HISTORY TO PRESENT DATE
Courtesy of the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce
Before Alhambra became a city in 1903, it was under the legal jurisdiction of Los Angeles County. The local justice of the peace handled legal matters, and law enforcement was the duty of the constables of the San Gabriel Township. With the incorporation of Alhambra, the office of marshal was created to handle law enforcement within the City. The first marshal was William F. Hall, who served from 1903-1906. After nearly 30 years of existence, the town of Alhambra still had few law enforcement incidents, and the early town marshal’s duties were so light that, for a time, he was also street superintendent and tax and license collector.
In 1908, Ben F. Parker, a former San Gabriel Township constable, became city marshal. He was a well-known, well-loved figure in town. Short of stature and usually garbed in a khaki suit with a wide-brimmed hat, Parker was a no-nonsense type of person. Like his predecessors, he also repaired streets. He carried a tub of material in the back of his patrol vehicle for any needed jobs. During Parker’s tenure, two deputy marshals were appointed, who patrolled the City on bicycles. Those early deputies worked 12 hour shifts. In the early days, before car radios, there was a light at the top of a pole at the police station that Parker lit when he needed a deputy to report “on the double” to investigate a crime report.
With the passing of the horse and buggy, the City equipped Parker with an automobile. It was an uncovered, brass-trimmed Chalmers that Parker used as a combination patrol car, ambulance, and utility vehicle.
The position of police chief replaced that of marshal in 1915, and Parker continued on as head of the department. Deputy Marshals became patrolmen. The first motorcycle officer, whose duties were traffic law enforcement, began his job in 1914. Chief Parker remained on the force until 1919.
During the 1920s, the department increased in size to deal with Alhambra’s ever increasing population. One member of the force was Captain Matthew R. Spencer, who, as a patrolman in 1923, worked his beat during the daytime and studied fingerprinting at night. He brought modern police methods to the department by setting up the City’s first criminal investigation bureau. At his urging, the City Commissioners supplied the department with its first camera and darkroom for taking and developing mug shots and crime scene photographs. Lieutenant Albert F. Cherry was named director of the Crime Investigation Bureau when Spencer became Chief in 1927. Cherry would later become Chief of Police years later.
A new City jail was built in 1925 on the west side of North Second Street, on the south side of the alley, a few hundred feet from Main Street, behind the City Hall. It replaced the brick jail built in 1908 on the same site. The new building housed, on one side, the Police Department and on the other, the police court, the forerunner of the municipal court.
In 1931, James I. Condie joined the police force. He soon helped organize the Juvenile Division and headed that department for many years. He resigned from the department in 1946 and purchased the Inland Realty Company at 1125 West Main Street, operating it until 1950.
By the mid-1940s, the Police Department had a force of 37, which included a chief, captain, three desk sergeants, two identification bureau sergeants, juvenile division sergeant, secretary/police court clerk, and 26 patrolmen. All police cars were equipped with two-way radios. Headquarters was also equipped with a generator for use in case of power failures.
Former policeman James Condie accepted the position of Chief of Police on January 1, 1950. Condie had received a law degree from the La Salle Law Extension and had also attended the Los Angeles Police Department Academy. Condie was a strict disciplinarian who tightened up the efficiency and polished the image of the Police Department. Police vehicles were washed frequently, uniforms inspected each shift, and officer training was kept current.
In 1953, with a population now exceeding 50,000, the department was quickly outgrowing the old police headquarters building. By this date, there were 11 radio equipped patrol cars and 76 employees. A new $250,000 headquarters station was built in 1955 at the southeast corner of Woodward Avenue and Third Street. This building served as headquarters until it was replaced in 1994 by the new police facility at 211 South First Street.
A familiar feature, beginning in the 1960s, was the golf cart sized parking meter reader vehicles usually operated by women in the police force. The first policewomen used for traffic control began their duties in 1958.
The reserve force began during World War II as part of the Civilian Defense program and was then known as the Auxiliary Police. At first, it consisted of 12 volunteers, but by the end of the war it was up to 50. The original Auxiliary Police was generally made up of men too old to serve in the military. After the war’s end, the volunteer force was reorganized and stricter recruitment standards established.
In 1998, the Community Oriented Policing program was initiated. This is a program used not only to solve crimes, but also to prevent crimes through citizen-level communication and interaction with the regular police force. It includes bicycle and foot patrol by officers and community patrols by citizen volunteers.
The mission of today’s Alhambra Police Department is to prevent crime, to protect lives and property, to preserve the peace and order of the community, and to build positive relationships with the community it serves. The mission has become much more complex since 1903 when the city had a population of 800 in comparison to today’s dense population of 85,000 and its challenges in policing an urban, culturally diverse environment within the most populous county in the United States. Alhambra is the 5th most populated city in the San Gabriel Valley, ranks in the top 15% in population size in California and is in the top 25% of sworn police department staffing in California. The police department handles approximately 50,000 calls for service each year, takes close to 10,000 police reports, makes approximately 2,000 arrests each year, and handles between 2,000 and 3,000 Part 1 crimes per year.
When you consider that approximately 80 percent of the law enforcement agencies in the United States have fewer than 25 sworn officers, Alhambra sits among mid to larger size police agencies in the U.S. Today’s Police Department is comprised of 85 sworn police officers, 80 full-time and part-time civilians, 9 reserve police officers, 4 volunteer police chaplains, 32 community volunteers, and is organized in two divisions, Field Services and Support Services, each overseen by a Police Captain and reporting directly to the Chief of Police. Since the start of Community Policing programs in 1998, the department, city and community has emerged and progressed and believes Community Oriented Policing is beyond just programs and rather to be both a philosophy and an organizational strategy that allows the police and community to work closely together in new ways to solve the problems of crime, illicit drugs, fear of crime, neighborhood decay, and to improve the overall quality of life in Alhambra.
The Field Services Division is staffed by approximately 60% of the Department’s sworn complement and is the most visible through the Patrol function which responds to radio calls for service in assigned geographic areas. Patrol units conduct high visibility patrols to help prevent and reduce crime through crime analysis and Predictive Policing technology. Patrol vehicles today are outfitted with sophisticated computers, assault rifles, less lethal weaponry and in car video cameras. The Field Services Division also houses the Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving Unit, Traffic Unit, Parking Enforcement, K9 teams, and the Special Response Team.
The Support Services division consists of Administration, Finance, Animal Services, Jail Services, Property & Evidence, Records, Youth Services, Professional Standards, Special Enforcement Unit and the Investigations Unit. The Special Enforcement Unit spearheads the Department’s narcotics enforcement and gang intelligence/enforcement effort, including the Department’s participation in a regional narcotics task force. The Investigative Unit functions in support of the Field Services Division and its primary goal is to provide follow-up criminal investigations leading to the identification of suspects, recovery of property and the clearance of cases. The division is also responsible for the Department’s accreditation process. Participation in the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies Accreditation Program allows the Department to demonstrate that its policies and procedures comply with internationally established standards for law enforcement excellence, thereby instilling a greater sense of confidence in departmental employees and the public it serves.
Today, the Alhambra Police Department is led by Police Chief Timothy Vu who was appointed to the position on April 6, 2017. The vision of Chief Vu is for the police department to be an ethical, sophisticated, progressive, innovative and contemporary organization so that it maintains a reputation of excellence; a reputation in which it is viewed upon as a model police agency by those it serves.
Since 1903, the Alhambra Police Department has lost 4 sworn police officers who sacrificed their lives while serving others.
"In the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice protecting the citizens of Alhambra"…
Officer James Nerison was the first officer killed in the line of duty. Officer Nerison was shot and killed on January 3, 1933 when he responded to a burglary call at the Alhambra Theatre at Atlantic Boulevard and Main Street. The second casualty occurred on January 3, 1964, when Sergeant George E. Davis responded to a robbery in progress call at the American Savings and Loan Association at 625 East Main Street. Sergeant Davis was shot and killed just outside the front door. Officer Richard Mohr was killed in a traffic accident on December 14, 1970 at 500 West Valley Boulevard. On July 10, 2011, Officer Ryan Stringer was killed in an automobile accident at Main Street and Garfield Avenue when his patrol car collided with another patrol car responding to a robbery in progress call.