Department History

Some Personal Memories from Harry Lace,
NBPD Captain, Retired.

"My name is Harry Lace. I started with the Newport Beach Police Department in 1939. I was appointed sergeant in 1946 and in 1953 I was appointed captain. I retired in 1960.

What recollections do you have of the Department's "early years?"

"I can go back as far as 1927 or 1928 when our family came down from Tustin to visit my grandfather who had the first hardware store in Newport Beach. They had just built the Police Department on Court Street near the Newport Pier. At that time, the Department was run by Chief Roland Hodgkinson. He served as Chief from 1926 until 1953. Prior to that, the Department was run by a Marshal, appointed by the City Council.

We had a little Department that was 25 feet wide and about 50 feet deep. In that area we had two cells, an office for the chief, and we had an area where the officers who came on duty could look at reports or change their clothes. The clerks then were all male. We had no female operators at all, no female clerks at all. Everything was done by men. Before we moved over to 32nd Street, the chief asked for a budget allotment to go upstairs on the old Police station. Remember that station was 25 feet wide and about 50 feet deep so there wasn't much room. The council rejected any building on top, but if we wanted to go out front they'd allow a budget of $500, if we do the work. So all of us got together. We were able to provide a fantastic communication desk and filing rooms, and we were quite proud of our addition, which amounted to about 12 feet onto the front of the old building. In 1948, we moved out of that little station and moved over to 32nd Street, where we just had more room than we thought. We had a time for a year or two to even fill the offices that we had over there. It was a pleasant situation to be able to move into something where we weren't butting heads every time we turned around. The chief had his own office, captain had his own office, and the sergeants had an office. We had a large record area, which incidentally was composed of not only the record files, but also the dispatch area.

Radios were in their infancy as far as the police were concerned. When I started, we had only the receivers in the units. In other words, if a dispatch was sent out by the Department, they really didn't know whether the unit received it or not. At the base of Newport Pier, at the old fire station on Balboa, and on top of the fire station, which served also as a Police Sub-Station, there were tall light poles, each one of them having three bright red lights. Whenever a call went out to a unit, the clerk in the office would turn those lights on. If the officer in the car saw those red lights it would mean he had a dispatch, if he had missed the transmission he would telephone the station.

City Hall was a former elementary school, located on the Ocean Front, just east of the Newport Pier about a half block. The Police Department was located directly behind City Hall on Court Avenue. The address as I recall was 2006. Before the Police Department was built, a couple of offices in City Hall were used as the Police Department, run by the Marshals. The city clerk, the mayor, the council, the Police Department, were all located there until 1948 when they moved over to 32nd Street.

I am totally amazed at the sophisticated equipment that is available today. We had no sophisticated fingerprint identification. We had no DNA testing. We had no laboratories that we could go to and get positive identification.

Newport, Costa Mesa, and the surrounding areas didn't have a population of over 2,500 or 3,000 at the most. Council chambers were a police court. Retired Superior Court Judge Bob Gardner was one of the police court judges. Municipal court was founded up in Costa Mesa under the direction of Judge Donald Dodds.

There was no Cliff Haven to speak of, there was no Irvine Terrace, there was no Corona Del Mar. There was nothing in the Back Bay, and there was nothing back on Irvine. This was all bean fields and wide-open spaces. When I started in 1939, I believe I was either the 10th or 11th patrolman sworn. We had two units that covered the south side and the north side. The south of course being the Peninsula and the north being the Corona Del Mar area. We had two units, one covering south and one covering north, and one motorcycle, which covered the whole district. The motorcycle handled such things as crossing guard duties, parking violations, speeding, whatever the two units couldn't cover. Eventually, the city acquired a three wheeler, used to cover the parking problems when the meters were installed. We had a van that was used for two reasons. The Human Officer was the one who used the van mainly, then in the summertime it was used as a paddy wagon. During Easter week and summer time, that paddy wagon came into extensive use hauling drunks up to our tiny little station on Court Avenue. As we moved from Court Avenue to 32nd Street, the Department grew immediately. At the time that I retired in 1960, we had somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 sworn officers and they were aided by 25 or 30 reserve officers.

The reserve officers were authorized by the City Council at the time that the World War was declared. We didn't have enough people to cover what were considered to be vital areas of the city, so a number of the 'good old boys' were issued special badges and assigned to guard areas such as the Water Department, the reservoirs, and the electrical pumping station. Later, we saw an opportunity to aid the Department by putting these fellows on the job as a regular reserve. I went up to L.A.P.D. They had probably one of the best reserve organizations. I was able to get all of their paper work and instructions and came back and I formed the first reserve unit. The City Council called them the Auxiliary Police. We put them in tan uniforms with a little cloth badge on them. They weren't armed and, of course, when they got down into a situation in Balboa, or tried to pick up a drunk, or separate a couple of fighters, they would look at the Auxiliary Police and say, "Well, where did you get that, out of the cracker jack box?" In 1942 we were able to get the Council to allocate a sum of money to provide green uniforms, much the same as what the Orange County Sheriff's Office is wearing.

Saturday night in Balboa, the Rendezvous Dance Hall, would be the center of drunken rivalries. Several police officers were getting pushed and punched out. So Lloyd Clair, I think the Police Commissioner at that time and a member of the City Council, went to the Chief and said we have got to stop this punching of our police officers. He said "I see Walt Dison (a local commercial fisherman) walking around, put some shoes and a uniform on him and get him down to Balboa, and shake some of these drunks up." Which was done. Now Walt was a mountain man, about 6'4" or 6'5" and probably weighed about 240 or 250 pounds. He straightened out Balboa as far as the drunks were concerned.

Gambling was pretty rampant in both Balboa and Newport. Balboa on Main Street, and over to the street that the Ferry Landing is on, had all kinds of gambling rooms. They had roulette wheels, card games, and what have you. In Newport, there were a number of wire services or betting areas where anybody could go in and lay a bet on whatever they wanted. A fellow had a wide-open area in the Harbor District and Southern Orange County where he had control of the punchboards and slots. Now slots were basically illegal. The slots that we had were little machines about a foot square but it was a little machine. They also had pinball's, which was then quite a gambling game. We had a wide-open town. The only thing that the City Council objected strongly to was the old gambling ship Rex. That came off of Newport Harbor and they started to run their shore boats up to the Newport Pier. They operated for two or three months before they were finally able to get the Rex out of there. Those problems, of course, are unheard of today, but they were rampant then."

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