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The story of the Fullerton Police Department

Fullerton PD Headquarters
Photo by Randy Mudrick

Not long after George and Edward Amerige drove a stake into a plot of land in 1887 and christened the area “Fullerton,” the brothers realized their new town needed law and order.

The hills to the north of Fullerton were a notorious hideout for outlaws who no doubt believed they had a fairly safe haven as the nearest lawman was several miles south in Anaheim.

As the editor of the Fullerton News Tribune noted: “A number of roughs, hailing from everywhere, make it a point to come to Fullerton every Sunday and after imbibing a liberal quantity of tarantula juice, proceed to paint the town a bright, carmine tint. They do this with the knowledge we have no peace officer in this section, and accordingly they have no fear of arrest…”

With the town rapidly filling with farmers, families and businesses, one of the first actions by the newly seated town trustees was to appoint A.A. Pendergrast town constable.

Justice was swift under Fullerton’s first lawman: When Pendergrast caught a miscreant, he would take the criminal before Town Justice Alec Wright, who would interrupt his duties as secretary of the Golden Bell Fruit Co. and hold trial. When necessary, a jury would be sworn in from among the company workers.

By 1900, Fullerton’s population reached 1,719 and the town had a new constable, James Gardiner. But his time in office was tragically short: He died of pneumonia contracted while rescuing people in the Great Flood of 1900.

Succeeding Gardiner was Oliver S. Schumacher, who was the last constable prior to incorporation of the city in 1904. After incorporation, Fullerton had a popularly elected town marshal. Winner of the first election was W.A. Barnes, whose duties were to collect all licenses, supervise all road work, and be on duty from 7 a.m. till midnight. Not surprisingly, Barnes found the job too demanding and resigned, to be replaced by Charles E. Ruddock.

Ruddock was reelected in April 1906. That election was especially interesting as the citizens also voted to go “dry” and prohibition became the law in Fullerton - 14 years before it became the law of the nation.

As can be imagined, being marshal of a “dry” town provided an interesting set of challenges, not the least of which was trying to track down the sources of bootleg liquor that seemed to crop up around town. The problem became of such a concern to the city fathers that they sought the assistance of a Los Angeles detective agency – Sam Browne’s Secret Service - to try to ferret out the source of illegal liquor sales.

Sadly, though, Browne’s undercover operatives failed to find any illegal sales, blaming the problem on neighboring Anaheim.

According to Browne’s report, “the wholesale liquor houses have a large business in bottle trade to people who come from Fullerton. Parties come over in buggies and buy bottled goods by the suitcase full and take it back to Fullerton and drink it.”

In 1910 the citizens chose Roderick D. Stone to replace the retiring Ruddock. Two years later, the city got its first deputy: William French, who also carried the title of “night watchman,” was hired to patrol the business section and guard stores. When Stone resigned in 1912 French became marshal.

Eight Fullerton PD officers in 1927
The eight members of the Fullerton Police Department pose for the camera in 1927
In 1914 the first bank burglar alarm was installed at the Farmers and Merchants National Bank (now Landmark Plaza). The timing could not have been better: According to the News Tribune, a break-in was attempted the night after the alarm was installed, and the burglars reportedly were frightened off by the sound of the alarm. In their rush, they left behind a quart of nitroglycerine which was later very gently removed by Marshal French.

Fullerton’s lawmen acquired their first formal uniforms in 1914, the trustees having decided that since Fullerton had officially incorporated as a city, its marshal and deputy should “have the appearance and dignity of ‘metropolitan’ officers, complete with cap and badge.”

Finding an appropriate place to house the city’s criminal element was another challenge facing Fullerton’s early lawmen. The first jail was a wooden building, 14 feet by 12 feet, which was the butt of many jokes. One cold January night in 1916, Marshal French locked eight hooligans in the jail. Shivering from the cold, the men knocked some planks off the side of the building, slipped out, stole a sack of coal from a nearby house and brought it back to the jail to build a warm fire.

Following this incident, the News Tribune’s editor inspected the jail himself and found the conditions “deplorable…The top focused on modernization. He equipped all squad cars with first aid kits, fire extinguishers, cameras and steel tapes for accident investigation, and warning lights. Each car was to carry riot guns at all times, and a records system patterned after the FBI’s system was installed in the Department.

Officer Garner and two bank robbers
Officer Ernest Garner (center) poses with two would-be bank robbers - W.B. Morrison and G. Horine - who were captured after they overturned their car in 1937. Garner went on to become a Chief of the Fullerton Police Department

In 1941 a new 13,700-square-foot Fullerton City Hall was completed. It housed all city departments, with the Police occupying the basement. With the opening of the current City Hall in 1963, the Police Department occupied the entire older building. Today, that building, known to old-timers as “Old City Hall,” is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1957 Wayne H. Bornhoft, a lieutenant from the Pasadena Police Department, became chief and immediately reorganized the Department. For the first time, promotions were made by qualifying through written and oral examinations. Tasks were divided into three divisions: Uniform, Investigation, and Services. A Juvenile Bureau was established to handle all matters dealing with juveniles, as well as all sex-related crimes. The Training Bureau, now the Professional Standards Bureau, was established to handle hiring and training of officers.

Fullerton hired its first female officer in 1959. Geraldine K. Gregory came to Fullerton after 13 years with the Philadelphia Police, where she held the rank of lieutenant. At Fullerton, she was assigned to the Investigation Division, and her principal duties involved handling of juvenile and adult female prisoners.

There were several other “firsts” at the Department that year, including acquisition of the first radar unit and polygraph equipment. The year also saw the establishment of the Fullerton Police Training Academy for the training of new officers not only for Fullerton, but for other cities, as well.

1906 squad car
CSI 1960s style! A Fullerton squad car proudly displays the “latest” in crime scene detection equipment for the period

In 1960 the first “meter maids,” now known as Parking Control Officers, appeared on city streets. This feminine touch to parking control was added at the request of the Downtown Business and Professional Association, which thought parking citations issued by a woman would be easier to accept.

The Narcotics Bureau was established in 1967 to focus attention on increasing drug problems. It was followed shortly thereafter by the Community Relations Bureau, now the Community Services Bureau. Its duties include all public relations and crime prevention activities.

In 1974 a new wing – the Annex - was built adjacent to the main building and houses the administrative offices, Community Services Bureau and the Communications Center. In 2003 the Department opened its second addition to provide much-needed space for its Investigation Division.

When Bornhoft retired in 1977, Martin Hairabedian, a captain from the Los Angeles Police Department, became Chief. His leadership saw a greater emphasis placed on public service, and he stressed neighborhood involvement as playing a vital role in crime prevention. To this end, Chief Hairabedian started the Neighborhood Watch Program.

Chief Hairabedian also established the Department’s D.A.R.E. drug abuse education program for school children, and the Police K-9 program.

Chief Hairabedian was appointed a judge in 1987, and was replaced by Philip Goehring, who created the Department’s Chaplain Program.

Chief McKinley came to Fullerton in 1993 after more than two decades with the LAPD. He established the Special Problems Unit in which teams of officers target specific problems. He also implemented the return to the popular foot patrols in the city’s downtown business district. In May 2009 Chief McKinley was replaced by Michael Sellers. Chief Sellers retired in February 2012.

The current Acting Chief of Police, Dan Hughes, was born and raised in Fulleton.

Now into its second century, the Fullerton Police Department continues to strive to stay abreast of the latest developments in law enforcement while never losing sight of the customers it serves. Yet while crime-fighting may be its business, the Police Department’s mission remains the same as when A.A. Pendergrast first pinned on his badge: to provide the best service possible for the citizens of Fullerton.


Fullerton’s top lawmen

Detailed History


Historical material courtesy Philip A. Goehring
Historical photos courtesy the Launer Local History Room of the Fullerton Public Library

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