Policing in the rural areas of Lovecraft Country therefore would be carried out either by the police department of the local town or city within whose boundaries the area fell or by the Massachusetts State Police Patrol. Founded in 1865 as the Massachusetts State Constabulary, the MSPP only had a handful of officers until 1921, when it was renamed and expanded to a grand total of fifty officers. In an era before major highways, its main responsibility was to police the rural areas of the state, which its officers mainly still did on horseback in the 1920s (although they did have a few motor vehicles). Given the small size of both most urban police departments and of the MSPP, it is likely that rural communities would be hard-pressed to get hold of any policeman for anything less than a major crime. A motorised policeman harassing motorists in a rural area as described in the copy of The Arkham Advertiser included with Arkham Unveiled seems a very unlikely occurrence.
This, of course, is one of the problems with writing scenarios for roleplaying games set in the historical real world - there is a tendency to assume that everyday things then were much like they are now and, in the case of law enforcement, that a phone call will summon a police officer in a fast car within a few minutes to deal with your problem. That, of course, was simply not the case in any country in the 1920s, outside the major cities. It was particularly not the case in the United States, with its highly decentralised local government. The image, garnered from decades of Hollywood films, of every county being patrolled by deputy sheriffs in police cruisers is simply fantasy in the pre-war period, when many American counties had no real law enforcement at all. The sheriff served process and possibly operated the county jail, but rarely did he do much real policing, even in states where he was theoretically supposed to. Ironically, the best rural policing was probably in the Old West frontier states, formerly known for their lawless reputations, where the sheriffs' departments had far more experience of real police work. Most eastern sheriffs were predominantly legal officers and not policemen. In the majority of rural areas in America, if you had a real problem you might call the state police (if there was a state police - most states didn't have one), but in minor cases the only recourse was likely to be a local constable, probably part-time and likely unpaid, with few powers, no training and little experience. In European countries you'd have a little more luck, as policing was more centralised, but even there the first responder would likely be a single local officer on a bicycle with no real experience of serious crime.
Initially, I thought the Arkham Police Department, as described in Arkham Unveiled, with a chief, a captain, a detective lieutenant, three sergeants, two detectives and 15-20 patrolmen, seemed to be surprisingly large for a smallish town in 1920s America. However, a bit of research suggests that it is not beyond the realms of possibility. A photograph of the Andover Police Department in the early 1920s on their website suggests the department had fourteen officers at that time and Andover is probably somewhat smaller than Arkham.
A comparison of the real-world towns in Essex County could be interesting. The following table shows the 1920s and modern population of each of these towns and the full-time strength of its police department today.
|Town||1920 Population||2000 Population||Chief||Deputy Chief||Detective Captain||Captain||Detective Lieutenant||Lieutenant||Detective Sergeant||Sergeant||Detective||Officer||Total||Inhabitants per police officer|
Other than revealing a huge disparity between the numbers of officers compared to the population throughout the county and an even larger disparity in the usage of police ranks in different towns, it also shows that on average an Essex County police department had one officer for every 551.6 inhabitants. Assuming that 1920s police departments had about half the officers per head that they do now (a purely random assumption based on informed guesswork), then Arkham, with a population of 22,562 (according to the list at the back of Tales of the Miskatonic Valley) should have about twenty police officers, which makes the Arkham Unveiled figures about right. Kingsport, with a population of 7,834, should have about seven. Chaosium's Kingsport says that it has four, and then goes on later in the same paragraph to suggest it has more, so maybe we should add a couple. Bolton, with a population of 15,539 (and appearing to correspond almost exactly to Hamilton on the TotMV map), should have about fourteen.
Frankly, I'd be surprised if a 1920s police department outside a major city like Boston would have any detectives. That's just my gut feeling, however, based on a knowledge of police history in other countries, and I may be wrong about the situation in the United States. By and large, detectives were few and far between in the 1920s. Major cities may have had reasonably large and efficient detective forces, but many police forces, even quite large ones in developed countries, had few detectives or none at all, especially in rural areas. Most police work in all countries was carried out by uniformed officers with no knowledge of criminal investigation whatsoever. Even in countries with national or large regional police forces, the specialist detectives rarely operated outside the major cities. For gaming purposes I can see why keepers would want there to be a couple, though, and my version of Arkham will probably retain them.
I was also initially surprised to read in Chaosium's books that Arkham has three police cars and two motorcycles and Kingsport has two police cars. Most world police forces had few or no motor vehicles in the 1920s. With a few exceptions, the British police didn't really start adopting them until the 1930s at the earliest. However, my research does show that quite a number of small town police departments in Essex County were operating cars and motorcycles by the 1920s, so the descriptions in the sourcebooks are probably reasonable. The United States embraced the motor car with far more enthusiasm than anywhere else in the world, and this appears to have also applied to the police.
Innsmouth has three, probably part-time, constables who function more or less as a police force elsewhere, as constables often did at the time. Innsmouth, being a very weird place, has no real reason to conform to historical reality in any case.
Arkham appears to be situated more or less at the location of the real-life Centerville, a neighbourhood (i.e. village) in Beverly, and its territory therefore probably occupies part of what in the real world is the northeastern part of the City of Beverly ("city" or "town" in Massachusetts, of course, referring to the whole area and not just the built-up area of the municipality) and possibly the eastern part of the Town of Wenham as well (note that Wenham does not appear on the Chaosium map, although there's probably no particular reason it shouldn't exist in Lovecraft Country). Kingsport seems to be more or less Beverly Farms, another neighbourhood, and thus occupies the southeastern part of the City of Beverly. Bolton seems to be Hamilton, and can thus entirely replace the Town of Hamilton (poor Hamilton!). Innsmouth appears to more or less correspond to Little Neck in Ipswich, and its territory is therefore the northeastern part of the real-world Town of Ipswich.
Outside Essex County, we have Aylesbury, Dunwich and Foxfield. Aylesbury appears to more or less correspond with Winchendon, a town in Worcester County. Since Aylesbury is referred to as being the seat of the fictitious Aylesbury County, we can probably assume that Aylesbury County occupies the northern half of the real Worcester County. Dunwich is described as a township and unincorporated community in Return to Dunwich, but neither of these terms are used in Massachusetts. It is tempting, given its small size and isolated location, to look on Dunwich as a village within the Town of Aylesbury, but the fact it appears to have its own town government, with selectmen, a justice of the peace and a constable, mitigates against this (since villages in Massachusetts have no official existence as local government entities). Dunwich is probably therefore best seen as a town in its own right, small, rural and almost-forgotten, in the woods between Aylesbury and Ashburnham. Foxfield, created by Miskatonic River Press, is in Middlesex County, north of Tewksbury.