as written by former Laguna Beach Police Officer George T. Pletts
On November 23, 1942, I was sworn in as a regular police officer at $140.00 per month, 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, and no overtime pay. We had to furnish our own uniforms and cleaning, our own leather, weapons, and handcuffs. Soon after, and because of World War II, we went to a 12 hour shift for 7 days a week, no overtime pay. We worked this schedule for about 8 months then went back to our 8 hour, 6 days a week. Still no overtime pay.
In those days we had no heaters or air conditioners in the cars. The City could not afford them; WOW, did it get cold at night and early mornings. In the extreme cold weather we would pick up a red lantern and set it on the floor of the back seat. It would help warm up the car.
In 1943 my salary was raised to $160.00, 1944 to $180.00, and in 1945 I received two increases to $205.00. During this time I enrolled myself in several classes at Santa Ana J.C. night classes, (my own time and money). I was interested in police records and police science and was able to study and learn fingerprint classification and comparison, crime scene search, police photography and scientific police investigation. Fingerprint comparison and court preparation, I learned from FBI classes that were given in Santa Ana. I did qualify as being an expert on the subject of fingerprint comparison and did testify in Superior Court. In my learning experience, I received many hours of help and training from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and other police departments around Southern California.
Through 1944 and 1945 we were able to set up a complete new records and filing system including fingerprint files for our department. We started fingerprinting and photographing all our prisoners and submitting fingerprint cards and photos to the FBI and CII for records and wants.
In 1945 I was doing all of our photographic darkroom work in my home darkroom on my own time with my own equipment and material (we didn’t have a budget for this at the P.D.). Near the end of the year, I got permission to convert the only closet we had at the P.D. into a very, very small darkroom. This was in the old Police Station on the Water Department property across the street from the main entrance of the present Police Department (1933). I moved all my darkroom equipment from home to the P.D.
On July 1, 1946, I was appointed as the first Sergeant on the Department, by Chief Johnson, I was very proud of the appointment. Just before I went to work on the department, Howard Allanson was appointed Captain. Now we had a Chief, a Captain, and a Sergeant. The Chief took care of the day shift, the Captain the night shift (5 p.m. to 1 a.m.), and the Sergeant the morning watch (1 a.m. to 9 a.m.). This shift gave me a chance to get fingerprint cards classified and filed as well as darkroom work out of the way. There was time to do a little patrol work and work on our files. The Sergeant’s pay at that time was $220.00 a month. However, coffee was still 5 and 10 cents a cup and a hamburger was 15 and 20 cents and you could still find a house to rent for $20.00 to $30.00 a month if you tried.
During that time we started a Police Show with police officers from various P.D.s in the county, Sheriff Deputies, some members of the Orange County Communication Department, and all members of the Orange County Peace Officers Association. I was one of the lucky ones and part of the team. We went to the various high schools in the County and put on a mock police chase, which students gathered in the bleachers and could hear, described over loud speakers, and observe the ending of the chase that ended on the field in front of them. After the chase we would demonstrate the use of our equipment, gas, weapons, radios, etc. The students were then invited down on the field giving us good communications with the young people. It was well received and a success
On July 1, 1947, I was appointed Lieutenant, the first Lieutenant on the department. It was during this time that we received our first shoulder patches. We were wearing forest green uniforms, the same as the Sheriff Deputies. Our patches were a black back-ground with gold or yellow trim around the patch with gold or yellow lettering, “LAGUNA BEACH POLICE.” The patch was in the shape of a shield. In late 1954, John Krasowski (Ski), one of our police officers, designed our next shoulder patch which was in the shape of an artist’s palette; it was on black felt with a light green background to match the olive green uniforms. When we changed to the Los Angeles Police blue uniform in the early 60’s we changed our patch background to blue.
In 1947 and 1948 we were looking for a place to build a shooting range. We had been using the end of the road on the north end of Temple Hills Drive for a .22 rifle range for the junior rifle club; it had grown to 100 members. We also needed a good pistol range. We found what seemed to be a good location near the top of the small canyon just north of the Irvine Bowl. With the help of some City heavy equipment we were able to cut a small road from near Harold Drive to our range site and level the site to a fair size range. This we did in one day, thanks to the City. The Laguna Beach Lumber Co. furnished us with some lumber and we were off to a good start. The officers involved mainly were Dan McDaniels, Walter Ummack and I. Many other officers contributed their off duty time helping. Almost every day you would find McDaniels, Ummack, and I digging holes, using a hammer and a saw. With the help of many people, we completed our range which accommodated the rifle club very well and was a very good pistol range.
In 1950 we were advised that we were to have a new City Hall and Police Department on the north side of the fire department. We were to get busy and design a police department on the space provided for us. We were to let the City know just what we wanted. We did, and in 1951 the new City Hall was started. We kept a photographic record of the progress of the building until it was completed.
In 1952 the building was completed and we moved into our brand new quarters with lots of room. A new large jail with a drunk tank, male cells, women’s cell, and a juvenile cell. We had a booking room and a large darkroom that I equipped. Our reception desk was just great with filing cabinets under the counters and a special dispatcher’s radio desk. We had a small kitchen and a shower. Captain Allanson and I had our own office. Remember, we had just moved out of an old garage at the Water Department into a castle and it sure was in those days. At the time of our move we had 15 sworn officers.
On February 13, 1953, Officer Gordon G. French was shot and killed while on duty booking a prisoner. The prisoner had been brought to the station for questioning and it was decided to book him. He had not been searched when brought in and was armed. He pulled his weapon while in the booking cage and used Officer French as a hostage. I was in the reception part of the office along with Officer Luther; neither of us could make a move as the suspect was holding his weapon on Officer French. Officer French made a grab for the suspect, the suspect shot, wounding French. Officer French died enroute to a Santa Ana Hospital.
The man responsible for Officer French’s death was Carle Lawson Miller. He was able to evade capture by running into the hills and brush in the back of the police department. We located him several hours after he killed Officer French. His location was revealed by a Laguna Beach cab driver who had picked him up and driven him to San Clemente and dropped him near a liquor store and motel. We located his room through the office. As we approached his room and started to enter, we heard a gunshot, Miller had just killed himself. This closed the case and started some very needy training in our department.
It was several years after Officer French was killed that all of our new officers had to go through police training at the police academy. At that time we also started a thorough background check on all our prospective police candidates. It was surprising some of the information we got on some of the background checks that were made. These two additional requirements made a big difference from the time I was hired, no physical, no background check, no training, and no agility testing. If you could walk and talk they figured you could learn, we did. Many mistakes were made and thanks to the good Lord they were not serious. I was shot at several times and that is how I learned to duck.
In 1972 I was president of the California State Division of the International Association for Identification and for the second time, hosted their meeting and training seminar for four days in Laguna Beach. The following year (1973) I retired from the police department and still lived in Laguna Beach. My first love was my wife and children, my second love was the police department, its people, many of which I had trained and worked with, and many people and friends I have met through the department. I have loved every minute of it, even the cold nights on patrol without a heater.