Pete Peterson, the former Ceres police chief who guided the police department into the singular Department of Public Safety in the 1980s, died Thursday following a lengthy fight against cancer. He was 77.
Peterson took over the Ceres Police Department on June 30, 1983 after the retirement of then Chief Leroy Cunningham. He was instrumental in guiding the building of the current Police Department headquarters on Third Street and converting the police and fire departments into one department. The Public Safety Department concept held until last year when it was dismantled back into separate agencies.
"He was really a great mentor," said Police Chief Brent Smith. "I have never lost contact with him, even during the time that he was retired. He still was around for us. There's a lot of people in this area he has touched as far as his leadership goes. There is Sheriff Adam Christiansen, Adam McGill, Joel Broumas and myself who have been promoted up through the ranks and I think a lot of that is because of Pete and the way that he was. He really was a good mentor and he just didn't want to do anything wrong. He always wanted to do the right stuff."
Smith said the city plans to have the police building named the G.W. "Pete" Peterson Police Department Building.
"He was also instrumental in building this police department building with Jim Marshall, who was city manager at the time," said Smith. "We talked to him before he passed and he was very happy about it and he wanted it to be named G.W. "Pete" Peterson. We're still growing into it."
Even though he was battling cancer, Peterson offered advice to Smith when he was appointed chief in February. "He definitely was a big support."
During his 16-year service as Ceres police, Peterson introduced new technology, such as mobile data terminals, said Smith. He also started the canine unit and a motorcycle unit before turning the reins over to Art deWerk.
"He really taught everyone how important it was to be a part of the community," said Smith. "He was in Rotary and Lions. He also was a former president of the Stanislaus County Peace Officer Association."
Peterson hired Smith, who was his last promotion before he retired in March 1999.
Smith said he had a recent conversation with Peterson in which the former chief appeared upbeat and eager to attend next year's Public Safety black tie banquet after having missed the first annual event in March. Doctors gave him four weeks to live last Friday but death came less than a week.
Peterson served as police chief of Moscow, Idaho, when Ceres hired him for the position. At the time Peterson told the Courier: "Ceres was the opportunity I just couldn't pass up."
Born Nov. 28, 1937 in Paxton, Ill., Gail W. "Pete" Peterson went into law enforcement in the late 1950s as a reserve officer for the Newport Beach Police Department. Following a brief stint there, he moved to the Laguna Beach department and then to the city of Orange where he was a motor cop. Among his duties he helped direct traffic into the outdoor drive-in church started by Rev. Robert Schuller at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove.
While in Southern California, Peterson became close friends with James "Jim" Brazelton, another Orange Police officer who followed Peterson to Stanislaus County and became District Attorney. Brazelton died in 2007.
"Neither of them had brothers and they were brothers to one another," said Pat Brazelton, Jim's widow and good friend of the Petersons.
"Pete was the most honest, most generous, loving friend you could ever ask for," said Pat. "He always had a smile on his face, even as sick as he got. He always put everybody first and himself second. He loved dearly. He was the most loyal person on this earth."
In his retirement years, Peterson and wife Karen spent time between Modesto and a second home in Groveland. Up until recently he was managing his father's estate in Southern California and attending church at Calvary Chapel of Oakdale.
The family is making plans for a memorial in the area as well as Southern California.