Walnut Creek was incorporated as a City on October 21, 1914. The position of Town Marshal was authorized five days later but was not filled until February 3, 1915 when A.N. Patterson was appointed as the first law enforcement officer of the City of Walnut Creek. Patterson resigned his part time position in October 1915 and during the course of the next ten years numerous persons held the position of Town Marshall for short periods. On June 4, 1924, Lon E. Buck was hired as a Traffic Officer and was paid $10 for each day that he worked. On July 5, 1928 Theodore Burling was hired as the first Chief of Police for Walnut Creek. Buck held the position of Traffic Officer until he succeeded Burling as Chief of Police from 1942 to 1946.
On January 4, 1939 John B. Jordan was appointed a full time salaried Night Watchman. Jordan succeeded Lon Buck as Chief of Police in 1946 and the Department began to grow as additional officers were hired, but most did not stay long because they had trouble living on the $225 per month salary. By 1956 the Walnut Creek Police Department had four patrol cars in use and John Jordan asked to be appointed Captain with less responsibility. The Department continued to grow and Leigh M. Brilliant was recruited to become the fourth Chief of Police. Brilliant was 29 years old and had a law degree from UC Berkeley.
Brilliant modernized the Department and set high standards for officer selection and training. In 1958 the salary for a Police Officer started at $400 per month and topped at $460 per month. Brilliant left WCPD in 1964 to work for the US State Department and Captain Raymond C. Davis from the Fullerton Police Department was selected as the fifth Chief of Police for WCPD. Davis remained Chief until 1973, when he was succeeded by Donald Burke, who served as Chief of Police until 1976.
Karel Swanson was appointed Chief of Police in 1976 and remained as Chief for 21 years until 1997, the longest tenure of any WCPD Chief. The Department grew to have 80 full time officers while Swanson was Chief. Swanson was followed by Richard Gregson who was Chief of Police for the City of Manteca, who served as Chief for three years from 1997 to 2000. Tom Soberanes was appointed Chief of Police in December 2000 and was the first person in the history of the Department to hold every rank. Soberanes joined the Department as a Cadet in June 1972.
Joel Bryden joined the Walnut Creek Police Department as Chief of Police in June 2008 following a 28 career with the San Diego Police Department where he started as an Officer and rose to be one of five Assistant Chiefs of Police. Today the Department is comprised of only 75 sworn officers (down from 80). These 75 dedicated men and women include the Chief of Police, two Captains, five Lieutenants, ten Sergeants, and 57 Police Officers. Approx. 35 officers currently work in patrol and the remainder work in special assignments as Detectives, K-9 Officers, Traffic Officers and Community Policing Officers.
This great city has changed a great deal over our history and this requires us to constantly evaluate and evolve to keep up with these many changes .
It’s interesting to reflect back on the issues we faced as an organization in the 1940′s and the difficulties we had with retaining quality police officers back then.
Now in 2011, we are facing some very similar recruitment and retention issues. We currently have less Police Officers than we did over 20 years ago. Our operating budget has been cut, positions frozen, and city leaders have repeatedly asked for salary concessions. During this same time period, Walnut Creek has grown exponentially, in both the number of residents and in the size of our transitory “daytime” population coming to visit and work in our great city. Unfortunately, staffing levels of officers have not increased accordingly.
The nature of the job has also changed in the last 20 years. Walnut Creek is now a destination spot and an area hub. Walnut Creek is no longer the sleepy small town it used to be. We now have all the big city problems that are common in other jurisdictions, but not the staff and resources to address these issues properly.
Hopefully you have enjoyed taking a short glimpse into the history of our department and the challenges we have faced over the years. We hope to learn from history and ensure Walnut Creek remains a great place to live, work, and play.