Berkeley Police Department’s past continues to influence the officers of today

On Wednesday, Berkeleyside published the first part of a two-part interview with Berkeley’s new Police Chief, Michael Meehan. Today we give you Part II.

Deep in the bowels of the Berkeley Police Department is an L-shaped hallway that is a shrine to the department’s past.

There is an old lie detector encased in a wooden box, a scale to weigh inmates, and an autographed picture of President John F. Kennedy, probably signed when he came to UC Berkeley in 1961.

While every police department has stories about its past, Berkeley’s department is one that is known throughout the world. That is in part because its first chief, August Vollmer, who served from 1905-1932, is often called the Father of Modern Policing.

The current police chief, Michael Meehan, has kept Vollmer’s accomplishments in mind as he sets out to shape the department. When Meehan delivered a speech last January at his swearing in ceremony, he referred to Vollmer’s achievements.

And on top Meehan’s to-do list is preserving the department’s historical memorabilia, including the objects in the basement. He wants to create a new non-profit that will raise funds to take care of the objects and preserve the department’s more recent history.

The basement hallway is not focused on Vollmer, but it highlights many of his innovations. There are pictures of cops on bicycles (Vollmer was the first to put cops on bikes, motorcycles, and in patrol cars) and a few lie detectors. (Vollmer was the first to use lie detectors to solve crime.)

An old lie detector at the Berkeley police department

Vollmer also led the way in using scientific evidence to prove a crime. It sounds normal today, but back in the early 20th century, police would often go to a crime scene and not pay particular attention to bits of evidence lying around.

Vollmer tried to bring these scientific methods to identifying suspects as well. On one wall are posters of different kinds of eyes, ears and eyebrows. Witnesses would look at them and pick which type a suspect had.

The L-shaped hallway is also a place to remember the two Berkeley police officers who were slain in the line of duty. Photos of Jimmie Rutledge and Ronald T. Tsukamoto sit on one wall.

Jimmie Rutledge, a 23-year veteran of the force, was shot and killed on June 16, 1973 after he attempted to arrest a man suspected of trying to break into a house the 2200 block of Russell Street.  The suspect, who also killed a 4-year old girl he had taken hostage, was eventually killed by police. Rutledge was 49.

Tsukamoto, the first Japanese-American officer on the force, had been working less than a year when he was shot to death on August 20, 1970. He had stopped a motorcyclist on University Avenue near McGee at 12:53 am. He didn’t issue a ticket, and while talking to the driver, a man walked up to him, struck up a conversation about the Vietnam War, and then fired two bullets at him. One bullet missed but the other penetrated Tsukamoto’s eye, killing him instantly. He was just 28.

Pictures of ears used to ID suspects

Picture of various types of eyebrows

Tsukamoto’s killer has not been found. In 2004, the department identified a  suspect in the case, who was arrested but never tried because of a lack of evidence. It is clear that the unsolved death still  disturbs the police department. It is one case that Meehan is definitely thinking about.

“We think we know who did it,” said Meehan. “We just need to prove it.”

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  • Katherine

    “Uncle Gus” – that was how August Vollmer was known in our neighborhood when I was a child growing up in Berkeley in the 1950s. He lived right around the corner and was a beloved neighborhood figure. He was very kind to children and could always be counted on to buy some Girl Scout cookies! I only found out much later about his career and contributions.

  • Travis

    I know Katherine, whose comment appears below, and I lived around the corner from Uncle Gus, too. He was a sweet, wise and fine man. He taught me many things about finger prints, music, gardening, guns, and how your socks should match your tie, if you are a man. I have a picture of him and “the gang” most of the neighborhood kids, which I think appeared in Collier’s magazine.
    Travis