by Mike Manning

The second Altadena Sheriff's Station No. 7 at the corner of Lake Ave. and Mariposa Street. This photo circa 1932 when officers were obliged to provide their own uniforms.

The first 40 years of Altadena finds the fledgling community with no police force of its own. Policing was handled by the County Marshall in Pasadena. By 1927 Los Angeles County had planned to lease the building at 940 East Foothill Boulevard (now 924 East Altadena Drive) adjacent to what was then Fire Station No. 11 of three years. Designated Station No. 7, it was to become the headquarters for the northern division with substations at Temple City, San Dimas and Newhall. Though the step was to be a big-town promotion for Altadena, a typical small-town problem held up the station opening for a couple of days. It seems that architect Mr. H. E. Terrell, from whom the space was being leased, had gone fishing and was unavailable for turning over the building as scheduled.

From all newspaper accounts, the Grand Opening of the new station was the biggest thing to ever happen in Altadena. Community organizations had put together a large celebration for the formal ceremony on August 15. So great was the expense that the executive committee made an appeal for $1,000 in donations to defray the costs.

Altadena Sheriff's Station No. 7 was opened with a staff of eight deputies, two per each eight hour shift and two in reserve. The station commander was Captain John Montleon. Unlike today, there were no patrols in Altadena. Watches were kept from a desk. Capt. Montleon was replaced by Capt. C. D. Allen in 1929 and in 1930 the deputies moved to a more adequate facility at the northeast corner of Lake and Mariposa. By 1932 all deputy sheriffs were required to provide themselves with uniforms.

As early as 1928 the Altadena Sheriff's Department was wire-linked to every county and state agency by teletype. With this system a national criminal advisory network was made possible. It was at least another year before Pasadena could install such a system.

In 1933 one-way radio patrol cars were provided for all stations within the county. Altadena patrols were broadcast from the Pasadena Police Department. In 1936 a proposal was made to spend $14,275 on two-way patrol cars for the county. County Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz's own experience suggested that only $4,000 should be spent on a test system. Two portable transmitting units, one at Altadena and one at Montrose, and six cars were added to the county patrol. The test must have proven quite successful. In 1938, $1.8 million was approved for equipping Altadena and five other stations with two-way radio cars.

The new Altadena Sheriff's Station right after its completion in 1948.

In July of 1948 ground clearing was under way for the new Altadena Civic Center at Foothill Boulevard (Altadena Drive) and El Molino. This very corner would be the location of the new Altadena Sheriff's Station. The new County Fire Station No. 11, built in 1955, would round out Civic Center at the corner south of the Sheriff Station. A spot was reserved between the two corners for a town hall, a proposed building for which was moved there in 1991. As could be suspected, the contract for construction of the new Sheriff's Station went to the lowest bidder, the L. W. Odell Company, for $136,998. In 1957, the station received its first black-and-white patrol cars.

Through the 1970's the Altadena Sheriff's Station struggled along with a community that was undergoing a dramatic change in demographics. In one instance the deputies were being criticized for their excessively rude treatment of citizens undergoing routine arrests. At the same time the sheriffs were initiating a Neighborhood Improvement Plan (NIP) which was being widely accepted by neighborhood groups with the intent of fighting neighborhood crime, such as burglaries, thefts, and vandalism. Into the 1980's the station commander was changing almost every two years, but community relations seemed to improve dramatically by the asserted efforts of the sheriffs and concerned citizens to come together and "dialogue".

From teletypes to radio cars, the sheriffs entered the computer age by early 1987 with some of its earliest onboard computer systems. This early model "Lapcop" system helped patrol officers in writing reports by eliminating the excessive paper work. Budget constraints in the 1980's had the Sheriff Sherman Block rethinking the organization of the department and its facilities.

By Summer 1987, through a plan of consolidation, the Altadena and Crescenta Valley (CV) stations merged, with the captain working from the CV "substation" and Altadena becoming a local station under a lieutenant. Altadenans became concerned over a perceived reduction in services to Altadena. With the oncoming of the 90's and continued budget cuts, The Altadena station became threatened with closure. A citizen's group, Friends of the Altadena Sheriff's Station (FASS), was organized to create community awareness of the need to keep the station open. The program became a heavy membership drive to raise funds which could then be rallied into a media blitz, if needed. By keeping the community vocal, FASS hoped to bring to the attention of county and state officials their determination to keep the Altadena Sheriff's Station open.

On October 26, 1993, Governor Pete Wilson visited the Altadena station in a public rally to get out the vote in favor of Proposition 172, the half-cent tax initiative. If passed, excess revenue generated would be applied to public safety services, mostly fire, police and prisons. The governor made a pledge to keep public safety as a priority in future budget planning.

The very next morning public safety was put to the test. A severe hillside fire broke out in a gale force wind and ravaged Kinneloa and Altadena. Mobilized right along side of our fire departments were the sheriffs who even long after the fires were put out would sit vigilant over burned and evacuated neighborhoods protecting person and property from looters or other human predators. Over the week hundreds of deputies were cycled through the Altadena station, something which would not have been as effective without the station.

Within the next year FASS had reorganized itself as the Sheriff's Support Group of Altadena (SSGA, familiarly pronounced Shuh-guh.) Through continued fund raising, SSGA was able to provide the Altadena station with items not provided by the budget. Altadena was among the first of the local stations to be equipped with computers, color printers, digital cameras, and even had two state-of-the-art mountain bikes added to its bike patrol inventory.

In the summer of 1997, rumor spread that the station commander-lieutenant would again be moving on through promotion. Since this would be the third lieutenant rotated through Altadena in three years, SSGA passed a resolution to begin a community campaign to appeal to the Sheriff and the Supervisor, Mike Antonovich, to have the Altadena Station returned to a full service station status, with a captain. One simple Informer, the SSGA newsletter, developed a community response that put the department in a tail spin. In January 1998, Sheriff Block announced at SSGA's annual dinner that Altadena would be "reopened."

In October 1998, just a week prior to elections, Sheriff Block passed away. He is succeeded by Lee Baca who at the 1999 SSGA annual dinner restated the promise: that the Altadena Sheriff's Station would be reopened.

In October of 1999, the Altadena Station received its full-service status, and its commander Ronnie Williams was promoted to Captain to see the new station into the new millennium. Moving into the year 2000, plans have been mulled over to come up with a budget proposal for a renewed Altadena Sheriff's Station. By July, 2001, the Altadena Station had completely separated from the partnership of Crescenta Valley Station and became finally a station unto itself, The Altadena Sheriff's Station.

Still there was great question in the building of a new station. Plans went back and forth on whether to remodel or rebuild. It came down to the fact that remodeling the existing station would cost nearly a million dollars more than leveling it and rebuilding a new station. The estimate is pushing the $20 million mark and constraints facing the 2003 budget year made it appear difficult to determine when the actual money could be allocated.

Captain Ronnie Williams, with almost six years straight at the station, looked at coming time for his rotation. He left the station in April of 2002 and was replaced by Captain Joe Gutierrez.

The budget period heading into July 2003 was again facing gross shortfall and deep cuts. Among these cuts was a $100,000,000 cut to the Sheriff's budget. The monies that were allocated for the new Altadena station, which at least by this time had a full set of plans drawn up, was diverted to other necessary operations of the department, and the Altadena plans were shelved indefinitely.

Since that time several Commanders have passed through the Altadena Sheriff's Station. The Station is currently commanded by Captain John S. Benedict.


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©2007. Mike Manning and the Sheriff’s Support Group of Altadena