Honoree a ‘happy camper’

A sketch of the new Gilroy Police Department ‘C.J. Laizure

Gilroy
– Police say it’s more than fitting that the city name the new
police station in honor of former Chief C.J. Laizure.
Laizure was the first to fill the police chief position created
by the new city charter in 1960, and he stayed for 20 years. He
personally wrote and typed the first Gilroy Police Department
manual on an old typewriter that still sits in a closet at
home.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – Police say it’s more than fitting that the city name the new police station in honor of former Chief C.J. Laizure.

Laizure was the first to fill the police chief position created by the new city charter in 1960, and he stayed for 20 years. He personally wrote and typed the first Gilroy Police Department manual on an old typewriter that still sits in a closet at home.

Laizure’s name was at the top of a short list three years ago, when plans for building a new station were approved.

“The first thing I thought about was, we’ll have to give this building a name,” said Sgt. John Sheedy. “He’s just the natural choice. ”

Two years ago, Sheedy said he floated the idea to then-mayor Tom Springer, and in November Police Officers Association overwhelmingly approved the proposal. Monday night, Sheedy presented some of Laizure’s accomplishments during his long career in Gilroy to City Councilmen, who approved the Laizure name.

“He certainly brought a higher standard of professionalism to the police department at that time,” Sheedy said. “He was the one who built this organization from the ground up.”

Laizure, 75, who still lives in Gilroy with wife Betty, wasn’t at Monday’s meeting, but said Tuesday he was a “happy camper.”

“It makes me very proud and honored,” he said.

Councilman Craig Gartman said he found the idea for the “C.J. Laizure Building” to be “fantastic.”

“It’s a great way to recognize the contributions that the chief had made over his long tenure as our first police chief,” he said.

Laizure was the youngest chief in the state when he was hired by Gilroy. The department evolved dramatically during his tenure, he said, and is much changed after another 25 years.

“It’s sure a whole lot larger,” he said. “I know they have a lot of good people there, and that’s the key to the whole thing.”

Many of the innovations and different programs he brought to the department remain in place today. As for the GPD manual, Laizure said he started creating the document while a detective sergeant in Merced, where he served for eight years. During his first year in Gilroy, he often worked 16-hour days, with part of that time dedicated to completing the manual.

“It was a must, one of the first things you had to do,” Laizure said. “It covers everything from how you dress to how you act. Every department needs one, it’s kind of like your Bible.”

Professionalism in the department also improved when Laizure standardized officers’ uniforms and badges, which until 1964 were purchased independently by officers.

Laizure created the cadet program in 1961, which allowed the city to keep nighttime calls for service in Gilroy, instead of being transferred to San Jose for a lack of overnight staff. He published an article on the program later that year. His commitment to Gilroy youth is still evident today: In 1967 he created a school liaison officer who, before DARE, visited and taught in classrooms; and in 1973 supported Officer Pat Deleon’s proposal for the Police Explorer program.

“It wasn’t just a liaison officer – all officers on their free time would come in and talk to kids on a personal level,” said Steve Valencia, who has been friends with Laizure since he came to Gilroy.

As a former principal of South Valley Junior High, Valencia said he saw much benefit from the collaboration between the GPD and local schools during a time of high tensions between police and the public.

“The young kids were picking (the animosity) up … but this way, the kids got to see them as real people,” said Valencia, who whole-heartedly supports the C.J. Laizure Building name.

Laizure recognized the need for improved communication between officers, obtaining a radio frequency solely for GPD use in 1962 and handheld radios for all officers in 1975.

The department’s records, though computerized now, were hardly organized in 1967.

“The records system was mostly in the officer’s heads,” Laizure said. “For all the drawbacks, they had been doing a pretty doggone good job, though.”

The chief helped incorporate a paper-based coding system that made it easy to locate information and records, and kept people’s names in the system regardless of how long it had been since the incident.

Sheedy noted that Laizure received special recognition upon his retirement, as a life member of the California Police Officers Association, and ranked 11th in the highest number of years as police chief with one department.

“You don’t see chiefs in one position in one agency for that long,” Sheedy said.

The average tenure for a chief in 1960 was two-and-a-half years, and Laizure had no illusions about staying in Gilroy, but also had no plans to leave, he said.

“We liked the community, and our (four) kids grew up here, and we just had no desire to leave,” Laizure said. “And that’s why we’re still here.”

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