Archiver > CA-HISTORY > 2005-04 > 1113935570

From: mt view <>
Subject: Berkeley Police 100 years old, some of their firsts, plus a love story
Date: Tue, 19 Apr 2005 11:32:50 -0700 (PDT)

Berkeley Police Department celebrates 100 years

From the Berkeley Voice of April 15, 2005

By Martin Snapp STAFF WRITER

Its first chief, August Vollmer, pioneered many firsts, such as alarm call boxes, the academy

With former police chiefs Charles Plummer, Odell Sylvester, Tom Johnson, and Roy Meisner looking on, Berkeley Police Chief Doug Hambleton pinned special centennial badges on his assistant chiefs in a ceremony that capped an April 7 celebration of the department's 100th anniversary at Berkeley Rep.

The assistant chiefs, in turn, pinned badges on their captains, who pinned them on their lieutenants, and so on down the line to the beat cops.

As a bagpiper wailed "Amazing Grace," Hambleton presented bouquets to the families of the two Berkeley officers who were killed in the line of duty: Jim Rutledge, son of Sgt. Jimmie Rutledge, who was murdered in 1973 by a gunman who also killed a 4-year-old girl, and Gary and Sandra Tsukamoto, brother and sister of Officer Ron Tsukamoto, who was murdered in 1970 in a case that is still unsolved.

"Even after all these years, they still include us in every ceremony," said Gary Tsukamoto. "It's nice to know we're not forgotten."

Fifteen men have served as chiefs of police since the department was founded April 10, 1905. And the greatest of them all was the first chief, August Vollmer, who served until 1932.

This is no knock on his successors, including Plummer, the current sheriff of Alameda County. But as a 1952 article in Collier's magazine said, "He has been known for years as the policeman's policeman, the crime expert's criminologist."

It was Vollmer who pioneered the first alarm call boxes (1905), first modus operandi files (1907), first police academy (1908), first fingerprint system (1912), first patrol cars (1912, driving state-of-the art Model T Fords), first lie detector (1921), first patrol car radios (1921), and, yes, the first bicycle patrol, way back in 1910.

Along the way, he befriended a series of colorful characters, including Etta Place, the Sundance Kid's girlfriend, who credited Vollmer with turning her life around and putting her on the straight and narrow.

He also hired the department's first black officer, Walter Gordon, the country's first female officer, Elizabeth Lossing, and transformed law enforcement from a job for which the sole qualifications were physical strength and courage into a profession that required cops to outthink the criminals as well as outfight them.

"He told me that the tin badge he pinned on my chest didn't give me a license to push other people around," said Gordon. "He said he would judge me by how clean I could keep my beat with the least number of arrests."

Birth of the polygraph

Vollmer got the idea for the lie detector when he read a scientific article describing experiments which showed that changing emotions -- including the emotions resulting from lying -- affected blood pressure.

It occurred to him that if lying produced definite physiological changes, it might be recorded on a machine.

He passed his theory on to one of his "college cops" (derisively called by critics of Vollmer's policy of hiring educated officers), John Larson, who had an engineering degree from Cal. After a few months of tinkering, the polygraph machine was born.

The first case they used it on was a series of thefts at a nearby girls' boarding school, climaxed by the loss of a diamond ring belonging to one of the young women. Obviously, one of her schoolmates was the culprit. But which one?

The students called Vollmer for help, and he responded by sending Larson and his new lie detector machine. Larson tested them one by one until about halfway down the list, the machine indicated one of them was lying.

She quickly confessed. The victim got her ring back, Vollmer had another triumph, and the polygraph became an established investigation tool.

And Larson? He wound up marrying the young woman whose ring had been stolen.

Vollmer's successors varied in style. Some, like John Greening (1932-1944), were pure spit-and-polish. Others, like Meisner (2002-2004) and Addison "Hap" Fording (1960-1966) were known for their affability. And some, like John Holstrom (1944-1960), had a command presence that rivaled Vollmer himself.

"When he walked into the room, everything stopped," recalled Plummer.

Holstrom's management style was a tad aloof. Plummer said he served for 10 years before Holstrom ever spoke to him.

"He called me into his office, and I was trembling, thinking I'd done something wrong. But it turned out all he wanted to say was that I'd been promoted to sergeant. Then it was another 10 years before he spoke to me again."

Celebrated cases

More recent chiefs, including Plummer, who was acting chief from 1973 to 1974, have been more hands on.

Over the years, the department has more than its share of celebrated cases. Among them:

The Stephanie Bryant case, a kidnapping-murder of a 14-year-old girl that created a nationwide sensation in 1954. Among those covering the trial of her killer, Burton Abbot: Erle Stanley Garner, creator of Perry Mason, and Joe Rosenthal, the photographer who took the famous picture of the Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

The Patty Hearst kidnapping (1974). The kidnappers were a violent revolutionary group called the Symbionese Liberation Army, who had previously murdered Oakland Schools superintendent Marcus Foster -- using cyanide-tipped bullets -- and later killed a young mother during a bank robbery in Sacramento.

The Zambrano murder case (1988), when Waterfront Commissioner Enrique Zambrano killed one of his fellow commissioners to keep the man from testifying against him in another case.

The Henry's Bar standoff (1990), when a misogynist gunman named Murad Dashti seized Henry's Publick House at the Hotel Durant. He killed one young man and held the other patrons hostage all night and into the morning, sadistically terrorizing them, especially the women. The ordeal ended the following day, when police killed Dashti during a rescue attempt that was complicated by a local TV helicopter flying overhead and broadcasting the operation live for all to watch -- including the gunman.

The Baby Kerri case (1992) when a woman posing as a social worker stole a newborn baby out of her mother's arms at Alta Bates Hospital. The baby was safely rescued after thousands of hours of investigation, pursuing thousands of different leads.

But perhaps the greatest challenge came during what Berkeley cops call "the riot years" -- the 1960s and '70s, when student protests at UC Berkeley spilled out into the streets, sometimes leading to violent confrontations.

Even though they often found themselves on opposite sides, the police still had to protect the demonstrators' rights -- and often the demonstrators themselves.

Plummer recalled one incident in 1965 when a protest march was attacked by a group of Hells' Angels, who were shocked when the police arrested them.

"I personally arrested Sonny Barger, the head of the Oakland chapter, and he couldn't understand it," said Plummer. "He kept saying, 'Why are you arresting us instead of them?'"

New exhibit

The Berkeley Historical Society is celebrating the police department's centennial with a new exhibit of historical artifacts and photos titled "Innovators for Century." The exhibit -- including some of Vollmer's original lie detectors, mug books, fingerprint files, and call boxes -- will open this Sunday, April 10, on the first floor of the Veterans' Building, and will run through Oct. 29.

"We are blessed to have a police department that has been so good so consistently, over so many years," said Mayor Tom Bates.

Hope you enjoy


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