From Tulare County Traffic Squad to the CHP
Last updated 10/27/2016 at 7:13pm | View PDF
When the automobile first appeared in Tulare County in the early 1900s, it was pretty clear that the county was in for a big dose of the Wild West. The roads, if you could call them that, were built for horse-drawn buggies and wagons travelling at slow speeds, but autos were a different story. The potholes, ruts and washouts on these byways, coupled with speeding, inexperienced and untrained vehicle operators, made travel through the county quite an adventure.
In an attempt to tame this dangerous and statewide Wild West show, the State of California passed the California Vehicle Act of 1914. It was the beginning of standardized traffic laws for the entire state.
The Tulare County Sheriff's Department did what they could to enforce these new state traffic laws, but in 1916, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors took over. In July, they appointed a policeman Percy Menefee as a special traffic officer. "Equipped with a racing motorcycle," his job was to patrol county highways and enforce the state motor vehicle laws, especially those involving speed.
After just a few weeks on the job, Menefee was surprised and frustrated by what he discovered. The Visalia Morning Delta reported on his concerns:
"Special Officer Percy Menefee who has charge of the speeding laws of the county and is trying to enforce the state motor vehicle laws, reports entirely too much automobile driving in this county by boys both under 16 years of age and those without operator's licenses."
The newspaper continued, "Mr. Menefee states that he meets on the road continually boys both over and under 16 years of age with no operator's license. Some did not even know what one [license] was and had to have it explained to them by the officer."
He found speeding violations everywhere. At one point, a surprise visit to Tulare yielded 15 speeding tickets in one day, and another day, he wrote the same number in Porterville. The highway between Visalia and Hanford also proved to be especially productive for the speed cop.
Eventually, more officers were added and the Tulare County Traffic Squad was born. Early members included Roberson, Hogan, Thurman, Grady, Van Gorden, Phillips, Martin and William E. Riley, who was eventually put in charge.
Riley was a Denver, Colorado native who came to Tulare County as a youngster with his family, settling on a ranch near what is now Mooney Grove Park. He attended Liberty School, graduated from Tulare High and served in the Army during World War I. Upon his return from military service, he became a Dinuba police officer, then in 1920, he became part of the Tulare squad.
In 1923, the State Supreme Court ruled it was illegal for counties to employ traffic officers, so county traffic units began to disappear. In 1929, the California legislature authorized a statewide rural traffic force and on August 14, 1929, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was created.
Members of the Tulare County squad were absorbed into the CHP including William Riley, who was put in charge of the Tulare County unit of the patrol.
For 87 years, the CHP has had a presence in Tulare County and in a sense, the Tulare County Traffic Squad still exists today. Both Porterville and Visalia have offices of the California Highway Patrol and the traffic officers assigned there enforce traffic laws on state highways in Tulare County. However, now the local CHP is administrated and funded by the State of California.