Police work is in Jason Coley’s blood.
The Ceres officer comes from a long line of cops dating to the 1950s, when his great-grandfather was a constable in the Tulare County community of Strathmore.
His father served as sheriff of Tulare County and later police chief in Fowler, in Fresno County, in the 1990s.
Preserving his family’s mark on the history of law enforcement always has been important to Coley, but more recently he became the Ceres Police Department’s resident historian.
Beginning simply with a desire to learn when the department will celebrate its centennial anniversary, Coley’s research snowballed into a book titled “Ceres Police Department History: 1918-2012.”
Coley has worked on patrol and in the traffic and crisis negotiation units. He’s been a detective and field training officer, and with his work on the book and continued archiving of the department’s history, is its “history preservation officer.”
Q: When and how did you become interested in the history of the Ceres Police Department?
A: I’ve always been interested in police memorabilia. I remember putting on my dad’s cop gear when I was a boy. I still have the jacket he used when he was a deputy in the ’70s. I’ve collected certain items since I was a boy.
In 2006, I realized that we hadn’t done a very good job preserving our department artifacts and memorabilia. I began to search for and collect these types of items. Later, in 2010, I wanted to know when our department was established. I searched through many City Council minutes in the City Hall vault. I merely wanted to document when our Police Department anniversary was. I found myself collecting more and more and soon realized I needed to create a book so everyone could see the Ceres police through the years.
Q: How much time did you spend researching the department’s history, and where did you find the information?
A: I spent countless hours and months researching information and collecting memorabilia. I interviewed several retired police officers, longtime city employees and family members of past employees. I also used the Internet to locate old Ceres police-related media articles. Everyone I spoke to was generous and helped me tremendously with factual information, and some gave me their old equipment they used while working for the department.
We are looking for more memorabilia from the Ceres Police Department – equipment, photos and such. Anyone willing to donate can contact me at (209) 538-5678 or drop it off at the PD in my name.
Q: What’s in the display case in the lobby of the Ceres Police Department?
A: The display case in the lobby has been there since 2008 and contains police memorabilia. I wanted the public to be able to look through some of the items we had collected. The items range from old police identifications to old service belts and old badges from the 1920s. The equipment inside the display case was either donated or collected by me through the years.
Q: How does it differ from the equipment you use today?
A: Technology has improved with time, just like everything else. For example, an old gun holster generally provided one way to secure a gun while holstered. Today, we have at least three ways to secure a gun while holstered. This makes it more difficult for a suspect to pull it out of your holster when in a physical fight.
Another example is simply the way an officer is dispatched to a call. In the old days, an officer would be notified over a one-way radio that he had a call. The officer would have to go to a nearby police call box and call dispatch to get the information. Today, the dispatcher and officers have two-way radios (in car and portable) and the dispatcher can send all of the call details over a mobile computer system.
Q: Why did you decide to write a book, and who was your target audience?
A: I wanted to document our history. I did it mainly to preserve the department’s history and for all past and present employees and, of course, any citizens who may be interested in our department history.
Q: How many copies have you sold?
A: To date, 83 books have been sold. The book, “Ceres Police Department History,” can be purchased from www.bookemon.com for $27. I don’t make any proceeds from the book. The cost is simply what it cost to make the book.
Q: What was the most interesting thing you learned during your research?
A: One of the things that is interesting to me is that most officers in the very old days didn’t attend an academy or have any field training. The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training was established by the Legislature in 1959 to set minimum selection and training standards for California law enforcement. Prior to POST, officers simply were handed the keys to a patrol car and sent into service. They were told to get ahold of someone if they had a question. Today, officers go through a six-month-long academy and have at least 16 weeks of field training before they can work by themselves.
Q: Can you tell me about some of Ceres’ first ordinances?
A: One of the first ordinances the city of Ceres enacted was for all of its citizens to keep their grass, weeds, trees and bushes trimmed. If the citizens failed to do so, they either received a fine of $25 or 25 days in jail or both.
Believe it or not, the city still somewhat enforces a similar ordinance. Our Code Enforcement Unit can and does enforce business owners and house owners regarding weed growth and so on. I don’t have any documentation from that time period, but I imagine at least one officer enforced that law at some point. I’d like to read one of those reports.
Back then, you could also get arrested for hitching a horse to a tree and gambling of any kind.
Q: What kind of feedback have you received about the book?
A: I have gotten nothing but positive feedback from current and past employees and citizens. For example, (recently) I had the opportunity to show the book to George Piro. Piro is a former Ceres police corporal who is currently a special agent in charge of the Miami office for the FBI. He led the months-long interrogation of Saddam Hussein. He rose quickly through the ranks of the FBI and attributes the skills he learned at Ceres police to the successful interrogation and prosecution of Hussein. I showed him a page I dedicated to him and he was really pleased and happy he was recognized.
Q: Do you have plans for another edition when the department celebrates 100 years in 2018?
A: I haven’t decided if I will or not. One thing that we are doing is making a 100th-anniversary badge that officers can purchase and wear for the entire anniversary year. The badge will pay tribute to the history of our department with a modern look. We’ve already started the design process and they are going to be pretty cool.