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Lon Outen debuts book showcasing Camden Police Department’s history

Posted: March 10, 2015 5:19 p.m.
Updated: March 11, 2015 1:00 a.m.
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Lon and Donna Outen with Camden Police Captain Mike Stone at the Camden Archives and Museum. Outen debuted his new book, “Camden Police Department South Carolina, 1792-1969” during the Archives’ 100th Anniversary Reception on Monday.

Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd, curious about the history of the department he helms, asked Lon Outen to do a little research about the department.

Two and a half years later, Outen published a book of his findings.

The former career law enforcement officer, who spent six years of that career on the job with the CPD, debuted the book Monday during the Camden Archives and Museum’s 100th Anniversary Reception.

Titled "Camden Police Department, South Carolina, 1792-1969," the book traces a long and storied history of the department.

"I didn’t really know what I’d find when I first started," Outen, who works part time at the archives, said. "I found a lot more information than I expected."

As it turns out, Camden has had a police presence for nearly as long as it has been an incorporated city -- since 1792 -- Outen said.

"Camden was incorporated in 1791 and by 1792 it had created four wards with a constable in each ward for law enforcement purposes," Outen said. "This was the start and organization of a police department in Camden."

Marshals and constables made up the police force until 1865, when the town created a police chief position, he said. The marshal’s duties were phased out in 1884, he said.

Interestingly enough, black officers and white officers were paid at the same salary levels up until at least 1885 and the beginning of the Jim Crow years, Outen noted.

The first known African-American police officer, Ebenezer George, was hired in 1873; George would resign later to run for and become elected to the S.C. House of Representatives, Outen said.

"Ebenezer George appears to be the first African-American officer in Camden, according to record; however, I believe the town had black officers earlier than that," Outen said. "They probably had black officers working earlier than that -- because Camden had a large freed people of color population."

Because of that, Camden experienced an earlier integration period, which probably contributed to fewer racial problems compared to other areas of the state.

Later, a significant portion of real estate downtown -- including buildings and commercial property -- would be owned by African-Americans.

The department did have its share of problems, he noted. In the 1880s, intoxication among the officers started to become a problem.

In 1919, Robert Latta would become the first known Camden police officer to be killed in the line of duty.

In the 1920s and 1930s, moonshine became a significant problem for the department.

While all the officers and chiefs throughout the department’s history contributed to its growth and progress in some way, two men, chiefs Alva Rush and Wilbert Williamson especially stand out, Outen said.

"These two men, in my mind, truly laid the foundations to make the department what it is today," Outen said.

Beginning in the 1950s under Rush, the department began to implement training initiatives as well as modernize its equipment and develop and implement professional standards; Williams would significantly add to that legacy during his years in the position from the mid 1950s through 1982, Outen said.

The book is available at Camden City Hall and the Camden Archives and Museum. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Camden Police Department.

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