By Sergeant George W. Estes
(Appointed March 16, 1947; Retired October 1, 1975)
Mission San Buenaventura was established in 1782. The first record of a City Police Department was in 1866, when the City of Ventura was incorporated. The Chief was J. W. Stevens, who served from 1866 to 1868. Aside from the names of the Chiefs of Police, little recorded information is available until around 1919. The first fourteen or fifteen chiefs, called town constables or marshals, were usually one-man departments.
Chief J.H. Hardy, 1923-1926
The seventeenth Chief, J. H. Hardy, 1923 to 1926, was publicly elected to a four-year term. The total number of men on the Department during Hardy's term was one traffic officer in uniform and a night watchman.
Chief T. W. Neal, 1931 -1949
The twentieth Chief was T. W. (Billy) Neal, who was also elected. His term was 1931 to 1949. Ventura became a Charter City in 1933, and the new City Manager re-appointed Neal as Chief of Police. During Chief Neal's term, the Police Department had a "Police Judge", Beryl Gregg. He heard drunk cases, parking violations, drunk driving cases, or other misdemeanors. He also performed marriages and gave personal advice to those who needed it.
During this time, the number of police personnel had increased to a total of sixteen police officers. The force was responsible for policing a population of less than 10,000 people.
During the era of prohibition, the Police Department was equipped with a large concrete vault in which they kept confiscated booze. The bootleggers had to go through Ventura to transport their liquor north. Rumrunners dumped their alcohol at Point Mugu or on the Rincon from a boat. They then transported it north or south. They had to go through Ventura by using Main Street.
Sometime during the late thirties or early forties, a young man named Roy Wallace was working for Chief Neal. Wallace developed and installed the first two-way radio system for the Department. Radio station "KACN" was the first police two-way radio station in Ventura County.
Prior to this time, if a police officer were needed people were required to call the telephone operator. She then responded by turning on the red lights located at various street corners in the city. There were approximately four of them throughout the city. When an officer spotted a light on, he would call the telephone operator from a police phone box and receive the information needed to respond to the call. At that time, the Police Department was located in the fire station at the northeast comer of California and Santa Clara streets.
Radio station "KACN" was a low-frequency two-way station and the police could call Roswell, New Mexico, Fresno, Bakersfield, Santa Barbara Police Department and Sheriffs Office, and the L. A. County Sub-Station at Malibu. The police two-way radio system was also used for receiving and dispatching calls for the Ventura County Sheriffs Office. When I came on the Police Department in 1947, the Ventura radio took all California Highway Patrol calls from midnight to seven in the morning.
Chief Strevell George Taylor, 1948 -1964
In 1948, Strevell George Taylor was successful in a statewide examination and was appointed as Chief of Police for Ventura. He was a retired Lieutenant from Long Beach Police Department. Chief Taylor reorganized the Department and formed three divisions: Service, Detectives, and Uniform. He also established a Record Bureau, Juvenile Bureau, and Traffic Bureau. He was responsible for adopting a Teletype system and a three-way radio system, and he was successful in getting a new police building built in 1951. This same building was used until 1983.
The New Police Department Building
In the three years it took to build the new building, the police department was forced to operate out of the 100-year-old "Ortega Adobe," which is now a historical landmark. It is located just west of the railroad tracks on West Main Street. During this three-year period, working conditions were crowded and hectic. The Adobe consisted of only four rooms.
Prisoners were housed in the County Jail. Because of such little room, the court officer was forced to stay in the courthouse. The desk officer had three phones, a desk, radio, and about three feet of floor space. All police records were crowded into a small closet. The toilet was outside behind the building. The Chief and his secretary were in one small room. The B.I. lab was in the back room, and Detectives had a small room about four feet wide and twelve feet long. There was no heat and no hot water. We even put up a tent out back for a couple of trustees.
After the Ortega Adobe, the new station looked like a palace. That was truly a trying experience. The officers, myself included, polished floors, washed windows, did some painting, and just anything to hurry things along. Prisoners did part of the work on the new building. Oftentimes, officers who were assigned to watch the laboring prisoners would wind up working right along beside them.
The old building was also torn down with the aid of jail laborers. It was no more than a tin barn with a steel jail inside. The jail was obtained from the City of Santa Barbara and had been an old ship's brig. The doors and felony cells in the new building were built from this steel.
When we moved into the new building, we were equipped with a three-way radio system, a plug-in switchboard for the phones, and enough room for thirty-five officers. It was complete luxury compared to what we had been using.
Chief Taylor's Accomplishments
Chief Taylor had a police pistol and rifle range built on top of Grant Park Reservoir. It was about twice as large as the present range. This range was used by Ventura Sheriffs Office, Oxnard Police Department, the FBI, and the general public. One FBI agent who frequently used the old range was named Peter J. Pitchess, who later became the Sheriff of Los Angeles County. Prison laborers and off-duty police officers built the first range. Eventually, citizens who lived near the range complained of the noise, and it was moved to its present location.
Chief Taylor also ushered in the forty-hour workweek. Up until that time, we worked nine hours a day, six days a week. Starting pay when I came on the force was about $200 a month.
The Origin of the Boys and Girls Club of Ventura
About this time, the Police Department began a club for underprivileged youths called "The Ventura Police boys." Ventura Police Officers, the Ventura oil industry, and local businessmen provided the necessary activities. The Boys Club was housed in the Ortega Adobe. The Juvenile Officer supervised the club activities and each year he marched the boys in the Ventura County Fair Parade. The Ventura Police Boys evolved into the Boys and Girls Club of Ventura.
We were required at times to work with shovels and sand bags in order to save homes in the Pierpont Bay area during high tides. We once escorted fire and forestry units to the Ojai area during the large fire that caused the evacuation of that city.
The Ventura Police Department was also very involved in civil defense. We registered and fingerprinted thousands of volunteers in Ventura City and County, set up twenty emergency first aid stations (which were located in major buildings and schools), located civil defense sirens all over town, located and set up air raid shelters, and set up an emergency phone call list. We were totally prepared for a foreign attack or a disaster.
Chief William B. Strickland, 1964-1965
In 1965, Chief Taylor retired and Captain William B. Strickland was appointed Interim Chief. He was Chief from July 1964 to September of 1965. He made no changes and kept the status quo. By that time, the Department had grown to sixty-two people. This included clerks and other civilian employees. He kept a tight rein on the Department until Chief David Patrick Geary was appointed. Chief Geary came from Salem, Oregon, where he had risen from Sergeant to Chief.
Chief David Patrick Geary, 1966 -1971
David Patrick Geary was appointed as Ventura's twenty-third Police Chief in September 1965 and served from 1965 to 1971. He came to us from Salem, Oregon, where he was Chief for three and one-half years. At the time of his appointment, the Department's size had grown to sixty-two people. This included sworn personnel, clerks, and other civilian employees. There was one Inspector, Bob King; two Captains, William Strickland, and John McDonald; four Lieutenants, Bob Crup, AI Urias, Elliott Lambert, and Sheridan Otis; and four Sergeants, John Ortega, William Tubbs, Lyman Wright, and Chuck Gibson.
The Patrol Division worked three shifts, and the City was divided into two beats, East and West. West Beat extended from Ventura Avenue to Seaward Avenue. East Beat was from Seaward Avenue east. Each beat was generally manned by one officer, and if a third officer were available, he was assigned as a City car. He provided backup or responded to calls if the two beat cars were tied up. During evening hours, it was not uncommon for the police station to be manned by one officer and a female matron who were responsible for general office duties. The officer worked the front desk, took reports, answered telephone calls, worked as dispatcher and maintained the jail located in the Police building.
The jail housed sentenced misdemeanor offenders and also had a felony tank where arrestees were kept pending their court arraignments. Sentenced misdemeanor prisoners were responsible for janitorial services around the police station and for washing the three black and white patrol cars and five Administrative and Detective units. Every weekday morning, a supervisor from the City Street Department checked out sentenced prisoners who then spent their day doing various work throughout the City. Prisoners also acted as chefs and prepared meals for all those in custody.
The Traffic Division consisted of one Lieutenant, one Investigator, and three Motor Officers. The Detective Division was staffed by Inspector Bob King, Lieutenant AI Urias, and Detectives Ida Spellman, Ray Neal, Bill Rodenbaugh, John Thorpe and Marv Houghton. Their vehicles consisted of three Studebakers shared by the detectives and a Chevrolet for the Inspector.
The patrolman's uniform was dark blue with an eight-point soft cap. Each wore Eisenhower dress jackets with a Sam Browne strap across the chest. Officers were responsible for the purchase, maintenance, and replacement of all their police equipment. The only items furnished were their I.D. cards, badges, and a breast pocket-sized book on police conduct that they were required to carry while on duty.
Chief Geary changed the patrolman uniform, doing away with the 8-point soft cap, Eisenhower jacket, and Sam Browne. He replaced it with a modern navy-blue uniform with gold piping down the sides of the pant legs. He replaced the buckles and keepers with brass hardware. He then standardized the duty weapons, issuing Smith and Wesson 41 magnum revolvers. Officers were now completely outfitted by the Department with uniforms and equipment, including new gold helmets and briefcases. Staff officers and some Detectives were issued blue blazers to be worn in lieu of police uniforms.
The education requirement for entering police service in Ventura was a high school diploma or a G.E.D. The starting salary for Patrolman was $520 a month. There was no paid overtime, but officers were allowed to accumulate overtime hours that were "placed on the books" and were compensated in the form of days off at the convenience of the City. If an officer was found to be in violation of a policy, such as failure to qualify with his/her weapon or failing to carry his police conduct book while on duty, he would be disciplined by working his day off and would lose all overtime accrued on the "books."
The communication system at the Ventura Police Department was unique prior to the appointment of Chief Geary. There were six telephone lines into the Department, and the Communications Officer manned the switchboard in the dispatch center. The officer working the dispatch radio was responsible for answering all incoming calls, and for furnishing out-going lines to personnel making inter-departmental and outside calls. The dispatch radio was a two-way radio mounted on a desk, with an attached mike that extended out away from the radio, allowing the officer to work the switchboard while dispatching police calls. The single frequency was shared with Oxnard and Port Hueneme Police Departments.
There were no copying machines in the police building. If copies were required, carbon copies were made at the time of original typing. The Ventura County Jail and Ventura Courts were located at 501 Poli. Ventura City Hall was situated across from Plaza Park at 625 East Santa Clara Street.
After Chief Geary's appointment in 1965, he began to expand the Police Department. He increased the size of the Patrol Division to twenty officers and expanded the black and white fleet to seven vehicles. These cars were equipped with new overhead emergency lights and new radios. New shotguns were placed in the units, along with a metal screen separating the driver's compartment and rear seat. Portable radios were issued to patrol officers, allowing them to communicate with Dispatch when away from their vehicles.
New telephone and dispatch systems were installed in the police building. The old switchboard was removed and replaced with a new communication console that allowed for two dispatchers and had two channel frequencies. Ventura was assigned its own frequencies and no longer had to share with other County agencies. The communications console also contained Ventura's first burglar alarm panel that was linked to the various banks and businesses throughout the City. Only emergency calls were now accepted in communications, and non-emergency calls were directed to the receptionist switchboard.
Chief Geary purchased the first copying machine, eliminating the need for carbon copies. Officers were allowed to write reports in pencil. Dictation of lengthy reports was also initiated under Chief Geary, cutting down on the time required for report writing. Chief Geary changed the requirements for police applicants from a high school diploma to a four-year college degree. He then obtained educational incentive pay for those acquiring a four-year college degree.
Chief Geary had the first Department Manual written, and he required that officers be compensated for overtime worked. He expanded the size of the department building and placed television monitors inside the jail and around the perimeter of the building for security.
According to those officers who worked during the David Patrick Geary years, burglary and narcotic violations were the main problem areas for law enforcement in Ventura. It was under Chief Geary that Ventura's Narcotics Unit was formed to combat the problem of illicit drugs. Alcohol, marijuana, and heroin addiction were the most prevalent drug problems. Topless entertainment was also popular and a local nightspot decided to introduce topless female dancers to Ventura. The event was publicized two weeks in advance as a "businessmen's luncheon," and at high noon on the scheduled day, the local press and Ventura Detectives were present as two female dancers dressed in cowgirl outfits began to strut their act. At the appropriate moment, Ventura Detectives, led by Ida Spellman, swooped in, corralled the dancers, and hauled them off to jail.
This was also the time of civil unrest in our country. Ventura officers responded to a call for assistance from the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office during the riots in the college community of Isla Vista. These riots continued for several days, with Ventura Police Department personnel commuting back and forth to help quell the disturbance. There were also confrontations between police and anti-war demonstrators in Ventura. During one rally, demonstrators gathered at Plaza Park making speeches, then marched down Santa Clara Street enroute to the 101 Freeway where they planned to block freeway traffic. When they reached California Street and Thompson Boulevard, officers intervened and a number of demonstrators were arrested.
It was during David Patrick Geary's tenure as Ventura's Police Chief that the department began to grow as a modern police agency. It was staffed by experienced, dedicated officers and young eager patrolmen waiting to make their mark on the department and the City.