In the opening years of the 20th century, Dr. Chandler was setting up camp for what he envisioned as his oasis in the desert. County Constables kept the peace. The Town of Chandler was chartered along with the state on February 14, 1912. In November of 1914, Charles M. Beckham was elected as one of the first Constables for the area. The Constable was an officer of the County Court, very similar to the County Constables of today.
Early on, Beckham solved a break in at the N.L. Nowell store in Gilbert, where the safe was blown up. Constable Beckham had an honorable career for about ten years. Then in 1924, Charles Beckham was convicted of aiding and abetting escapees from the Florence Prison who had killed a Tempe store owner, his 10-year-old son, and a Tempe night watchman.
On March 9, 1920, Chandler Town Ordinance Title VII was adopted. Section 1 was titled “Police Court and General Penal Provisions.” It stated in part, “…the police court of the Town of Chandler shall be presided over by a Police Justice…” Section 2 read, “…the Town Marshal of the Town of Chandler shall be ex-officio Chief of Police of said court…” These ordinances were signed by Chandler’s founder and first Mayor, Dr. A.J. Chandler, and by City Clerk W.W. Pickerell. Charles Malone would soon become our First Marshall, serving until March 24, 1921.
As indicated, the Town Marshal served as Police Chief and “Watchman” for the town. For several years, the Marshal would be a one-man “Police Force.” A second watchman was later added and served as “Night Watchman” with the Marshal being the “Day Watchman.” The County Constable also enforced laws in Chandler along with surrounding areas of his district, including Gilbert.
The first Chandler City Hall was built in 1923 on the northwest corner of Arizona Avenue and Chicago Street, two blocks west of the current Police and Courts complex. The 4,800-square-foot facility, dedicated on February 5, was the new home for the Police Force/Jail, the Mayor’s office, City Clerk’s office, City Council Chambers, and the Magistrate and his courtroom. The jail cells purchased from Cornville. Arizona, were built for them in 1897 and reported to have been used to hold the famous Apache Indian Chief Geronimo. One of the cell doors is now stored at the Chandler Historical Museum. Demolished in 1970, the new “state of the art” facility cost taxpayers $8,000.
An article written by Dennis Wagner appeared in the Arizona Republic on May 22, 1999, recounts the shooting death of Chandler night watchman Lee Wright in his attempts to apprehend Irene “Animal Girl” Schroeder and her accomplices near the San Marcos Hotel in January of 1930.
On May 7, 1941, Roy Wolf was hired as Marshal/Chief. In 1948, newspaper articles were referring to the now four-man team of watchmen as the “Police Force.” They received their first uniforms, consisting of a light blue shirt, navy blue pants, and a dark blue eight-point hat. There were no arm patches for the first few years, and the watchmen had to purchase the uniforms themselves, along with their gun belts and weapons.
On July 23, 1951, the Chandler Arizonan reported the resignation of all six police officers and Chief Wolf effective July 15. The officers advised the Council that they would resign if Chief Wolf was not replaced by July 15. The Council had been investigating a “conflict between the officers and Chief Wolf” and had planned a “reorganization” of the “Police Force.” They planned to “start from scratch with only a trained and experienced police chief.”
Chief Robert L. Womack was appointed Chief of Police at the same council meeting that Chief Wolf’s resignation was accepted. At the time of his hire, Mr. Womack was working as a Dispatcher at the headquarters for the State Highway Patrol. He had extensive law enforcement background, including Chief of Police for Flagstaff, Arizona.
In an interesting coincidence, the Chandler Arizonan had an article on the front page, next to the one reporting the reorganizations titled; “Mrs. Ada Honea Dies Following Major Surgery/Well-Known Chandlerite Since 1918 Dies after Illness.” Among the survivors listed was her grandson, Franklin Reid Honea, who retired in 1997 as a Sergeant for the Chandler Police Department.
Two weeks after the police force reorganization, the Arizonan ran an article titled “Police Department Solves First Burglary Case/Officers Valenzuela, Kidd, Patterson Get Praise Of Chief”. The article called it “the first burglary, and real case by which the new Chandler Police Force was confronted”. The burglary was to a storeroom at a Chandler motel, and the suspects were arrested within 18 hours of the report.
Effective October 31, 1952, the Town Council accepted the resignations of two sergeants, five officers, and a dispatcher, who said they would resign if the council did not terminate Chief Womack. The council backed the Chief totally in the move. Two days prior to this action, Chief Womack was rushed to South Side District Hospital in Mesa for a heart attack.
On September 15, 1953, Robert Womack resigned as Chief of Police after a “dispute” between himself and Sergeant William McGraw. Officers Atlee Tucker, and Ferris Medford, also resigned at the same time. Control of the force was assigned to the City Council standing Police Committee, made up of a council member and two committeemen. Sergeant McGraw was reinstated by the Council. Chief Womack was credited with establishing the first identification section, and the first Chandler Fraternal Order of Police lodge, which sponsored Little League Baseball, the Boys Ranch, and the Girl Scouts.
On September 25, 1953 Ivan S. Williams, a 25 year veteran, and District Commander for the U.S. Border Patrol, was hired as the Chief of Police. Williams was well-liked and supported by the Town Council during his term. In June of 1956, Chief Williams submitted his resignation due to failing health, and upcoming surgery. He was replaced by William T. Caroline. Chief Carol, as he preferred to be called, served for only four months before he was found dead in his rented home in the Wingfoot Acres subdivision near Hamilton and Williams Field Road. He was found shot with his service revolver laying next to him on the bed. While some doubt existed in the mind of one investigator, the death was ruled as a suicide.
Mayor Hal Jones asked Chief Ivan Williams to return to his post until the town could hire a new Chief. Williams agreed, and his temporary status lasted for four more years to his second resignation on July 28, 1960, due to failing health. Detective William Hill was appointed acting Chief.
On September 24 1960, Ralph K. Anderson was hired as our fifth Chief. A former Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputy, Anderson was working for the Arizona State Liquor Board when hired. With fourteen officers, the Department started to modernize with its first teletype machine. The Department’s third arm patch was designed during this time. The new design with the star and state seal in the middle, and the rainbow burst across the top, was used well into the 1970’s.
On March 6, 1962, Ralph Anderson resigned, refusing to give either the council or the media his reasons for leaving. He later told a reporter that he resigned over disagreements with the City Manager over personnel issues, and had no hard feelings. Sergeant Arnold W. Payne became acting Chief of Police.
On September 18, 1962, Charles S. Shipley was hired as Chandlers Chief of Police. Chief Shipley’s career started in 1947 as a Deputy for the Pima County Sheriffs Office. He then spent two years as a Patrolman for the Arizona Highway Patrol. He went from the employment with the State to the Coolidge Police Department as an Officer, Captain, then Chief of Police. Chief Shipley worked to continue the professional growth and modernization of the Department. He made another uniform update to a uniform similar to that of the Border Patrol, which included tan shirts, and dark green pants, eight point hat, and formal dress jacket. On June 7, 1964, Chief Shipley resigned as Chief, and Captain William T. Louthan was appointed as Acting Chief of Police.
On September 19, 1964 William T. Louthan was appointed as Chief of Police. Chief Louthan was hired in May of 1963 as a Patrolman, and promoted to Captain in September of that year. He started his law enforcement career in 1948 as a Patrolman for the La Grange, Indiana, Police Department after serving five years in the Navy and Marine Corps. In 1953 he moved to the Sturgis, Michigan, Police Department where he stayed for 10 years, before coming to Chandler.
As Chief, William Louthan changed the Department to the tan uniform worn by the Arizona Highway Patrol. A straw cowboy hat with badge was worn in the winter, and a tan felt hat with badge was worn in winter and on formal occasions. Under the direction of Captain Ed Workman, a new patch was designed, nearly identical to the patch of today. While Louthan was Chief, he watched over the construction of Chandlers second
Police/Court facility. Dedicated in March of 1970 as part of a new city complex, the new building was about eight times as large as the original. It housed the Police Department, City Magistrate Court, Chandler Justice of the Peace Court, and the City Council Chambers, which doubled as the courtroom for jury trials for both courts. Included in the Police Department was a new crime laboratory with the latest in equipment and a darkroom for in-house film development, a newly equipped communications room, and a 100-person capacity maximum-security jail, that was the most modern in the valley, if not the state.
For a short time in the early 1970’s, the Police and Fire Departments were combined under Louthan as “Director of Public Safety”, and renamed the “Chandler Department of Public Safety”. As part of the reorganization, some Firefighters were trained as Reserve Police Officers, and several Officers were cross-trained as Firefighters. Patrol units were equipped with basic firefighting equipment as well. The same patch arm patch was used, but modified with the new title, and worn by the members of the Fire Division. New badges were made, and were the same for Fire and Police personnel. They looked like a combination of the two styles, with red ribbon for Fire personnel, blue for Police, and white for some support personnel and officials. After a couple of years, the Police and Fire Departments were broken back out to their original configuration.
A growing controversy started in the mid 70’s resulting in the recall of the Mayor, and three City Council Members. Morale in the Police Department was dropping, and allegations of wiretapping, misappropriation of funds, and cover up attempts were investigated by the Attorney General’s Office. In May of 1979, Chief Louthan was suspended with pay during the Attorney Generals investigation. Arizona Department of Public Safety Narcotics Division Captain Juan Martin Jr., was re-assigned to the Chandler Police Department to serve as the Acting Police Chief pending the outcome of the investigation. A short time later, William Louthan resigned as Chief.
On August 20, 1979, Ronald J. Oberholtzer was hired as the new Chief . He had worked for the Pinal County Sheriffs Office from March 1969 to December of 1975. From January of 1976 to being hired for Chandler, he was Chief of Police in Durango, Colorado. Chief Oberholtzer began efforts to expand the Department and its staff, and update its equipment. A full size delivery van was purchased, and outfitted with all the equipment needed for any crime scene, including a generator for external lighting, and other necessary equipment. The decision was made in 1980 to “Get out of the jail business”, and after ten years, the jail was closed, due largely to cost and liability issues and increasing federal requirements. In a surprise move on April 30, 1980, Chief Oberholtzer submitted his resignation. He said that he advised the City when he was hired that he would reevaluate his career path on a daily basis, and that he and his wife had purchased the Rusty Nail restaurant on north Arizona Avenue and were going into business. Recently hired Captain Ronald J. Danielson was appointed as the Acting Chief.
On April 10, 1980 Captain Ronald J. Danielson was promoted to Chief. Prior to being hired as Captain, he was the Chief of Police for the Northern Arizona University Police Department; prior to NAU he had worked as a Sergeant for a California Police Department. Chief Danielson holds the record for longest term as Chief of Police for Chandler. During his 14 years, the City and the Police Department experienced major growth. The communications systems were upgraded twice, the building remolded several times, and people began to seek work space where ever they could, including converted custodial closets and bathrooms. The Police Department had grown from about 50 employees to over two hundred during this time. Some of the programs started during this time included the install of 9-1-1 service in Chandler and the start of a Police Explorer Program in 1985. D.A.R.E. was started in 1986, and obtained its first D.A.R.E. Car, a ‘hot rodded’ 1967 Chevy Nova seized in 1989 as a result of a narcotics sting operation. The Spanish translator program was initiated in 1987, and a committee formed to plan the conversion of report writing to a laptop computer program.
In December of 1990, the Communications Section moved to a brand new facility on the second floor of the Police/Fire Headquarters building at 221 East Boston Street. This building was planned as the first phase of a new public safety facility. With the upgrade to a trunked 800 MHz system, and the addition of Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), the Chandler Police Department again stepped up as a state of the art leader in the valley and Arizona, if not the nation.
Chief Danielson retired on September 10, 1993. From here he spent time in England, and built his own sailboat, fulfilling a long time dream. Captain Bobby J. Harris was appointed to the position of Acting Chief while an extensive nationwide search for a new Chief was started. On September 10, 1994, Bobby Joe Harris was promoted to his position as Chief of Police. Chief Harris served with distinction in Viet Nam as an US Marine Sergeant prior to going to work for the Clovis, New Mexico, Police Department. From there he came to Chandler as an officer. As Sergeant he started the first K-9 program in Chandler, and became a certified K-9 instructor. With this experience, Harris helped form and train K-9 units around the state. In 1996, the Chandler Police Department attained national accreditation through CALEA. Chief Harris attended the FBI National Academy for police administrators, and has served on the Advisory Board for the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (POST). Chief Harris saw to the expansion of the Department to half again its size. The Park Ranger program, and the Neighborhood Services/zoning inspectors, were added. Other programs initiated in this time include the Volunteers in Policing (V.I.P.) program, the Citizen’s Police Academy, and the Victim’s Assistance program which includes a large staff of volunteers trained to help victims of crime and personal loss.
The crime laboratory also underwent upgrades to the latest in technology including digital photography and enhancement, and AFIS, the Automated Fingerprint Identification system, which includes the Livescan inkless fingerprinting system.
In November of 1998, the Chandler Police Department moved to its current home at 250 East Chicago Street. Once again, through employee participation, we built a state-of-the-art facility that is the envy of other agencies around the state. This building again boasts a modern crime lab, with the most modern equipment. The building houses an indoor firing range, and shoot-house for practical training. The range is supported by its own wood shop for target and fixture construction, as well as an armory and maintenance area.
A trio of bronze statues compliment the front courtyard to the Police Department. It depicts two officers assisting a small boy who has fallen from his bicycle. The statues include strict detail of the uniform worn today, including patches, radio and weapons. Next to the statues is an area of bricks purchased by Chandler employees and a plaque dedicating them to those who have served with the Chandler Police Department.
In 1999, the Chandler Police Department was changed forever. We were a large metropolitan police agency, in a new facility, in a new time. We still worked as a very close family in prosperous times. But on April 16, Officer James R. Snedigar was shot and killed while serving his community as a member of the Special Assignment Unit entry team. While line of duty deaths have been on the rise for some time, this was our first since the death of Night Watchman Lee Wright, shot outside the San Marcos Hotel on January 12, 1930. With this loss, we have become more aware of the potential danger our officers face. We became aware of the deep pain a family feels with such a loss. We have became aware of the strong support out there by the extended family of the citizens of Chandler, and other agencies literally around the world. We have truly learned the need to be careful at all times.
Information for this historical section was collected from articles appearing in the “Chandler Arizonan”, articles by Chandler resident and historian Jerry Guerich, and past members of the Chandler Police Department.
For an interesting look at Chandler’s past, visit the Chandler Historical Museum at 300 Chandler Village Dr S in Chandler.