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Police Department
2075 Coast Hwy
Pacifica, CA 94044-3038
Phone: 650-738-7314
Emergencies: 911 (24hrs/day)

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Pacifica Police History

The City of Pacifica was incorporated on November 22, 1957 and received law enforcement services under contract from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department for several years. This contracted police service began on January 1, 1958 and was the first 24-hour law enforcement for the north coast. It consisted of three assigned deputies and three relief deputies for full-time coverage. The full-time deputies were Verne Baldridge, Larry Dini and George Rist. The relief deputies were George Erickson, Raymond Garibaldi and John Hammerstrom. These deputies covered other unincorporated areas in the north county as well. The cost for this service in early 1959 totaled $600,000.

Less than a year later, a move was under way to form Pacifica's own police department to ensure that officers were available at all times, that records were available locally and that control was maintained on a local level. On March 18, 1959, the City Council voted 3 to 1 (with Councilman Miller dissenting, and Councilman Feyge absent) to begin the Pacifica Police Department. On May 27, 1959, the City Council appointed Neil Tremaine as Pacifica’s first Chief of Police, chosen from 86 applicants. He was 34 years old, a former FBI agent and Santa Clara police officer and was presently the Chief of Police for the City of Tracy. His salary was $650 per month.

Next came the selection of nine police officers. Over 600 applications were received for the available positions, which paid $403 per month with no overtime, holiday pay, medical coverage, retirement or equipment allowances. The process consisted of a standard state written exam and a physical agility test consisting of carrying a 100-pound sack of cement up and down stairs, a sprint of 140 yards, a running broad jump, pull-ups, vaulting over 3- and 5-foot high bars and swimming the length of a pool and back. Apparently, two applicants were so anxious that they jumped into the pool, forgetting they did not know how to swim. On June 3, 1959, the first nine officers were selected and told to report for duty on June 15th for more than two weeks of intensive training. The nine officers were: Paul Averiett (35), a builder and the only Pacifica resident; Robert Greer (27), an officer from El Cerrito Police Department; Robert Oglesby (36), a Eureka produce driver and former Police Chief of Ferndale; Werner Offens (30), a San Francisco engineering assistant for Pacific Telephone; Otto Saltenberger (21), a San Francisco shipyard worker; Richard Schaldach (24), a Burlingame truck driver and former U.S. Army paratrooper; Oscar (Ray) Shipley (26), a San Jose Newspaper Company driver studying Justice Administration at a San Jose college; James Shoemake (30), a Merced Police Department officer; and Albert Tebaldi (31), a Concord Police officer. On June 11th, Werner Ottens decided not to accept the job and Donald Joice (32), an Oakland fireman and engineer with the Southern Pacific Railroad, was appointed as his replacement. Two dispatchers, Jack Hill and Madeline Nickerson were also chosen. The City Council officially swore in the officers on June 17, 1959. Badge numbers were presented based on the drawing of lots. Officer Averiett received badge #1.

At midnight on July 1, 1959, after a short changing of the guard ceremony on the City Hall steps, Dick Schaldach and Otto Saltenberger got into their shiny new, solid white 1959 Chevrolets and the department was born. There was only one call the first night, a disturbance at a bar that was “cleared up when we got there” according to Tremaine, who remained awake most of the first night at the headquarters-fire station where he was living until the arrival of his family. The city, with a population of approximately 17,000, was divided into two or three beats, depending on the number of officers working. At the time, prisoners from Pacifica were booked at the South San Francisco Police Department at the cost of $1.00 per day. The department was first housed in the 2nd story of City Hall, in the northeast corner and was later moved to the west side of the 2nd floor as the department grew.

On July 31, Chief Tremaine announced openings for reserve police officers. The police reserve officer program was started with the following ten reserve officers: Albert Gilfillan, Harry McCune, Bernard Hyman, Phil Genesser, Jacob Vela, Thomas Wisbey, John Beran, Russell Yorks, Robert Stewart and Charles Baldinger. In November, Chief Tremaine had appointed Robert Oglesby as the department’s first sergeant and hired Mel Nelson, who eventually became the second Chief of Police, as his replacement. The department had three police vehicles, two sedans and a station wagon, each with one red light on the roof and the old sirens that took a full minute to stop once turned off. The officers carried a revolver, 12 rounds of extra ammunition, handcuffs and a baton. The only radio available to the officers was the car radio, which required the officer to turn on the outside speaker when out of the vehicle, much to the dislike of people living nearby during transmission. Training of new officers only required a week, instead of the current practice of being sent to an academy for 18 months. Uniforms consisted of light blue shirts, dark blue trousers with a white stripe and an optional Sam Browne shoulder strap to keep the weight of the equipment on the belt level.

In the early 1960s, there was a move to switch back to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services but this was not to be and the department continued its duties. In December 1964, there was a tentative Council approval to move the department to the World War II bunkers on Milagra Ridge. This proposal never came to fruition, although it was leased from the United States Army for record and evidence storage for a period of time until an arson fire caused the records to be moved. In 1968, Pacifica gained national media attention because of a major, week long youth riot with at least one police vehicle being burned.

By 1969, the department had grown to 38 total employees and moved into the old school bus barn at 171 Salada. The salary was now $750 per month. Officers now had portable radios, which meant they no longer had to leave outside speakers on. However, there were not enough radios for every officer, so only the more senior officers got one. Mace was added to the duty belt as a less-lethal weapon. Checks on license plates for tickets were sent to the DMV by Teletype and a reply was received hours or days later. The department had started the “Night Watch” program where citizens could ride with an officer during one night a week. The program is still in existence but now any day is available to citizens. Training of new officers now consisted of six weeks riding with a sergeant. Eighteen months after hiring, the officer attended the academy four hours a day and worked an 8-hour shift every other day. A horse patrol of inaccessible areas of the city was started with Officer Bill Tafoya but lasted only a short while. Police cars were now black and white and had large unit numbers on the roof to be recognizable from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department helicopter. Helmets were now required for all officers to wear anytime they were in public.

In 1970, Chief Tremaine retired and Mel Nelson was promoted to Chief of Police. The 70s brought about a massive increase in property crime, described by Chief Nelson as “metro-flush”, as the criminals from the large cities were driven to the suburbs by better law enforcement activities there. Pacifica felt this crime increase and was logging hundreds of burglaries a year. Juvenile crime was increasing due largely to the increase in the juvenile population. At that time, the average age in Pacifica was 19 years of age. Traffic accidents had reached an all time high. Several Juvenile programs were instigated, such as Cop on Campus (officers having lunch at the high schools), and Officer Bill (officers meeting with elementary school children). Personnel consisted of 31 sworn officers and 12 civilians. Civilian in-office volunteers also were brought into the department. Pacifica Police Department Reserve Officers formed two shooting teams, traveled throughout the United States and won in excess of 200 trophies for their abilities. Members of the team that still resided in Pacifica in 1997 included Ron Rehn and Wally Rapozo. Other members included Gorden Lewis and Don Conklin.

In 1971, the department began the Community Contact Patrol, which assigned a specific officer to a specific beat with responsibilities for activities and contact with citizens in their beat. This program was 20 years ahead of its time, as many departments started Community Oriented Policing in the 90s. The department hired its first forensics technician, Will Farris. Emergency 911 was installed in Pacifica, one of the first in Northern California because Pacifica had two telephone prefixes that were generally both within the city borders.

In 1972, the first female police officer, Dianne Muro, was hired. She was later to write “Women on Patrol”, which was printed in 1976 about experiences of women in law enforcement. The department received a federal traffic grant for two police motorcycles and an additional vehicle, along with the three officers to staff them. This lasted until 1977 when the grant ended and the vehicles were sold. Officers now attended the academy for 10 weeks prior to working in the city and then received 6 weeks of training with a sergeant.

By 1973, the department was finally able to use a Teletype direct link to Sacramento, which allowed officers to check registration and warrants within minutes. The recovery of stolen vehicles increased dramatically. In 1975, the department began a Field Training Program, which consists of 12 weeks of training with the selected best of the best. This 12 weeks of training occurred after the academy. In 1976, the department placed red, white and blue stripes on the door of the vehicles to celebrate the bicentennial.

In 1977, federal CETA funds allowed the department to hire six part-time civilian employees to assist with different clerical functions in crime prevention, investigations, forensics, etc. and lasted for two years. At about the same time, the City Council authorized six new officers who were hired to form a Crime Prevention/Suppression unit because of the continued increases in burglaries, which had reached over 600 per year. This very successful unit was in existence for about one and one-half years prior to Proposition 13 (which cut the program to three officers), clearing more than 400 burglaries/related crimes and arresting more than 100 people. There were now 44 sworn officers and 13 civilians for a total of 57. The response time to emergency calls averaged three minutes.

In 1978, Chief Nelson accepted the position of Chief of Police for the City of Livermore and Captain Tony Guardino was promoted to Chief of Police by City Manager Don Weidner. Blue lights and light bars now appeared on the black and white police cars. In the late 1970’s, the Pacifica Police Department became the lead department in emergency/disaster planning due to budget cuts which impacted the fire department by loss of managers. The Pacifica Police Department continues this duty into the new century and is responsible for maintaining emergency plans, scheduling disaster drills and acting as the city's liaison with the San Mateo and California Offices of Emergency Services.

By 1980, because of Proposition 13, the department was back to 49 employees. The crime suppression unit was gone, as was the traffic enforcement and the education units. Police cars were white again. In 1982, Chief Guardino accepted the position of Chief of Police for the City of Redwood City and Al Olson, Chief of Police from Morro Bay, was hired as Pacifica’s new Chief of Police. Computers began to make their appearance in the police station. Blue stripes appeared on police vehicles. A parking control officer’s position was instituted to deal with parking problems and to effectively handle the increasing complaints of abandoned cars.

In 1984, the administrative, investigative and communications functions were moved across the parking lot from city hall into the Little Brown Church at 1850 Francisco Boulevard. The police and fire departments were consolidated into the Pacifica Department of Public Safety as a means to save money by not replacing retiring Fire Chief (later City Council member) Cal Hinton. There were now six women working the streets of Pacifica as police officers. The first canine, Bar, was purchased for the City by the Rotary Club. Bar’s handler was Officer Dennis Barry.

In 1987, the department numbered among its personnel eight people with Associate Degrees, ten with Baccalaureate Degrees, four with Masters Degrees and one with a Juris Doctorate degree. This high level of education was achieved by the dedication of the employees and was due to the department’s emphasis on education since the 1970s. A Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and computerized Records Management System (RMS) was started, giving the department the means to keep records in a less labor-intensive way.

In 1989, the department reached its highest staffing with 60 employees. The Crime Prevention position was back and the major crime rate in this community, along with most cities, had dropped by 7 percent.

In 1992, Director of Public Safety Olson retired and Deputy Chief Charles English was promoted to become Police Chief and the police and fire departments went back to being separate entities, again to save money by not replacing the director. Burglaries had dropped to 337 per year, but violent crime had increased in Pacifica, along with the rest of the state, with aggravated assault, domestic violence and sexual assaults increasing by over 300 percent. Response times had reached approximately 4:45 minutes based mainly on stricter legal driving constraints and the increase in violent crime requiring more officers on a given call.

In 1994, Chief English became Acting City Manager and Police Chief. The department had shrunk to 53.5 employees. Police vehicles now sported a large copy of the department’s patch and the blue stripes had moved to the bottom of the car. Shortly thereafter, officers began carrying tape recorders on belts or in pockets. The Pacifica Police Department was the second department in the state to mandate this to assist them with investigations and to tape conversations. The equipment carried by officers now included semi-automatic pistols, 28 extra rounds of ammunition, a knife, 2 sets of handcuffs, electronic restraint devices, pepper spray, radios and tape recorders.

A Citizen’s Police Academy began in 1996 and received high marks from the participants. In August of 1996, Chief English retired as Police Chief but continued as City Manager. Captain Ted W. Merritt was appointed as Chief of Police. The department's offices remained in the Little Brown Church. The vehicle fleet consisted of 11 police vehicles, one parking control vehicle and several unmarked vehicles, along with a recently purchased 1959 Chevrolet. The 1959 Chevrolet was rebuilt (Operation '59) from community donations as a replica of the original vehicles and is still in use for crime prevention, city functions, recruiting, etc. The clearance rate for all crimes averaged more than 30 percent, compared to 20 percent for California as a whole.

A consolidation study of north county communications centers was completed in 1996. While it appeared there might be a possibility of more effective communications, the fact that no money was saved and local control over the centers would be lost, shelved this study.

In 1997, four additional officers were cut from authorized staffing due to city budget constraints, leaving the department with 37 sworn officers, 1 less than in 1975. Crime Prevention officers, Narcotics Task Force participation and an additional detective position were transferred back to the patrol function. In addition to the loss of these programs, the method of taking minor reports was modified to decrease the time needed to write report forms. A federal grant allowed the department to become the first department in the county to have video cameras in each car with its use mandated. State block grants were also used to replace an aging CAD and RMS system. The older system had required such long searches that officers were either unable to use it or spent excessive time on the computer rather than on their beat. Laptop computers were mounted in each vehicle to allow officers to make electronic reports from their vehicles while maintaining their presence in the community.

An architectural study commissioned by the Public Works Department found the police facilities to be risky for continued use as a public safety facility. The City Council directed further study into a new facility, with directions that the facility should be completed in three-to-five years.

In 1998, the per-capita cost of this department was approximately $103 per citizen per year, as compared to a California average of $202. Less-lethal weapons such as beanbag guns and tasers began to be carried in police vehicles as an alternative when appropriate. At the same time, AR-15 semi-automatic rifles were purchased for each marked vehicle due to the increasing violence of some crimes throughout the state and because these violent suspects were many times now wearing bullet-resistant clothing.

The crime rate began to climb again in 1998 (Part 1 crimes up 35 percent and Part 2 up 10 percent) while it dropped throughout the state. Traffic accidents increased and clearance rates fell from an average of 30 percent to just over 20 percent. The cuts in personnel and programs, along with months of bad weather, had finally begun to show effects. In response, the City Manager and Council began replacing lost personnel by budgeting for an additional police officer and an additional community service officer, bringing the number of sworn officers up to 38. The traffic safety motorcycle program was ended and the motorcycle was replaced with an additional police vehicle. The Rotary Club of Pacifica purchased another police canine, bringing the unit up to two for the first time. The department began to use a “farm team” concept when possible by hiring as much as possible from the ranks of the reserve officer and explorer programs. When these people are hired, familiarity between the department and the employee as to abilities and cost of living in the area is already in place. Hiring of entry level rather than lateral hires from other departments also made sure that officers were trained in Pacifica’s methods, policies and procedures.

Semi-public swearing-in ceremonies and annual inspection/family days began to raise the esprit de corp of the department personnel. At this time, the Pacifica Police Department subscribed to the Community Alert Network through the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office. This allows the department to make mass notifications through automatic dialers and recorded messages to a large number of citizens in case of jail escapes, impending disasters or other instances when mass notifications are needed.

Late in 1998, during normal rotation of police vehicles, the department returned to black and white police vehicles with reflective red and blue graphics. Parking control vehicles remained white but also sported the red and blue graphics. At this point, over 20 percent of the department's personnel were teaching in the San Mateo County Police Academy and/or at the College of San Mateo. This continued to demonstrate the department’s emphasis on training and education.

In January of 1999, an additional officer was funded by the City Council, bringing sworn staffing back to 39. An additional dispatcher was also added that year as a means of lowering the workload of dispatchers, which had caused a 66 percent turnover rate in communications personnel.

In 1999, a local organization called Citizens Organized for a Police Station (COPS) approached the City Council to ask that a new, updated police facility be built. This organization was founded in response to the report about the Little Brown Church and the old school bus barn not meeting current earthquake standards for a residence, let alone an emergency services facility to house the 911 link to the citizens of the community. The City Council readily agreed that this was the number one priority for the City and voted to issue certificates of participation to fund the building of this facility.

In 1999 with federal grant funding, a radar warning trailer was purchased and used on streets throughout the city to educate and warn citizens of the speed at which they were traveling. The demand of this equipment was so great that a second one was purchased the next year by the city to allow for double the coverage.

With City Council permission, two officer positions were upgraded to supervisors to allow for the team policing concept to return to the streets of Pacifica for the first time since the early 1980s. As the first step toward community oriented policing, each officer was now assigned to a supervisor and a beat of an entire six-month shift. This gave them the ability to learn their beat, including the citizens and the unique issues or each neighborhood. This also allowed for increased training of officers without overtime on overlap days. Dispatchers were also assigned ten hour shifts four days a week and assigned to these teams, with the commensurate duties of helping the officers to solve crimes. Investigators were put on ten hour shifts four days a week, but were not integrated into the teams because of shortages of investigators to fill all the teams and the fact that they are not needed to a great extent on night shifts. The increased hours on working days has allowed for increased contact with citizens who work past normal working hours.

In 2000, the City Council authorized approximately $5,700,000 in certificates of participation to fund a new police facility at 2705 Coast Highway. Because of lobbying by the City Council, City Manager, Chief of Police and COPS, the City received $500,000 in state funds toward the police facility. Lobbying would continue and would be rewarded with another $147,000 in state grants for in 2002.

The same year, City Council authorized four new positions for the department: a Management Information Services (MIS) technician to maintain the over 60 networked computers in the department; two additional community service officers, one to increase parking enforcement and one to combine the duties of crime prevention and court liaison; and another officer assigned specifically as a beach/parks beat officer during the summer and fall months and to be used to supplement patrol in the winter months. The MIS technician was paid with continuing grant funds from the Federal Department of Justice. Sworn staffing was now at 40.

The year 2000 ended with a county radio upgrade being paid for with grant funds. The local radio frequency, to carry data for the soon-to-be-connected laptop computers to state and local databases, was being approved and grant funds were set aside. The architect and chief of police had designed the new police facility. The Environmental Impact Report of the new police facility was nearing completion and certification.

In 2001, the per-capita cost of this department was approximately $154 per citizen per year as compared to a California average of $245 and San Mateo County average cost of $218 per capita. The Pacifica police clearance rate for all crimes averaged over 21 percent, compared to 19.6 percent for California as a whole. This was with a 25 percent shortage of investigators that had yet to be replaced after the cuts of 1997. The department's staffing turnover rate was averaging around 10 percent through the last four years. The Pacifica Police Department was still providing a full-service department with 1.12 sworn officers per thousand and .43 non-sworn personnel per thousand population, as compared to a national average of 2.4 and 0.7 and a California average of 1.8 and 0.7.

In 2001, mobile data computers in vehicles were brought online, relieving some of the workload on dispatchers and cutting the response time for federal, state and local computer inquiries. In May of 2001, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for the new police facility and construction began in June after a lengthy Environmental Impact Report.

One school resource officer was authorized by the City Council from federal grant funds and was requested by the police chief because of increasing nationwide school violence. This officer is shared by both high schools and the middle schools.

Turnover again became a problem in early 2001, with turnover of police officers reaching 15 percent. Again, it became difficult to hire academy graduates or officers with prior experience. At the end of the year, seven officers were attending academies and 2002 began with the team policing approach suspended because of the shortages. Working overtime hours was the norm, not the exception.

The events of September 11, 2001 brought about equipment changes in early 2002. The department changed to .40 caliber pistols because of the increased firepower threat throughout society. New breathing apparatus was purchased for employees, including chemical and biological filters along with appropriate hazardous materials clothing and chemical/biological preventative medications (again, the first in the county to complete the purchase of this equipment). Large amounts of training were also required for some of this equipment. All officers received pursuit-driving training (EVOC) every three years - again, the highest frequency in the county.

The City Council approved a new recruiting loan in mid-2002 to assist in the turnover of sworn police officers. This program was designed to also help new officers move closer to Pacifica rather than living in the east, north or south bay because of its higher cost of living.

The year 2002 still found the department with five officers in the academy and four in the field training program at the same time. Team policing was still suspended and the Investigations function of the department was still staffed at a very minimal level to increase officers on patrol. Additionally, a canine position was not filled, leaving only one canine working the streets of Pacifica.

The highlight of 2002 was the opening dedication of the new police station on the Coast Highway. It included a new multi-purpose room for public use, training and as an attached emergency operations center near the communications center. The building met all appropriate “emergency services building standards” as well as Americans with Disability standards. Additionally, there is some room for expansion within the building and the ability to increase evidence and property storage with rolling shelving units in the future.

Another major event of the year was Chief Merritt's retirement in October of 2002 and the appointment of Captain Pat Brennan as Pacifica's seventh Chief of Police. The swearing-in ceremony was held on November 25, 2002. This year also brought about ordinance changes in Pacifica. Beach parking areas and the Pacifica Pier were closed at night due to large amounts of vandalism to city facilities at those locations. Animal control and parking control enforcement increased to address some of the quality of life issues that many citizens reported. The Citizens Academy was again presented for the first time in five years, as were new police officer trading cards. On March 27, 2003, the Pacifica Police Department relocated into its newly built facility.

Over the next several years, the department continued its focus on community-based policing by placing a school resource officer in local middle and high schools. A new motorcycle grant allowed the dedication of an officer to work solely with traffic issues, using a new-model police motorcycle. The department also took advantage of many regional opportunities to address increasing "high-tech crimes", including involvement with the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team and a regional identity theft task force. The in-house use of technology to aid in law enforcement was also increased, as in-car cameras were converted from VCR-style to digital video, the department began performing its own digital fingerprinting and paper records began migration to digital archives using a high-speed scanner with complex storage and retrieval software. The drunk-driving death of two local teens in early 2005 spurred not only the community to action over the issue of underage drinking but also sparked the creation of the department program known as <21COAST. Funded by a grant from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the program uses minor decoys in sting operations to test merchant adherence to liquor laws.

Throughout the history of the department, officer retention has fluctuated, with an average turnover rate in total personnel of approximately 18 percent. Despite budget cuts and personnel turnover through the years, the Pacifica Police Department has remained consistent in its service to the community. In 1994, the officers adopted the motto “A Tradition of Community Service” to describe their feelings about this department and its role in the community. Pacifica police handle approximately 20,000 calls for service every year, ranging from homicide to abandoned vehicles and every imaginable thing in between. Eight police chiefs have lead the police department since its inception: Neil Tremaine, Mel Nelson, Tony Guardino, Al Olson, Charlie English, Ted Merritt, Pat Brennan and Jim Saunders. Mel Nelson was also Chief of Police in Livermore and Acting Chief of Police in West Sacramento and Escalon after he left Pacifica. Tony Guardino was also Chief of Police in Redwood City after leaving Pacifica. Al Olson, prior to Pacifica, was Chief of Police in Morro Bay.

Many other Pacifica police officers went on to successful careers in law enforcement as well; Don Horsley, San Mateo County Sheriff; Al Tebaldi, Chief of Police in Richland, WA; Oscar Shipley, Chief of Police in Eureka, CA and Medford, OR; Bill Brown, Chief of Police in Moscow, ID and Lompoc, CA; John Gurney, Chief of Police in Sonoma, CA; Roy Sumisaki, Chief of Police of Gilroy, CA; and Bob Robison, Director of Public Safety of Paramont, CA. Of the original nine officers that did not become chief of police here or in other cities: Paul Averiett became sergeant in Pacifica and is now deceased; Robert Greer retired as an investigator with Standard Oil; James Shoemake worked for the CHP; Richard Schaldach also retired from the CHP as a motorcycle officer; and Otto Saltenberger retired from the California Police Officer Standards and Training, as a Senior Consultant. Several other officers also became high-ranking executives in private industry in security and investigative positions.