Robert B. Powers
Robert B. Powers
|Born||October 3, 1900|
|Died||December 3, 1976 (aged 76)|
|Department||New Jersey State Police, Bakersfield Police Department|
|Service years||1922–1923 (New Jersey State Police),|
1928–1945 (Bakersfield Police Department)
|Rank||- Chief of Bakersfield Police Department 1933-1945|
|Other work||race 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.
- 1 Biography
- 1.1 Birth and youth
- 1.2 Bakersfield police force
- 1.3 A State Chief
- 1.4 Baháʼí
- 2 Legacy
- 3 Refences
Birth and youth
Somewhat charmed at the romantic stories of Lawrence of Arabia and military service,:p.71 he enlisted in military service at 17 years old and was assigned to the 12th Cavalry Regiment. He worked as a personnel sergeant in 1920. He later worked as a clerk in the office of the chief of cavalry in Washington, D.C. until 1922. After being discharged, he served as a state trooper and corporal in New Jersey into 1923. He quit that job after hoping for advancement but working for an oil company to February 1924 was not it. Neither was re-enlisting as he found after a few months in 1924 at Fort Slocum (New York). He then worked as a railroad "special agent" protecting trains and added time as a deputy sheriff in New Mexico and Arizona.:p.1
Bakersfield police force
Powers was hired as a motorcycle patrolman in January 1928 for the Bakersfield Police Department though his actual work initially was as a stenographer. And he married Mildred Irwin, daughter of a former district attorney, December 1928. They had two sons by 1941.
Because of his training as a solo officer earlier he made a reputation of solo achievements in the force:p.3 and was promoted to sergeant in 1930. He developed an interest in traffic patrolling and management of security for schools.:p.3 In 1931 he became a lieutenant, and later Chief of police of the Bakersfield police force in 1933. He also undertook professional training at the University of California, Los Angeles police school, the FBI school in Monterey and the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
While police chief, Powers viewed the overall police force across the state as ill-educated, politically connected, and "corrupt" by modern standards.:p.3–4 Out of a desire to shore up an independent and capable police force under his authority he began to revise procedures and investigative techniques and at the same time revise local regulation so that the chief's position was under a civil service categorization and thus under the city manager and not directly responsible to the city council.:p.4 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.:p.7 In April 1944, Powers wrote a "letter to the editor" of the local newspaper about rules of engagement of police - that a policeman has an instant choice of killing someone or not whereas courts can take weeks or months to decide, and thus sometimes lets an apparent criminal escape. When he was appointed chief there were 38 houses of prostitution known in the community and only 11 when he left as Chief. Powers was also a strong voice in determining successive chiefs through to 1966. His appointed successor was able to close the remaining 11.
Significant actions while Chief
California Agricultural Strike 1933
Perhaps his first major engagement as chief of police was in the repercussions of the California Agricultural Strike 1933. Under his review the marchers were allowed to take murdered bodies to City Hall to make their protest, noting, (when interviewed in 1970,) "Their motives may have been to turn this country 'Red', but their activities in attempting to get a living wage for the workers were certainly justified."
Case of Mathias Warren
From May to October 1938 a murder case consumed his time - that of Mathias Warren, father to Earl Warren who was soon to be was Attorney General, then governor, and in time, supreme court justice. On hearing of the murder then district attorney Warren, who had cultivated a relationship with police in various departments and reporters, came to Bakersfield along with many friends seeking to help and there was some tension how the investigation would proceed. Powers insisted and Warren let Powers be in charge.:p.9–18 Ultimately no one was charged with the crime - Powers ended up viewing it as a breaking-and-entering that became murder from a transient as Mathias Warren had chosen to live on a messy property while his wealth was tied up in land holdings.:p.16b-c Of course the matter was covered in many newspaper stories. However, as time went on the importance of the case, at least to Powers, had more to do with the increasing prominence of Earl Warren.:p.17 Powers noted the transients of the period were the Okies, indeed The Grapes of Wrath was set in Bakersfield, and that the local establishment tried to keep them pushed out of the way.
In June 1939 Powers took the stance of supporting an initiative to get women on the police force if they were college educated and paid well. It proved difficult to get the right funding with no officers hired by March 1941. However the first was hired by summer 1941 and by the spring of 1942 what women officers and staff should wear was an active area of conversation.
Probed by political backlash
Powers had run across a local politician taking a bribe and sought prosecution. Through assistance with then attorney general Earl Warren a case was pursued but ended in a hung jury.:p.22–23 Powers was himself then put under investigation by the city council and reports on its progress were carried in the newspapers March-to-April 1942. The final judgement was that the case against Powers was politically motivated and he had done no significant wrong. Powers took a leave of absence and for a period in World War II Powers and his lead staff were all enlisted in the Coast Guard from May 1942 to July 1943, ending service as chief gunner's mate, and instructor in gunnery.
A State Chief
Soon after returning to service in Bakersfield Powers was called up for a state level service, taking another leave of absence from Bakersfield. In July 1944 Powers was appointed to a wartime state committee on law enforcement under then Governor Earl Warren.
Initiated during wartime, the committee was revised and extended during peacetime and then attorney general Robert W. Kenny named him Law Enforcement Coordinator for the State of California in January 1945 and the family moved to Sacramento in February.:pp.37–41
In early 1945 Powers was directed to a race relations meeting in Chicago with the new American Council on Race Relations and began an endeavor of learning himself and then promulgating race relations issues across police departments. The first major project started in Richmond, California with Davis McEntire. Initial efforts were aimed at training the police in human relations including trying to eliminate prejudice and present the unfairness of segregation and discrimination based on race - factors later observed to be widespread needs. The work brought together leaders of the California Department of Corrections, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Japanese American Citizens League, and a Nisei, second-generation American of Japanese descent, US Marine. Together the social norms and prejudices of the day were vented, discussed, and broken down across a week of open-ended discussions. Following the training incendiary incidents arose in the community and the police took novel actions ensuring fairness and peace was retained. The Saturday Evening Post covered it in Cops don't have to be brutal, Dec 28, 1946. Following this numerous police departments even outside California were informed of the training and a booklet A Guide to Race Relations for Peace Officers was created and distributed, (including excerpts in the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper.) There was a prospective project by the young American Council on Race Relations using it and on making a training film with Powers writing the script, working with Edwin Embree. Out of this Powers was on a short list of leaders in the field though more recent scholarship critiqued the program for not including the local minority leadership of the time.
Around December 1946 to April 1947 Powers investigated the Baháʼí Faith while seeking a religious basis for living. He was attracted by the Baháʼí teaching of an unfettered search after truth. The first Baháʼí 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 Baháʼí ..." The book was oriented to the Baháʼí understanding of a view across religions and world peace. It was written by one of the first Jews of Canada to join the religion. 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.
Powers first appears publicly presenting the religion in February 1948 giving a talk in Los Angeles Baháʼí Center. 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. In it of his twenty five years in police work he said "It's a long time to last without becoming a cynic" 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.
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 Baháʼí World entitled An Experiment in Race Relations about his experience in 1945 dealing with race tensions. In 1949 he joined the editorial committee working on volume 12 and continued service in 1950. Around the same time he served on the Los Angeles Spiritual Assembly, chaired the committee overseeing the Baháʼí activities of the western states, and continued to be visible giving talks on the religion.
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). Powers found evidence that convinced him there were several murders by police being pushed into confrontations by leadership.:p.55–63 He found the whole situation evil and hurt him physically to confront.
In the period Powers' son, Robert Jr, was in the military and was stationed in Guam from about May 1953 into 1956 and was accorded the title Knight of Baháʼu'lláh for his service to the religion while there.
Powers and son Stephen were visible in September 1956 in a Baháʼí youth group in Tucson and in December 1959 he attended the Arizona state Baháʼí convention coming from Flagstaff. Powers suffered a stroke about 1960:p.vi but he was soon visible living in Yuma and giving a talk on the religion in April 1961 and 1962.
The first known Baháʼí in Bakersfield was Mrs. W. H. Repogle who died about March–April 1934. A talk on the local radio station then named KPMC (now KNZR (AM)) broadcast a Baháʼí's story in 1938. A community of Baháʼís is visible by 1964 and giving public talks in Bakersfield in 1965. Stephen had returned to Bakersfield before 1965 and begun working for the police department, the very year that first female office of the Bakersfield police, hired by his father, retired. Powers himself had also returned and he was visible giving a talk on the religion in 1966. 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.: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. 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.:p.75
The families of father and son Powers moved back to Tucson and was visible at a program for the World Religion Day observance in 1972. Powers died December 1976, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, aged 76. He is buried at the Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens Cemetery.
March 5, 2010 a rebroadcast of Powers' This I Believe episode was aired on The Bob Edwards Show. The event was marked in Bakersfield. The show remains available. In the presentation the commentators reviewed his forward thinking efforts and the wide scale of his reading across religions and they were struck by his pursuit of knowledge from an awareness of Lawrence of Arabia to actually reading the Qur'an, the way the Bahá'í quote "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens" was emphasized in his life and was found when there were so few Bahá'ís around, and the way the New Testament inspired him to "put down his gun".:53m–56m
- Robert B. Powers; Amelia B. Fry (1971). Law Enforcement, Race Relations: 1930-1960. Earl Warren Oral History Project. Regents of the University of California.
- "Police chief of 30s, 40s, Robert Powers, 76, dies". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 3 Dec 1976. p. 14. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- 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.
- "State Police post awarded to Powers (continued from Page One)". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 16 Jan 1945. p. 8. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- 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.
- "Police Chief is war duties head (continued from page nine)". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 20 Dec 1941. p. 13. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- "Robert B. Powers". Bakersfield Police Department. 2001. Archived from the original on May 18, 2001. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
- "From Chief Powers". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 15 Apr 1944. p. 12. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Horace V. Grayson". Bakersfield Police Department. 2001. Archived from the original on May 18, 2001. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
- "Robert C. Knight". Bakersfield Police Department. 2001. Archived from the original on May 18, 2001. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
- Rodolfo F. Acu–a; Rodolfo Acu–a (2008). Corridors of Migration: The Odyssey of Mexican Laborers, 1600-1933. University of Arizona Press. pp. 276, 280, 361. ISBN 978-0-8165-2802-8.
- Ed Cray (1997). Chief Justice: A Biography of Earl Warren. Simon and Schuster. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-684-80852-9.
- Jim Newton (2 October 2007). Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made. Riverhead Books. pp. 92–94. ISBN 978-1-59448-270-0.
- A brief selection:
- "Three suspects held, another is hunted in killing of rich broker". The Fresno Bee The Republican. Fresno, California. 16 May 1938. p. 1. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- "Suspect held by police in Warren case". The San Bernardino County Sun. San Bernardino, California. 17 May 1938. p. 1. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- "Quiz new suspect in Warren Murder". Santa Ana Register. Santa Ana, California. 22 Oct 1938. p. 1. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- "Approves Plan; Chief outlines requirements of position". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 27 Jun 1939. p. 13. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- "Jaggard tells League unit of civil service; police woman report given". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 17 Mar 1941. p. 12. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- Day, Jim (Jul 5, 1965). "Pipefuls by Jim Day". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. p. 13. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
- "Mary Holman Dodge". First Women of Kern County. 2015. Archived from the original on Sep 24, 2015. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
- Jason Kotowski; Chris George (Aug 29, 2006). "First woman to join city's police dies at age 93". Bakersfield.com. Bakersfield, California. Retrieved Dec 31, 2019.
- "Slacks vs skirts - the problem arises". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 25 Apr 1942. p. 9. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- * "Council denies hiring probe probers". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 3 Mar 1942. p. 7. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- "Councilmen deny hiring probers". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 3 Mar 1942. p. 13. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- "Here is Wiltberger report on city police; Conclusions". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 7 Apr 1942. p. 13. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- * "New Chief". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 29 May 1942. p. 7. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Chief Powers gets enforcement job". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 11 Jul 1944. p. 13. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Urge Japs be fairly treated". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 20 Dec 1944. p. 9. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Powers gets job in state". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 16 Jan 1945. p. 1. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
- Janet Stevenson (June 1969). "Before the colors fade - the return of the exiles". American Heritage: 22–99 (see pages 98–99). Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- 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.
- "Racial Violence and Civil Rights Law Enforcement". The University of Chicago Law Review. 18 (4): 769–783 (see 777–779). Summer 1951. JSTOR 1598012.
- Warner Olivier (Dec 28, 1946). "Cops don't have to be brutal". Saturday Evening Post. 219 (26): 20, 81–82. ISSN 0048-9239.
- Davis Macentire; Robert Powers (1946). A Guide to Race Relations for Police Officers (Police Training Bulletin.).
- * Peggy Ferris (10 Feb 1946). "Ferriswheel". Santa Cruz Sentinel. Santa Cruz, California. p. 7. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Training course in race relations for law enforcement officers now available". The New York Age. New York, New York. 23 Feb 1946. p. 2. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Police get course in race relations - California plan may spread through nation". The Berkshire Eagle. Pittsfield, Massachusetts. 14 Jun 1946. p. 10. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "It's no easy job being a policeman". The Afro-American. Baltimore, Maryland. June 29, 1946. p. 10 (down page from link). Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "For Policemen; Plan course in race relations". The Pittsburgh Courier. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 30 Mar 1946. p. 15. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- Nina Mjagkij (13 May 2013). Organizing Black America. Routledge. p. 38. ISBN 1-135-58123-1.
- Donal E. J. MacNamara (1951). Ralph F. Turner (ed.). "Police Science Book Reviews; "A Study of police training programs in minority relations" by Milton Senn, Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'Rith". Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 41 (5): 714–715. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- Lee P. Brown (28 December 2012). Policing in the 21st Century: Community Policing. AuthorHouse. pp. 114–6. ISBN 978-1-4685-4097-0.
- Robert B. Powers, Edward R. Murrow (2014) [Jan 15, 1954]. I Quit Carrying a Gun (Radio). Tufts University.
- Will C. Van den Hoonaard (2012). "Baháʼís". In Jamie S. Scott (ed.). The Religions of Canadians. University of Toronto Press. p. 367. ISBN 978-1-4426-0516-9.
- Will C. van den Hoonaard (30 October 2010). The Origins of the Baháʼí Community of Canada, 1898-1948. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-1-55458-706-3.
- 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.
- *"Baháʼí 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.
- "Baháʼí World Editorial Committee for Vol. XII". Baháʼí News (218). April 1949. p. 12. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- "The Baháʼí World editorial committee for Volume XII". Baháʼí News. April 1950. pp. 17–18. Retrieved Feb 2, 2015.
- "Western States". Baháʼí News. April 1950. p. 23. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- * "Baháʼí World Faith" (PDF). California Eagle. Los Angeles, CA. April 7, 1949. p. 14. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Baháʼí World Faith" (PDF). California Eagle. Los Angeles, CA. July 28, 1949. p. 12. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Baháʼí World Faith" (PDF). California Eagle. Los Angeles, CA. September 8, 1949. p. 12. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Homefront; Briefs". Baháʼí News. January 1950. p. 4. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "American Teaching: A touch of the unusual". Baháʼí News. September 1951. p. 7. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- Jessica Mitford (November 5, 2009). From A Fine Old Conflict. The Brooklyn Rail.
- Shoghi Effendi (1997). Messages to the Antipodes (Australasia). Baháʼí Publications Australia. pp. (see "19 July 1953").
- Shoghi Effendi (1997). Messages to the Antipodes (Australasia). Baháʼí Publications Australia. pp. (see "30 April 1956").
- "Spiritual legacy now paying dividends". Baháʼí World News Service. Hagatna, Guam: Baháʼí International Community. 2 May 2004. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Baha'i youth group meets". Arizona Daily Sun. Flagstaff, Arizona. 27 Sep 1956. p. 5. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Flag representatives to attend Baháʼí meeting". Arizona Daily Sun. Flagstaff, Arizona. 5 Dec 1959. p. 10. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Baha'is have special speaker". Tucson Daily Citizen. Tucson, Arizona. 22 Apr 1961. p. 9. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "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.
- "In Memoriam". Baháʼí News. April 1934. p. 4. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
- "Actress to give talk over radio". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 31 Aug 1938. p. 3. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
- "Baha'i assembly readies public panel discussion". The Fresno Bee The Republican. Fresno, California. 25 Apr 1964. p. 4. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
- * "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.
- Day, Jim (19 Aug 1965). "Pipfulls; I have just learned ..." The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. p. 3. Retrieved Feb 5, 2015.
- "Baha'is to mark religion day". The Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. 15 Jan 1966. p. 34. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
- "Baha'i World Day". Tucson Daily Citizen. Tucson, Arizona. 15 Jan 1972. p. 8. Retrieved Feb 12, 2015.
- "Robert B. Powers". Find a Grave. Apr 25, 2012. Retrieved Feb 6, 2015.
- Dan Gediman, Robert Powers and This I Believe (radio). SiriusXM Public Radio Channel 121 and Public Radio International. March 5, 2010.
- Robert B Powers (March 5, 2010). I Quit Carrying a Gun (Radio). This I Believe, Inc.
- "Former BPD chief: "I Quit Carrying a Gun"". Bakersfield Californian. Bakersfield, California. Mar 10, 2010. Archived from the original on Feb 6, 2015. Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.