-handed government suppression. So Toole, Nagle, and the others had to come up with a plan, a name, and an organizational structure that provided cover for the true work ahead.
In 1915 the phrase “Fraternal Order” was common terminology for trade organizations, social clubs, or gathering of individuals with a benevolent common interest. The founding name Fraternal Order of Police and its structure was the key to survival. Regardless of the name they chose, there was no mistaking their intentions, and what the FOP truly was. Those officers were forming a union intent on changing and improving the working conditions of Pittsburgh's police officers. A common and unified voice of the workers. They told their city mayor, Joe Armstrong, the FOP would be the means to bring grievances before the Mayor or Council and address problems that they were unable to address in any other way. They would also be able to work with the legislature on matters that the Council would not, or could not give them. Their work with Mayor Armstrong became a relationship of respect and common purpose.
And so it began, a tradition of police officers representing police officers. The Fraternal Order of Police was given life by two courageous police officers who were determined to better their profession and the working conditions of those who choose to protect and serve our communities, our states, and our country. The FOP became the first police union in the country and used that success to promote both the labor and fraternal sides of the organization. It was not many years after establishing the organization that Pittsburgh Mayor Armstrong was congratulating the Fraternal Order of Police for their "strong influence in the legislatures in various states,...their considerate and charitable efforts" on behalf of the officers in need and for the FOP's "efforts at increasing the public confidence toward the police to the benefit of the peace, as well as the public."
In 1917 the success of the FOP in Pittsburgh had spread to police officers in other cities and states. Just two years after the formation and success of the Pittsburgh FOP Lodge, the idea of the Fraternal Order of Police becoming a national organization of police officers was born. From our small beginning in 1915 – 1917 the Fraternal Order of Police grew steadily. Today, the tradition that was first envisioned over 100 years ago lives on with more than 2,200 local lodges and over 350,000 members in the United States, and in Maryland over 20,900 members in 77 lodges across our state.
In Anne Arundel County, we are proud to report that every full time sworn law enforcement officer below the rank of Sergeant is a member of our union and our lodge. Most officers at every other rank retain their membership with the FOP due to the benefits we provide outside of collective bargaining and at the State and National levels.
It is hard to imagine that when our Anne Arundel County Police Department was first created in 1937 we had a Chief, 3 Sergeants, and 17 Patrolmen. The work schedule was 12-hour days, 6 days a week and the starting salary was $1,200 a year. The Chief received $1,800 a year. They were not represented.
It wasn't until 1951 that our police officers first joined together as the Anne Arundel County Police Association. There was no collective bargaining at that time but one of the first thingsn on the agenda for the Association was to meet with the County Commissioners about better working conditions, life insurance, and a rise in salaries which they received. It was not much, reportedly $300 and $1,000 in life insurance, but they fought for it, and they got it.
In 1965 our County formally adopted home rule and the County Charter form of government. Five years later, the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #70 was formed. Our Lodge played an integral part in helping to improve wages, equipment, and working conditions from that time forward and that battle continues still today. The first president of the lodge, appointed before election was Lt. George Mandris. The first elected president was Lt. Les Bates.
At that time, the Fraternal Order of Police was the largest professional police organization in the country. There were no others that even came close to the number of members nationwide; or the work we did on behalf of the profession; or the resources we offered our members. We are proud of our name, our heritage, our daily work on behalf of our profession & our members, and our tradition. The FOP is both a trade union and a Fraternal Organization, having both Labor Lodges & Fraternal Lodges. But make no mistake we are union first. As important as that fact is we are also a "full service member representation organization" involving benevolence, legal support, community involvement, and fraternalism. That has been the formula for success from the beginning.
Our first contract was negotiated in 1970 when Police officers worked impossible schedules for very little money and very few benefits.
Today, we have better equipment than ever before. We have health care. We have pensions. Our families are more secure because of the FOP. We are safer because of the FOP. The families of our fallen are more protected now because of our union, the FOP!
The FOP continues to grow because we have been true to the tradition and continued to build on it. The Fraternal Order of Police leadership are all proud professionals working on behalf of law enforcement officers from all ranks and levels of government. We work hard to improve the working conditions of law enforcement officers and the safety of those they serve through education, legislation, information, community involvement, and employee representation.
The FOP lobbies Congress and regulatory agencies on behalf of all law enforcement officers, provides labor representation, promotes legal defense for officers, and offers resources such as legal research. We also sponsor many important charities and foundations. The FOP supports and is very involved in establishing memorials for fallen officers, and strongly supports programs for spouses and family members of police officers. We have been doing this longer and better than anyone else. It is who we are.
The National Organization has three offices: the Labor Services Division in Columbus, Ohio, the Steve Young Law Enforcement Legislative Advocacy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Grand Lodge "Atnip-Orms Center" National Headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee.