Patrick Crowe capped a 30-year career with the police department by serving as its chief
Roberto Hernandez; The Press-Enterprise
(COLTON, Calif.) --He was a mischievous Irish-Catholic boy who grew up with his working-class family in Colton during the 1950s and '60s.
He married his high school sweetheart and gave her a diamond ring he had found as a boy while playing in a local orange grove.
And although Patrick Crowe's adolescent pranks were among the first reasons his name became known to Colton police, he ended up capping a 30-year law enforcement career by serving the department as chief.
And he continues to make the city his home.
"I'll stay in Colton," Crowe said. "I have no plans on leaving."
Over the years, Crowe has seen his childhood groves replaced by housing developments, he said. Colton's old-fashioned downtown, which was on his childhood newspaper route, dried up with the advent of shopping malls.
The nature of police work has changed, too, he said. More officers have college degrees. There's more police training. More computers.
And Colton crime has changed as well. More gangs are armed. There are more parolees on the streets. More reports of domestic violence.
Crowe, who retired in November, feels safe in the town, he said.
"Today, I have no problem walking through the streets of Colton," he said.
Crowe was born in Racine, Wis., and moved with his family to a Laurel Street home in Colton in 1955. His father had been a firefighter for a railroad, the second-in-command and co-pilot on a train. His mother was a homemaker.
Back then, Colton was a semi-rural, agricultural community with few homes in the north end of town and plenty of orange groves. Life for the young Crowe was full of baseball games with the neighborhood children and eight years of parochial school. The family Christmas tree was in the same place every year, by the living room window, facing the street.
Crowe's childhood home was sold in 1995.
"To this day, at Christmas, I still go over to the house to check if the Christmas tree is in the right place," he said.
As a teen-ager, Crowe posed a "juvenile problem" to Colton officers, he admitted sheepishly. Kids' stuff, really, he said. Lighting firecrackers. Burning a tire in the streets.
"I was just being a kid," he said.
When he was about 11, Crowe was playing in some nearby groves when he found a diamond ring on the ground, he said. He turned it in to the police and waited the required 90 days for the owner to claim it. The owner never did, so Crowe got the ring.
He later gave it to his wife-to-be as an engagement ring. She still wears it, he said.
A high school sociology class helped Crowe realize that a law enforcement career could give him the chance to make a difference.
"That's when I realized this was a career I wanted to pursue," said Crowe, now 51. "I wanted to be part of the community. It was very important to stay in Colton, growing up around here." Colton Councilwoman Kelly Chastain said Crowe's Colton roots have always been evident.
"I just think he has that connection with Colton," she said. "He knows the residents. He's seen Colton grow, seen it through some of the turmoil, some of the good things and successes."
Crowe became a reserve officer in 1970 and was accepted on the force full time in 1971. Because of his boyish features, Crowe was often razzed by fellow officers, he said.
"I looked really young," he said. "I got a lot of flak on the street for looking real young."
Capt. Randy Heusterberg, Colton's acting police chief who joined the force at the same time as Crowe, said he remembers watching this young-looking officer become one of Colton's beloved.
"I think all the people in town watched his career," Heusterberg said. "They knew him when he was young. It's really nice when you've had a homegrown person become successful. I think everybody's proud."
During the late 1980s, when Crowe was a lieutenant, the philosophy of operating a police department became similar to that of running a business, he said.
Over the years, Crowe introduced grant-writing as a means of improving police work and updated policies regarding pursuits, uniforms and officers' conduct.
He also had his share of health problems. Crowe successfully battled two bouts with cancer and a spate of heart problems. In August 1998, about 40 Colton officers and others shaved their heads during a "Buzz a Fuzz" charity event to raise money for cancer patients. Informally, the head-shaving served as a show of support for Crowe, who had lost his own hair due to chemotherapy.
Because of his heart problems, doctors encouraged Crowe to retire.
"Some days, I feel good enough to go back and apply for my job back," Crowe mused. "But I know I can't do it."
Soon after Crowe was appointed chief in August 1998, Lt. Frank Coe said he was given the opportunity to form the department's Neighborhood Enrichment Team in an effort to tackle blight and spruce up residences.
"His decisions were always based on what was good for the community," Coe said. "Community-based policing was important because he was the community. Everybody knew him."
Saturday, Colton officers held a retirement dinner for him at Riverside's historic Mission Inn.
While he may have left the department, he has no intention of leaving the city.
"For me, it's important to stay in town," he said.
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