Police Department History

The Milpitas Police Department originated with the incorporation of the City of Milpitas on January 26, 1954.

Chief Thomas Letcher 1954-1957

Chief Thomas Letcher

The City’s first Police Chief was Thomas Letcher. Letcher had just one full-time Sergeant under his command, while patrol duties were handled by Auxiliary Police Officers working on a part-time basis. Most had other full-time jobs, and worked as officers in Milpitas on their days off; these auxiliary officers were paid $1 an hour in the 1950s. Officers from that time recall that the patrol car in use was a 1955 Ford equipped with a “Police Package,” which included a stick shift and a siren that was activated manually by pulling on a wire. Many of these auxiliary officers, including future Chief James Murray, were Korean War era veterans, foreshadowing over a half century of ties between the Milpitas Police Department and the nation’s armed forces.

Chief James B. Murray 1957-1987

Chief James B. Murray

When Chief Letcher departed in 1957, Chief James B. Murray assumed leadership of what was then a two-person organization. Over the next several years and decades, Chief Murray embarked on the steady build-up of the Police Department so that it could continue to properly police the growing city. By 1967 the Police Department had grown to 23 sworn personnel, including 2 Lieutenants and 7 Sergeants, 12 Police Patrolmen and one “Police Woman” (as a sign of the times, this employee was classified separately from the “Police Patrolman” position; for decades now the distinction in positions between male and female officers has been eliminated).

Throughout the years the police department did not operate in a vacuum but was very much a reflection of the community and nation that it served. A roster of the Milpitas Police Department circa 1967 indicates that three of its Police Officers were on military leave associated with the Vietnam War.

Chief Murray’s reign lasted for three decades, and he was considered by many to be one of the most innovative police chiefs of his era. He sought to professionalize his police force and was a pioneer in removing barriers that theretofore had prevented minority and female officers from obtaining jobs in law enforcement and from advancing in their careers.

Murray was the first California police chief to require a 2-year college degree for police officers (1957), he required applicants to pass psychological screening (1960), he eliminated height and weight ratios for all applicants, and in 1980 appointed a female officer to the SWAT team, another first for California. In 1973 he sought a closer partnership with the community by implementing a Youth Neighborhood Officer Traffic Program, the first of many programs to come. The 1980s saw a whirlwind of activity, including the implementation of motorcycle officers, a DUI enforcement team, and the start of the DARE program in Milpitas schools. Perhaps because Chief Murray set high standards and was a trailblazer and innovator, the Milpitas Police Department tended to attract quality officers, many of whom left to become Police Chiefs in other Californian law enforcement agencies and in states as far afield as Colorado and Illinois.

Chief Frank Acosta 1987-1994

Chief Frank Acosta

By 1990, under Chief Frank Acosta, who had taken over from retiring Chief Murray in 1987, a roster of police department personnel indicated that the ranks of the department had swelled to 70 sworn officers. Along with the increase in sworn personnel, the number of civilian employees also increased to keep pace with the increasingly complex tasks required to support modern law enforcement. Whereas in 1967 the department boasted only one secretary and two “Typist Clerks,” by 1990 the Police Department included 26 non-sworn positions, including dispatchers, records clerks, a property clerk and a vehicle maintenance person. This growth resulted in the construction of our current police department building at 1275 N. Milpitas Boulevard, which police

personnel first moved into in 1991. In this era employees of the Milpitas Police Department, far from being immune to international events, once again supported their country in a time of crisis: two employees were called up and deployed in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf.

Aside from overseeing the development of, and move into, the new police headquarters, Chief Acosta continued with many of the community-focused programs initiated by Chief Murray, which by this era had come to be called community oriented policing. Among the programs initiated under Chief Acosta was a citizen’s academy-known in Milpitas as P.A.C.E.S (Police and Community Educational Seminars)-which allowed local residents to get a first-hand glimpse of the inner workings of the police department.

Chief Charlie Lawson 1994-2005

Chief Charlie Lawson

Charlie Lawson, formerly a Captain with the Richmond, California Police Department, took over as Chief in Milpitas upon the retirement of Frank Acosta. Under his leadership several new programs were instituted, including the implementation of Police Activities League (P.A.L.), which over a thousand youths participate in each year. He also instituted the Shopping Center Program in the 1990s; under this program, every officer assigned to Patrol adopts a specific shopping center, where he or she interacts with the merchants on a regular basis, thus forming a relationship that allows the officer to quickly grasp and deal effectively with any public safety issues. By the turn of the century the Shopping Center program was firmly established as a success, receiving national recognition in 2003 by Police Chief magazine as one of seven “proactive policing strategies that work.”

Throughout his tenure Chief Lawson focused on reducing crime through community outreach, and in 2001 he created the Senior Volunteer Program, which by 2005 had expanded to 27 active volunteers who engage in a variety of activities, ranging from assisting the Traffic Safety Unit at DUI checkpoints, to fingerprinting children at local shopping malls. In 2001 he introduced Compstat to Milpitas. Compstat combines timely and accurate crime analysis with effective tactics, rapid deployment of personnel and resources, and continuous reassessment of our crime fighting efforts, while focusing the entire organization on our primary mission, keeping the citizens of Milpitas as safe as possible from crime.

The net result of these programs and many others implemented or improved by Chief Lawson, was that crime fell for seven straight years during his tenure, and today remains significantly lower than at its peak two decades ago, even though Milpitas’s population has grown significantly since then. The Milpitas Police Department reached the peak of its growth in 2002, when it employed 95 sworn officers and nearly 30 civilian support staffers, not counting its 38 crossing guards and the many volunteer Explorers and Seniors. During the Lawson era service to country continued to be a police department hallmark. Within months of the 9-11 attacks in 2001, a veteran Milpitas officer was deployed in support of the Homeland Security effort.

Chief Thomas Nishisaka 2005-2006

Chief Thomas Nishisaka

In 2005 Charlie Lawson retired as Chief to become Milpitas’s City Manager; Thomas Nishisaka was appointed Interim Police Chief. Under his leadership crime prevention innovation continued. In 2005 he reorganized the Police Department’s community relations unit to establish two School Resource Officers at Milpitas High School, which upon implementation was lauded by local officials as a very successful, welcome new program. Inevitably, international events continued to play a role in the history of the Milpitas Police Department. One of the first officers hired by Chief Nishisaka was an army veteran who had served in Afghanistan in post 9-11 military activities. Chief Nishisaka retired in 2006.

Chief Dennis Graham 2006-2012

Chief Dennis Graham

On August 20, 2010 Dennis Graham was sworn in as Milpitas’ youngest Police Chief since James Murray was appointed in 1957. Innovation was the standard as the department benefited from a vibrant workforce full of ideas for improvement. In November of 2006 Chief Graham greeted an international delegation of law enforcement professionals, including a Dutch author and specialist in technological innovation, who visited to study the police department’s state-of-the-art Computer Aided Dispatch system, which substantially reduced emergency response times for the Police and Fire departments. Chief Graham teamed with the Fire Department, the City Manager, political leaders, and the county to bring to Milpitas Emergency Medical Dispatching, ensuring that citizens with the most urgent injuries receive the closest available ambulance, and pre-arrival instructions from dispatchers that enable the reporting party to provide immediate aid while awaiting paramedics.

Other service improvements included on-line reporting, allowing citizens to file crime reports over the Internet; the Parent Project, a course taught by specially trained police officers to help parents address behavioral issues with teenagers who are acting out; in-house leadership development programs for Lieutenants, new Sergeants, and line level personnel; the use of specially trained K-9 teams in conjunction with SWAT; ad hoc strike teams initiated by line level officers to address “hot spots” and stop specific crime trends; and the creation of the Technology Applications Group, a team of talented and motivated officers who identify, devise, modify, and employ high tech surveillance, tracking, and other systems that have resulted in the arrest of numerous criminals and ended significant crime trends. In 2006 the Milpitas Police Department provided Islamic cultural awareness training to all sworn officers, including ranking personnel, and was among the first agencies to provide community crime prevention presentations to help parents and juveniles negotiate the safety issues associated with the use of social networking systems such as MySpace and Facebook.

In November of 2008, the Milpitas Police Department was honored by the International Association of Police Chiefs as a semi-finalist for the Webber Seavey Award for Quality in Law Enforcement for reducing gang violence on the Milpitas High School campus via a multi-faceted venture with the community through training, education and outreach, a key component of which was a joint process between the police department and high schools which created new standards to address campus gang issues, resulting in a 55% reduction in the number of campus assaults in the 2007-2008 school year.

As a result of these and other initiatives, crime in Milpitas dropped in each of the first five years of Chief Graham’s leadership, in 2010 reaching an all-time low crime rate, and the lowest violent crime rate since 1972, in spite of the national and state fiscal crisis which resulted in a decline in staff during a period of steady population increases.  Chief Graham retired in 2012.

Chief Steve Pangelinan

Steve Pangelinan, rose through the ranks at the Milpitas Police Department and was appointed as the City’s seventh Police Chief on December 31, 2016.  Chief Pangelinan dedicated 30 years of professional police services to the Milpitas Police Department.  Chief Pangelinan worked, managed and led every aspect of Police Operations including the Patrol Division, Traffic Unit, Media Relations, Tactical Team, Field Evidence Team, Investigations Bureau, Anti-Terrorism, High Tech Crimes Unit as well as many other assignments. He managed and developed budgets, analyzed and resolved many complex police and organizational issues.

As a new Police Chief, Chief Pangelinan embarked on a challenging situation.  On September 8, 2012, the Milpitas Community suffered a tragedy when a beloved local store clerk was robbed at gunpoint and senselessly murdered.  Chief Pangelinan authorized the use of “wiretapping” which was unprecedented in the Department’s history.  The investigation culminated in December 2013 with the arrest of four suspects on charges of murder.

Chief Pangelinan reintroduced participation with the Regional Auto Theft Task Force (RATTF) and the AB109 Task Force, a component of the Santa Clara County Specialized Enforcement Team (SCCSET).  In 2014 alone, the unit investigated a total of 248 cases which included 127 searches and 289 arrests. Different counties throughout the state had created AB109 teams of officers, but none of them reached the level of community impact the AB109 Compliance component in Santa Clara did.

In early 2015, Chief Pangelinan initiated a Crime Reduction Team (CRT).  CRT identifies crime trends and initiates proactive crime suppression of Part 1 crimes within the city limits.  With the formation of this team, the City saw an immediate impact of crime reduction with heavy enforcement dedicated to problem areas.

Over 5 years, Chief Pangelinan hired twenty-six (26) Police officers, three (3) Records Property Clerks, and three (3) Dispatchers with the highest moral character and professional restraint in their dealings with the public.  In 2014, he overhauled the Police Department’s Social Media Platform to Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor, and Nixel which combined reached a total of approximately 12,000 users instantaneously.  Under the Chief’s leadership, the Camera Registry Program (77 registered users) was created as a time saving tool to assist Investigations for any crimes committed in neighborhoods. Chief Pangelinan reinstituted Succession Planning, and sent seven (7) employees to the FBI National Academy, Command College, and SLI Institute.  In addition, Chief Pangelinan modernized the look of the Department and transformed all fleet to silver stars, along with Department letterhead and business cards. Chief Pangelinan was instrumental in authorizing the purchase of sixty-nine (69) body worn cameras and sixty-five (65) Tasers with an HD camera to promote transparency in the department and the community.  Chief Pangelinan retired from law enforcement on December 31, 2016 and served as Interim Chief and Interim City Manager until January 2018.