Robert B. Powers

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Robert B. Powers
BornOctober 3, 1900
DiedDecember 3, 1976 (aged 76)
Police career
DepartmentNew Jersey State Police, Bakersfield Police Department
Service years1922–1923 (New Jersey State Police),
1928–1945 (Bakersfield Police Department)
Rank1 Gold Star.svg - Chief of Bakersfield Police Department 1933-1945
Other workrace relations, freelance writer

Robert B. Powers, (October 3, 1900 – December 3, 1976) was a prominent police officer in the history of California, first as Chief of Police in Bakersfield, California (1933–1945) and as the chief enforcement officer at the state level (1944–1947) during which he co-established one of the earliest training programs for police in matters of race relations.


Birth and youth[edit]

Robert "Bob" B. Powers was born Oct 3,[1]:p.1 1900, in Las Vegas, New Mexico.[2] He dropped out of school in the fifth grade.

He enlisted in military service at 17 years old and was assigned to the 12th Cavalry Regiment.[3] He worked as a personnel sergeant in 1920.[4] He later worked as a clerk in the office of the chief of cavalry in Washington, D.C. unitl 1922.[4] After being discharged, he served as a state trooper and corporal in New Jersey into 1923.[4] He also worked as a railroad "special agent" protecting trains[3][4] and added time[3] as a deputy sheriff in New Mexico and Arizona.[1]:p.1

Bakersfield police force[edit]

Powers was hired as a motorcycle patrolman in January[4] 1928 for the Bakersfield Police Department[2] though his actual work initially was as a stenographer.[3] And he married Mildred Irwin, daughter of a former district attorney, December 1928.[3] They had two sons by 1941.[4]

Powers became a sergeant in 1930.[4][5] He developed an interest in traffic patrolling and management of security for schools.[1]:p.3[5] In 1931 he became a lieutenant,[4] and ;ater Chief of police of the Bakersfield police force in 1933.[4][6][7] He also undertook professional training at the University of California, Los Angeles police school,[6] the FBI school in Monterey[6] and the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.[2]

While police chief, Powers instituted on-the-job training that included public school type curriculum like English classes so that officers would be more enabled to use words instead of weapons, and professional skills like handling fingerprints. He got the police to actually learn the law so that they didn't cause problems for themselves.[1]:p.7[5] In April 1944, Powers wrote a "letter to the editor" of the local newspaper about rules of engagement of police.

When he was appointed chief there were 38 houses of prostitution known in the community[7] and only 11 when he left as Chief.[8] Powers was also a strong voice in determining successive chiefs through to 1966.[8][9] His appointed successor was able to close the remaining 11.[8]


Around December 1946 to April 1947 Powers investigated the Bahá'í Faith while seeking a religious basis for living.[10][11] He was attracted by the Bahá'í teaching of an unfettered search after truth.[10] The first Bahá'í book he read was This Earth One Country - "When I read the chapter on Islam I accepted Muhammad as a Prophet. When I'd finished the book I was a Bahá'í ..."[10] The book was oriented to the Bahá'í understanding of a view across religions and world peace.[12] It was written by one of the first Jews of Canada to join the religion.[13] This approach was reflected in his essay for the radio program This I Believe by Edward R. Murrow entitled "I stopped carrying a gun" in 1954.[11][14]

Los Angeles[edit]

Powers first appears publicly presenting the religion in February 1948 giving a talk in Los Angeles Bahá'í Center.[15] That year he also publicly reflected on his career in law enforcement writing two articles for the Saturday Evening Post - a two part series Crime was my business.[3][5] In it of his twenty five years in police work he said "It's a long time to last without becoming a cynic"[3] and:

During some of those years I was ridden by fear of being double-crossed out of my job by politicians. Often I dreaded that some situation would catch me unaware and daub me with the yellow mud of a coward's reputation. I worried that I'd lose my temper, go haywire and end up before the grand jury twisting my uniform buttons nervously and begging for mercy. There was the wear and tear of wondering if the chiefs I served under would let me down when I needed to be backed up. And after I got to be chief, there was never a time when someone didn't hate my guts, and I had to be up on my toes to keep my enemies from feathering my back with knives.[3]

He contributed an article in 1948 to volume 11 of the multi-year survey of the status of the religion's community around the world The Bahá'í World entitled An Experiment in Race Relations about his experience in 1945 dealing with race tensions.[10] In 1949 he joined the editorial committee working on volume 12[16] and continued service in 1950.[17] Around the same time he served on the Los Angeles Spiritual Assembly,[2] chaired the committee overseeing the Bahá'í activities of the western states,[18] and continued to be visible giving talks on the religion.[19]

Around these activities Powers was called upon by the State Assembly Committee on Crime and Correction to investigate a situation in Oakland that suggested police brutality in confronting communists and black-power protestors - issues that continued into the Berkeley riots (1960s).[20] Powers found evidence that convinced him there were several murders by police being pushed into confrontations by leadership.[1]:p.55–63 He found the whole situation evil and hurt him physically to confront.

In 1950 he cooperated in an effort to integrate a school in Duncan Arizona supporting a local civilian and fellow Bahá'í - Betty Toomis - and then attorney Stewart Udall.[1]:p.64–66, 132–166

In the period Powers' son, Robert Jr, was in the military and was stationed in Guam from about May 1953[21] into 1956[22] and was accorded the title Knight of Bahá'u'lláh for his service to the religion while there.[23]


Powers and son Stephen were visible in September 1956 in a Bahá'í youth group in Tucson[24] and in December 1959 he attended the Arizona state Bahá'í convention coming from Flagstaff.[25] Powers suffered a stroke about 1960[1] but he was soon visible living in Yuma and giving a talk on the religion in April 1961[26] and 1962.[27]


The first known Bahá'í in Bakersfield was Mrs. W. H. Repogle who died about March–April 1934.[28] A talk on the local radio station then named KPMC (now KNZR (AM)) broadcast a Bahá'í's story in 1938.[29] A community of Bahá'ís is visible by 1964[30] and giving public talks in Bakersfield in 1965.[31] Stephen had returned to Bakersfield before 1965 and begun working for the police department,[32] the very year that first female office of the Bakersfield police, hired by his father, retired.[33] Powers himself had also returned[32] and he was visible giving a talk on the religion in 1966.[34] However, after working for the force for 3 years Stephen testified against the police, as a policeman, about an incident in Bakersfield resulting in a race harassment case against the police, and then father and son received harassment.[1]:p.xi, 171–177 Stephen resigned from the force August 1969.

With the appointment of Earl Warren to the US Supreme Court a project to collect oral histories from those that knew him was undertaken and Powers was interviewed in Bakersfield. The resulting book was published in 1971.[1] Among the anecdotes he told the interviewer, he remarked on a childhood event he said affected his whole life:

I wanted to tell you something ... and I think it's affected my whole life, and I don't know if I can tell it very well, but I've thought about it a lot of times.

I can tell how old I was because of where we lived - you know we moved all the time - and when I was just about two years old, I was walking down the street and having a hell of a lot of trouble because my shoelaces were untied and had come out of the holes, and every time I'd take a step I would step on one of those strings and stumble. And, you know, it was a major problem. A flat tire's nothing compared to that. And everybody who would pass would laugh and think it was so funny you know, me stumbling along.

And I passed a house, and there was a woman, and I remember that she was a little tongue-tied, sitting on a step. And she saw what was happening, and she called me in. And she spent about 20 minutes treating me like an adult, teaching me how - of course the ends were gone off the shoestrings - to twist the end and put it through the hole. Then we laced and unlaced my shoes three or four times until I knew how to do it, and then she taught me how to tie a knot. And we sat there for a while, and then I went along. And, as little as I was, I thought, "I'd like to be like that kind of person. I'd like to be like her." I think it influenced my entire life, a little thing.

And again I say, these little things that one does - considerate, compassionate, courageous - I guess it's pretty hard to be able to realize the impact they have.[1]:p.75

Powers died December 1976, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, aged 76.[2] He is buried at the Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens Cemetery.[35]


March 5, 2010 a rebroadcast of Powers' This I Believe episode was aired on The Bob Edwards Show.[36][37]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Robert B. Powers; Amelia B. Fry (1971). Law Enforcement, Race Relations: 1930-1960. Earl Warren Oral History Project. Regents of the University of California.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Police chief of 30s, 40s, Robert Powers, 76, dies". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 3 Dec 1976. p. 14. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Robert B, Power; Pete Martin (July 31, 1948). "Crime was my business (pt 1)". Saturday Evening Post. 221 (5): 22–23, 89–91. ISSN 0048-9239.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "State Police post awarded to Powers (continued from Page One)". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 16 Jan 1945. p. 8. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d Robert B, Power; Pete Martin (August 7, 1948). "Crime was my business (pt 2)". Saturday Evening Post. 221 (6): 38, 73–79. ISSN 0048-9239.
  6. ^ a b c "Police Chief is war duties head (continued from page nine)". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 20 Dec 1941. p. 13. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Robert B. Powers". Bakersfield Police Department. 2001. Archived from the original on May 18, 2001. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c "Horace V. Grayson". Bakersfield Police Department. 2001. Archived from the original on May 18, 2001. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
  9. ^ "Robert C. Knight". Bakersfield Police Department. 2001. Archived from the original on May 18, 2001. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
  10. ^ a b c d Bob Powers (1952). "A Experiment in Race Relations". In Ali Yazdi; Robert Gulick (eds.). Bahá'í World. 11. Baha'i Publishing Committee. pp. 707–712.
  11. ^ a b Robert B. Powers, Edward R. Murrow (2014) [Jan 15, 1954]. I Quit Carrying a Gun (Radio). Tufts University.
  12. ^ Will C. Van den Hoonaard (2012). "Bahá'ís". In Jamie S. Scott (ed.). The Religions of Canadians. University of Toronto Press. p. 367. ISBN 978-1-4426-0516-9.
  13. ^ Will C. van den Hoonaard (30 October 2010). The Origins of the Bahá’í Community of Canada, 1898-1948. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-1-55458-706-3.
  14. ^ R. Swing, ed. (1954). This I Believe: The personal philosophies of one hundred thoughtful men and women in all walks of life, twenty of whom are immortals in the history of ideas, eighty of whom are our contemporaries of today. This I Believe. 2. Simon and Schuster.
  15. ^ *"Bahá'í News" (PDF). California Eagle. Los Angeles, CA. Feb 5, 1948. p. 12. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
    • "Baha'i World Faith". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. 7 Feb 1948. p. 15. Retrieved Sep 16, 2016.
  16. ^ "Bahá'í World Editorial Committee for Vol. XII". Bahá'í News (218). April 1949. p. 12. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
  17. ^ "The Bahá'í World editorial committee for Volume XII". Bahá'í News. April 1950. pp. 17–18. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
  18. ^ "Western States". Bahá'í News. April 1950. p. 23. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
  19. ^ * "Bahá'í World Faith" (PDF). California Eagle. Los Angeles, CA. April 7, 1949. p. 14. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
  20. ^ Jessica Mitford (November 5, 2009). From A Fine Old Conflict. The Brooklyn Rail.
  21. ^ Shoghi Effendi (1997). Messages to the Antipodes (Australasia). Bahá'í Publications Australia. pp. (see "19 July 1953").
  22. ^ Shoghi Effendi (1997). Messages to the Antipodes (Australasia). Bahá'í Publications Australia. pp. (see "30 April 1956").
  23. ^ "Spiritual legacy now paying dividends". Bahá'í World News Service. Hagatna, Guam: Bahá'í International Community. 2 May 2004. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
  24. ^ "Baha'i youth group meets". Arizona Daily Sun. Flagstaff, Arizona. 27 Sep 1956. p. 5. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
  25. ^ "Flag representatives to attend Bahá'í meeting". Arizona Daily Sun. Flagstaff, Arizona. 5 Dec 1959. p. 10. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
  26. ^ "Baha'is have special speaker". Tucson Daily Citizen. Tucson, Arizona. 22 Apr 1961. p. 9. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
  27. ^ "Letter to the editor - The communists would love to see U.S. get out of UN". The Yuma Daily Sun. Yuma, Arizona. 15 Nov 1962. p. 4. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
  28. ^ "In Memoriam". Bahá'í News. April 1934. p. 4. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
  29. ^ "Actress to give talk over radio". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 31 Aug 1938. p. 3. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
  30. ^ "Baha'i assembly readies public panel discussion". The Fresno Bee The Republican. Fresno, California. 25 Apr 1964. p. 4. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
  31. ^ * "Bakersfield meetings; Those of Baha'i faith to stress race unity". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 12 Jun 1965. p. 19. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
  32. ^ a b Day, Jim (19 Aug 1965). "Pipfulls; I have just learned ..." The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. p. 3. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
  33. ^ Day, Jim (Jul 5, 1965). "Pipefuls by Jim Day". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. p. 13. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
  34. ^ "Baha'is to mark religion day". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 15 Jan 1966. p. 34. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
  35. ^ "Robert B. Powers". Find a Grave. Apr 25, 2012. Retrieved Feb 6, 2015.
  36. ^ Robert B Powers (March 5, 2010). The Bob Edwards Show and Bob Edwards Weekend (Radio). SiriusXM Public Radio Channel 121 and Public Radio International.
  37. ^ Robert B Powers (March 5, 2010). I Quit Carrying a Gun (Radio). This I Believe, Inc.