Gilroy’s first chief of police dead at 81

Gilroy's police department was named after the C.J. Laizure,

C.J. Laizure, the first to fill the police chief position in
Gilroy, died this morning at Saint Louise Hospital. He was 81. Full
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The average career span for a police chief is four years – which says a thing or two about the job and its demands.

C.J. Laizure spent 20 years at this post – which says a thing or two about C.J. Laizure.

“He really helped professionalize the program,” said Chief Denise Turner with the Gilroy Police Department. “It went from being more of a very small, marshal agency to a full-blown police department.”

The local icon of Garlic Capital yesteryear was admitted Saturday afternoon to Saint Louise Regional Hospital, where he passed at about 6 a.m. Monday morning.

He was 81.

In addition to family and friends, Laizure was enveloped by what Turner describes as a “police brotherhood” as GPD and other law enforcement officials volunteered their time to stand 24-hour vigil.

“Officers came and stood guard for him in two-hour shifts from the moment he entered Saint Louise,” she said. “In honor of him, they stood watch. He was never alone.”

This practice is traditionally “line of duty protocol,” Turner explained, but was extended to Laizure as he “served the community for so long, and was such a distinguished chief.”

Known as “Jim” to some of his co-workers and friends, Laizure was not only the first to vacate the police chief position created by the new city charter in 1960, he was also the youngest chief in the state when he was hired by Gilroy.

As the individual who personally wrote and typed the first Gilroy Police Department manual on an old typewriter that still sits in a closet at his home, Laizure’s legacy is one for the history books.

“It was a must, one of the first things you had to do,” he told the Dispatch back in 2005. “It covers everything from how you dress to how you act. Every department needs one, it’s kind of like your Bible.”

The man, for whom GPD headquarters was named in 2005, holds credit for ushering Gilroy out of disaster-handling dark ages, as people were still calling into a seven-digit system to report emergencies before their new chief came on board.

“Dialing 911 was becoming the national trend,” Turner explained. “He was able to work with the government and get it implemented (in Gilroy). I suspect it came into play in the early ’80s.”

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

His badge number? No. 1.

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 in 2005. “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.

Adding to that list of contributions is a 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. The former chief can also hang his hat on the creation of a school liaison officer in 1967 who, before the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, visited and taught in classrooms.

In lieu of this commitment to youth, he supported Officer Pat Deleon’s proposal for the Police Explorer program in 1973. This program still exists today and incorporates teens from ages 14 to 21, educating them about policing and being a good citizen.

“He has a lot of accomplishments,” noted Turner, going through Laizure’s impressive resume. “There are lots of things he started in this organization.”

Turner described Laizure as an outgoing, friendly man who cared deeply for the GPD.

According to Malcolm MacPhail, GPD senior chaplain, a viewing will take place between 5 and 8 p.m. Sunday at Habing Funeral Home at 129 Fourth St. Following this, MacPhail says logistics are still being figured out, but the funeral may be tentatively held at 10 a.m. Monday morning on Hanna Street directly in front of GPD headquarters. For additional details call Habing Funeral Home at 847-4040.

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