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Kensington Police Department



The few police officers hired to protect the community in the very beginning of the police department were faced with a huge decision to make when accepting the position.  If they accepted the job, then they were willing to use their personal car to patrol the community, transport arrestees, and perform all other duties.  And to paint the best picture of what was involved, any arrestee would have to be transported to the county jail in Martinez for booking, a trip that could take much of the shift due to distance.  If they joined, they were also required to add a red light and siren to their cars! 

As time went on, this requirement passed in trade for the purchase of dedicated patrol cars.  The department would generally maintain two patrol cars and an unmarked chief's car.  I recall one very talented member of the department that would design, weld, and install their light bars, made from various components, until the department began buying manufactured light bars.  In addition, he would craft from plywood all of the center equipment consoles to hold reports, radio, light controls, etc.

The department always drove white cars until the 1970s when they ordered dark blue and white traditionally painted patrol cars.  Instant visibility was the benefit but overall, these cars looked sharp.



The community known as Kensington found its beginning in the 1920s as development began in the East Bay hills overlooking the beautiful San Francisco Bay and what would eventually hold the spectacular  Golden Gate Bridge.  The community is unique in that it is an unincorporated community in Contra Costa County with the Kensington Police Department being funded by tax funds as a community service district. 

The community has enjoyed an exceptionally low crime rate since inception.  It was 1946 when the approval came to develop their very own police force, previously having the community patrolled by a resident deputy sheriff.  The Kensington Police Department will celebrate their 75th year of operation in just a few years.  


The Contra Costa County Sheriff assigned a deputy to patrol Kensington beginning in 1937 as the community developed.  Private patrol services were also contracted to provide coverage in coming years until the actual police department was formed in 1947 as growth of the community was rapid and of course just one deputy would find it difficult to adequately serve the citizens.



The Kensington Police Department was established in 1947 under the guidance of the first Kensington Chief of Police, Alton Bowley. (photo of Chief Bowley in Albany uniform provided by his daughter.)

The group photo shown above was taken in 1953 with the second chief, Chief Kendrick and his four officers along with his three member board of directors.  The uniform worn by these officers shows the first issue badge and patch for the agency.


The first police station was actually rented office space in a building shared by a real estate office as seen in the photo.  The front curb was painted red and reserved for their two patrol cars.  They would operate from this location until the 1970s when a new combined fire station and police headquarters was completed less than a block away.  Space was amazingly cramped in the first station.

The combined public safety building brought the fire department and police department under one roof.  I served the agency well for many years but seismic stability issues have the community looking at options for the future.

Chief Kendrick served as the second police chief for the district.  the third, George Yool, was appointed to replace Kendrick in 1953.  Chief Yool would serve in this capacity until his retirement when Walt Gist became the fourth Kensington Police Chief.


These photos show officers in the training environment.  




A group of Kensington Police reserve officers kneel in front of a 1957 Chevrolet patrol car.  Kensington relied greatly on reserves in the early years as they augmented the patrol force.  They also participated as members on the department shooting team.


This Plymouth marked the change from white cars to a more traditional police marking, but blue and white.




Officer Bill Beard is shown in this photo in the 1950s.  Beard went on to serve as the Chief of Police of Brisbane, CA and then Nevada City in the gold country.



Louise Farley served as the Kensington Police Department's policewoman (this title is long gone but the position was very important).  She took care of office and clerical needs, booked female arrestees, and rode with an officer to escort female arrestees to the Contra Costa County Jail in Martinez.  In her absence, an officer's wife was called in to handle the escort duty.  I recall my mother frequently being tasked with taking on the duty.

Louise was much more than the "policewoman."  She was glue for the department, taking care of so much and also taking care of her officers.  As I small buy, the police station was a place for my friends and I to go at any time.  She was always a friendly face at the front desk.


Chief George Yool was appointed the third police chief and continued as chief until the early 1970s.


Walt Gist, Chief of Police - 1970s

Walt Gist joined the KPD in 1953 after serving his country in the United States Army.  He served as a patrol officer, sergeant, and then was appointed Chief of Police in about 1970.  He graduated from the FBI National Academy, 102 Session.  Chief Gist later suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire from service due to the damage to his heart. 

He continued to collect all things pertaining to American police history for the rest of his life.  Chief Gist passed away in 2005.  Only months before his death, he told me that he had loved his job and would still be serving Kensington as chief had it not been for his health issues.  He said that he was always well supported by his board of directors and had good dedicated police officers.

A museum was opened in Virginia City, Nevada in 2009 and that museum featured the Gist Collection in its entirety.  The museum operated for seven years.  This site is being developed as a reflection of the Gist Collection and what was the Silver State National Peace Officers Museum.         

   - Doug Gist, Captain (Retired), Washoe County Sheriff's Office, Reno, Nevada.


The new combined police station and fire house was developed in 1970, taking the fire station away from right next-door to a gas station, which posed a great danger, and this building brought the police department out from rented office space.  Today, consideration is being made in reconstructing this building to meet earthquake standards or new construction in another location.


The police chief and a number of officers accepted an invitation to attend the annual Police Memorial Week Parade and related events at the Silver State National Peace Officers Museum in Virginia City, Nevada before the museum closed.

This photo shows the officers serving the Kensington community in 1985.


El Cerrito and Kensington Officers in 1957

This photo shows a baby blue and white 1956 Chevrolet El Cerrito patrol car facing a 1955 Chevrolet Kensington patrol car in 1957.


The Kensington community has enjoyed a low crime rate forever.  While most other police departments are faced with a crime rate of proportion to necessitate officers being reactive to calls for service and crimes in progress, Kensington officers continue to find the ability to actually patrol and provide interaction with the citizens, as they have for nearly seventy-five years. 

Imagine the generations of police officers, both career and volunteer, that have taken part in maintaining the peace in this community.  They have done their duty.


The Kensington PD only maintained a staff of a handful of officers in 1960.  So they developed a police reserve officer program and more than doubled their availability officers when needed.  Reserves filled the second seat with career officers which was quite beneficial when only one career officer was on duty.  Many of the reserves also became involved in the department shooting team, training with and competing with the member career officers in shooting competitions throughout California.

Reserve programs across America have become endangered programs as training requirements for these part time officers working for free continue to increase, in many states requiring the same hours of  raining as those career officers, and this is in addition to their full time jobs.

Kensington has, however, continued to have reserve officers serve the citizens.