History of the Cowlitz County Peace Officer

Cowlitz County has had a colorful history. Through it all, the Peace Officer has always been there. From the first Sheriff who who had to perform a public hanging to the deputies who had to corral a maurading elephant. Join me as I gather the facts and true stories that describe the journey of the law enforcement officer in Cowlitz County from 1854 through today.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Lasting Impact - Lt. George Dunn, Longview Police 1950-1980

On May 7th of this year, I received an email from a Scot Dunn telling me that if I was interested in some history of the Longview Police Department, I might want to contact his father, retired Lt. George Dunn. Thinking that I was going to get a little information to add to what I had, I had no idea the amount of information I was going to get. The sad part of this is that about that time, I got incredibly busy and didn’t have a chance to get in touch with him. In June, I finally had the chance to get with him and hear his incredible story.

Now, I want to warn you, George’s story isn’t sexy. George wasn’t a SWAT operator or the Sheriff who conducted the first hanging. No movies have been made about him and no books have been written. However, a lot was written, but it wasn’t about George, it was written by George. In addition to writing down the history of the Longview Police Department (which I’m very thankful for), he created his own history.

When George was hired in 1950, life as a cop wasn’t great. You really had to want to be a cop, as George quickly learned. There wasn’t any money to be made and you had to buy your own uniforms and equipment. There was no police academy so your introductory training was a day with Sgt. Ray Bailey. That was it. After that, you were on your own. Back then, most guys didn’t retire early because there wasn’t a retirement system for local cops. A good example of this was Sgt. Ray Bailey. Sgt. Bailey ended up dying in 1956, thirty years into a career that he never had a chance to retire from. George recognized these hardships early on and spent his entire career trying to fix it.

Starting as a patrolman, walking the beat on Commerce Avenue, George can tell you stories of the days before handheld radios were used. According to George’s son, Scot, “Longview never had a call box system that anybody remembers. As you know they used a call light system. The system was called a "Gamewell" and in the 1940's and 1950's, it was well before hand held radios. One light was at Commerce and Broadway at the Columbia Mercantile Bldg and the other was on the old station on the 1100 block of Commerce. During the 30's and 40's if an officer was needed, they would flip the light by toggle switch from the station. During the night hours 6pm to 6am, there was one man working town patrol and he was assigned a car. When the light went on he would "hotfoot" back to the station and get the call.”

In October of 1951, George was on patrol when they got a call of a robbery at the St. Helen’s Inn. The armed suspect fled in a taxi cab and George and Merchant Patrolman Fred Binkley were in hot pursuit after spotting the vehicle near Mt. Solo.

With George behind the wheel of the Longview Police Paddy Wagon, they chased the cab west on Ocean Beach Highway. Hitting some loose gravel, George lost control of the vehicle and it shot off the roadway, towards the river, striking a pole. The pole was severed and Binkley was ejected from the vehicle. With the vehicle on its side, and parts and pieces strewn about the highway, another patrol car quickly rushed Binkley to the hospital while George jumped into a third patrol car and continued the pursuit with another officer.
The suspect was then stopped and George and the other officer held the suspect at gunpoint with the suspect pointing his rifle back at them. After a few very tense minutes, the suspect finally lowered his gun and George lowered the hammer of his revolver taking him into custody.

Binkley later died of his injuries and George suffered a slug into his heel from an unintentional discharge of his gun. It was later noted in the State Patrol’s report that they believed Binkley may have tried to jump from the vehicle, before impact, for fear of it plunging into the Columbia River. Binkley didn’t know how to swim and was very afraid of water. George was later cleared of any wrong doing and the accident was blamed on the road conditions at the scene.

What’s impressive about this incident is George’s willingness to stay in the fight. He could have just stopped when the vehicle crashed and went to the hospital, but he didn’t. If you’ve never been in a vehicle accident like that one, you can’t imagine what it is like.

George went on to be a detective for a while and then was promoted to Lieutenant where he basically stayed for the rest of his career but never forgetting where he came from. With his new position, George was determined to make life better for cops. Not just the cops that worked under him, but all cops in the State of Washington.

One way he found to do this was to help found the Washington State Law Enforcement Association (WSLEA). George then became a lobbyist for the group spending each legislative session in Olympia over the next several years. During his time in Olympia, George authored hundreds of bills, most notably, the Felony Eluding Statute. He also wrote the LEOFF 1 retirement system which was the first retirement system in the state for law enforcement officers outside of the major metropolitan areas.

Also, his son Scot explained, “Dad went to CA and worked with Northwestern Traffic Institute studying colors and densities of lights. He stood downtown one night (who knows why) and noticed with the drizzle rain and all the colored store lights, that Red on the Patrol Cars was barely visible. He and Lloyd Inman went over to 15th and shot pictures down 15th in a drizzle rain and with all the tail lights, store lights and traffic signal’s, you couldn't see the Patrol cars overhead red lights. They did a study with NW Traffic and some Law Enforcement "think tank" in San Luis Obispo CA. Dad then went back to the State Legislature and got a bill made in to law to allow Law Enforcement to get blue for their vehicles and volunteer firefighters were then assigned green.”

Then in 1976, George developed and commanded the first Police Academy at the Longview Police Department. According to Scot Dunn, “In 1976, dad told me because of the way he was treated and trained, he decided to start the Academy which he was the Director. The academy was recognized by the State Law Enforcement training commission. As quoted by the commission, ‘Lt Dunn has built one of the finest Law Enforcement training programs in the state.’ Each session was 8 weeks (463 hours). Dad put a lot into that training. He worked with a lot of people and with LCC to get it accredited.”

There are a multitude of other accomplishments that George Dunn contributed such as designing two of the four different patches that LPD has had over its 70 plus years. He also worked to get Opticon units installed on the patrol cars so that the cars would trip a green light while running code across town making it safer for the officers.

George retired on March 17th, 1980. He spent his career making life for other cops better than it was when he was hired in 1950. A lot changed over that time frame to include the major advances in training and equipment. George could have spent his 30 year career behind the steering wheel of a patrol car or quietly sitting behind his desk but, he didn’t. George decided to make a difference. In doing so, he not only made a difference, he made an impact.

I want to thank Scot Dunn for bringing his father to my attention and for providing me with so much information. I would also like to thank his father, George Dunn, for making my career better, safer, and more secure.

~ DcU

1 comment:

  1. Excellent information. We should all be thankful for those that have dedicated their careers, and lives, to the protection of our communities.

    - Big Daddy Andy