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FORMER SHERIFF PITCHESS DIES AT 87.

Byline: Greg Gittrich Daily News Staff Writer

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Peter J. Pitchess, who served as the county's top lawman for 23 years and expanded the Sheriff's Department into one of the largest in the nation, died Sunday at his home in Newport Beach.

One of Los Angeles' most popular politicians, Pitchess, 87, died at 5:30 a.m. Sunday of heart failure, his family said.

``He was a great father,'' said his son, Andrew Pitchess.

Sheriff from 1958 to 1982, Pitchess is credited with expanding the Sheriff's Department into the sixth-largest police agency in the nation and the largest sheriff's organization in the world.

Soon after taking office, Pitchess spearheaded a unique program that allowed communities to contract with the county for law enforcement services.

The initiative allowed the communities to avoid the cost of founding their own police forces and enabled the Sheriff's Department to establish a uniform system of law enforcement and build stations and jails throughout the 4,083-square-mile county.

The department now includes more than 8,000 deputies responsible for policing 2.5 million people in unincorporated areas of the county, as well as 40 cities that contract for services. It also operates a 19,000-inmate jail system.

County District Attorney Gil Garcetti said he will greatly miss Pitchess, whom he worked with in his last years as sheriff.

``He certainly was a man who cared about all the diverse communities his department served,'' Garcetti said. ``He worked tirelessly, vigorously and fairly in pursuit of those who committed crimes against law-abiding citizens.''

Born in Salt Lake City in 1912, Pitchess joined the FBI in 1940 after earning a law degree from the University of Utah. He was a special agent for 12 years, eventually becoming the head of the criminal investigative section of the Los Angeles field office for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In 1951, Pitchess resigned from the FBI to work for the Atlantic Richfield Oil Co., where he stayed until his appointment as undersheriff, the second highest command position in the department, in April 1953.

Five years later, Pitchess was elected to his first of four terms as sheriff, winning by an unprecedented 4-1 margin over three other candidates.

Upon taking office, he moved quickly to end what he considered two major abuses in the department - the handing out of sheriff's badges and the issuance of permits to carry concealed weapons.

Pitchess believed the previous administrations had indiscriminately doled out hundreds of badges and gun permits to politicians, celebrities and campaign supporters. He moved quickly to recall all the badges and stopped issuing gun permits, bringing credibility and accountability to the deputies.

In the mid-1960s, Pitchess continued to make significant changes, overhauling the training program for deputies. At the time, most law enforcement agencies trained recruits similar to the way the Marine Corps ran its boot camp - harsh physical training and fierce psychological pressure to endure the program.

Under Pitchess' new program, physical conditioning was still emphasized, but the sometimes torturous psychological tests were reduced. The techniques were used as a model throughout the country in the following years.

``He was very effective in politically leading the Sheriff's Department,'' said former Los Angeles Police Chief and State Sen. Ed Davis, who recalled Pitchess as a proud, religious man.

``He was very effective with the Board of Supervisors,'' Davis said. ``He was able to get manpower when someone with less ability couldn't.''

Pitchess retired in 1982, handpicking Sherman Block as his successor. Block served four terms before he died after undergoing brain surgery five days before the Nov. 3, 1998, election. In the months leading up to his death, the former colleagues sparred several times in the media after Pitchess endorsed Lee Baca for sheriff.

When Baca was sworn in in December, it was Pitchess who pinned the sheriff's badge on him.

Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks said Pitchess was known throughout the world as a trendsetter in police work.

``Sheriff Pitchess was a great leader not only in the law enforcement community, but also internationally,'' Parks said. ``He contributed greatly to law enforcement professionalism and to the positive relationship among the counties' public safety agencies. The condolences of the Los Angeles Police Department are offered to the Pitchess family and the entire Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.''

Pitchess is survived by his wife, Athena, and two sons, John and Andrew Pitchess. Funeral services were not immediately announced.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Apr 5, 1999
Words:751
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