When South Pasadena incorporated on March 2, 1888, Amman Cobb was elected as the first City Marshal for the city and ten days later Martin Selman (who would later become City Marshal) was appointed as a Deputy Marshal. The two provided law enforcement service for about 500 residents.
Most of South Pasadena consisted of orchards and farm lands with few roads through town. There were only a few businesses in the city and the luxurious Raymond Hotel stood atop of what is now Raymond Hill.
One of the first laws enacted by the new city was the “Anti-Saloon Ordinance”, which prohibited saloons, bars, pool halls, and gambling rooms. This ordinance is still in effect today.
On March 19, 1888, Marshal Cobb made his first order of police equipment: two police nippers, two pairs of handcuffs and two stars (badges).
By the late 1800’s, the farmlands and orchards were slowly giving way to land development and new roads. With the population expanding, so did the needs of the police department. On January 28, 1889, City Ordinance Number 19 created a police force of one or more officers that was to be appointed by the Board of Trustees. Nine officers were appointed to serve without pay. On April 22, 1889, $20.00 was appropriated for a detective fund.
By 1902, railway lines and trolley cars opened up connecting South Pasadena to neighboring cities much like the MTA Gold Line is today.
By the early 1900’s, South Pasadena was a growing young city. New businesses, schools and homes were being constructed and the population grew to about 5,000 by 1909.
Horse drawn carriages were still used in the early 1900s, but vehicles were starting to rise as well as paved roads. In 1909, the police department purchased two Thor motorcycles to help deal with speeding motorists. The first two motorcycle officers were Frank Higgins (who would later become police chief) and John Lillick. The two new motorcycle officers became the seventh and eighth motorcycle officers in Los Angeles County.
In 1914, a new city hall was built at Mission and Mound, which also housed the fire and police department, including a jail.
In 1916, Marshal Johnston resigned and Frank Higgins was appointed as City Marshal.
On April 28, 1919, the officers requested one day off per week instead of one day per month. By the roaring 1920s, South Pasadena continued to grow with more businesses and homes expanding as well as paved roads. Historic Route 66 came through South Pasadena resulting in traffic concerns.
In 1926, the state legislature changed the position of City Marshal to Chief of Police, thus making Frank Higgins the department’s first Police Chief. Chief Higgins remains one of three officers that started working with the South Pasadena Police Department as an officer and would later become its Chief (the other two are William Reese and Joseph Payne).
In 1929, the police department grew and plans were underway to purchase a building for the police department.
In 1930, the city purchased a fix-it shop next to City Hall and remodeled it to become the new police department. The first police radios were installed in police cars a year later. Prior to two-way radios installed in cars, Police Call Boxes were installed throughout the city. Officers communicated to the police station by calling in and receiving calls for service from the Call Boxes.
In 1938, work on the Arroyo Parkway (now called the 110 freeway) began and would open two years later in 1940.
On May 6, 1940, at about 3 PM, South Pasadena became the first city in the San Gabriel Valley to have an “active shooter” shooting occur in a school, leaving five faculty members dead and one wounded. The shooter was the principal of the South Pasadena Junior High School, Verlin Spencer, who shot five faculty members after hearing that he would be dismissed. Verlin Spencer shot himself when confronted by South Pasadena Police Officers in the junior high school's cafeteria.In 1942, the department created the “South Pasadena Auxiliary Police”. These volunteer officers were a third officer in the car and did not carry guns. They were originally created as a Civilian Defense auxiliary unit during the Second World War to support regular officers. It wasn’t until 1945 when Auxiliary Officers were changed to “Reserve Officers” with authority to carry guns and were completely autonomous with their own command staff including a Reserve Chief.
On April 15, 1944, South Pasadena Police Officer Ray Rogers was killed during a high-speed pursuit on the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Officer Rogers was the first South Pasadena Police Officer killed in the line of duty.
The 1950s continued to see the city grow and in 1952, the electric trolley cars were gone and replaced with buses. In 1953, commercial vehicles were banned on the Arroyo Parkway, thus starting a traffic dilemma for the city. Truck routes had to be planned through the city to allow trucks to pass. Today, trucks routes are strictly enforced by the Traffic Unit. Commercial vehicle’s heavy weight can damage city streets, so it is important that they stay on roads that can handle the weight of the vehicle. In 1954, Arroyo Parkway was renamed the “Pasadena Freeway”. Also in the 1950s, the department sported their new “summer” light blue uniforms which were designed for summer comfort.
By the 1960s, the last area of the city (Monterey Hills) was being developed and the population increased to about 20,000. This opened up a whole new area of the city to patrol. To help combat the ever growing problem of speeding motorists, the police department started to use radar to enforce traffic laws. This radar unit was mounted in the back of a police car. Today, Lidar has replaced radar for speed enforcement as it uses a laser to identify speeders and is also hand-held, about the size of a hair dryer.
In 1964, Lieutenant Jim Simmons organized a department “Precision Shooting Team” which performed for organizations, civic groups, etc., both in and outside of the City. Officers demonstrated their shooting skills at unique moving and stationary targets.
In 1969, the department established a “Cadet” Program, which was a part-time employee. The Cadet would perform duties suitable for non-sworn personnel, relieving sworn personnel for in the field. One of the first cadets was Joseph Payne, who would later become Chief of Police.
In 1970, the department established the Explorer program for young people 14 to 21 years of age. The Explorers are affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America and helps guide people to a career in law enforcement.
By the mid-1970s, the old City Hall was deemed unsafe and plans were underway to build a new one. By 1971, the department consisted of 40 employees (34 sworn and six non-sworn personnel) and 34 Reserve Officers.
The 1980s saw many new changes to the police department. Despite the growth of the city, the department consisted of 41 employees (30 sworn and 11 non-sworn). In 1982, “Belker” joined the police department as its first police canine (Belker was in service for about three years) and in 1986, the all white colored police cars were changed to the traditional “black and white” colored police car that was part of Chief Reese’s “Back to Tradition” program.
In 1987, the new City Hall which again housed the police and fire department opened at Mission and Mound.
The 1990s continued to bring change to the department with many community related programs beginning. In 1990, the police department held its first Community Fair at Garfield Park. It would later be called the “Safety Fair” and was held in conjunction with Red Ribbon Week. What started as crime prevention awareness would turn into one of the biggest events in the city with over 10,000 people attending. Free food, demonstrations, safety information, helicopters, fire demonstrations would be available for all.
In 1992, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) Program started in the elementary schools teaching children the dangers of drugs.
In 1993, the department was one of the first to switch the patrol officers working schedule to a 3/12, three days a week at 12 hours a day, with a fourth day required every third week.
In 1998, the canine program restarted and consisted of a patrol dog (“Tommy”) and a Scent Evidence Team consisting of a bloodhound (“Tinkerbelle”).
In 2004, the Rotary Club of South Pasadena and the South Pasadena Police Officers' Association hosted a “Police Recognition Luncheon” honoring police department employees. Medals for bravery, valor and life saving was established.
In 2005, Chief Watson organized an Open House, similar to the Safety Fair, but on a smaller scale. In 2006, the Open House was held in conjunction with the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Classic Car Show which was a big success. Each year both events attract over 10,000 people. The combined event is still considered one of the biggest events for the city.
On June 14, 2011, South Pasadena Police Officer Kevin Sandoval collapsed and died during a tactical training exercise with the Pasadena Police Department’s SWAT Team. Officer Kevin Sandoval was the second South Pasadena Police Officer to die in the line of duty.
In 2012, the department’s radio system was enhanced which allowed different agencies in LA County to communicate with each other. Also in 2012, the implementation of the “Wireless 911” system allowed cell phones to automatically contact the police jurisdiction they are in, instead of the California Highway Patrol.
The year 2013 marked the 125 Anniversary of the police department. From the early beginnings we have seen how history has repeated itself in the city. The electric trolley cars of the early 1900s gave way to the current Gold Line and traffic has also been an issue with the city since the early 1900s. Motor officers continue to enforce the speed laws just as Frank Higgins and John Lillick did back in 1909.
Despite the modernization of the 20th Century, South Pasadena has continued to maintain its small town atmosphere in part due to the dedication of the men and women of the South Pasadena Police Department.