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Late Chief Peterson memorialized
Police building named after Pete Peterson
Three Ladies
Karen Peterson, widow of Pete Peterson, (right) listens to speakers with longtime friends Pat Brazelton (left) and Joy Swick (center). Brazelton is the widow of the late District Attorney Jim Brazelton who was a longtime friend of Pete Peterson. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Karen Peterson, the widow of former Police Chief Pete Peterson, helped unveil a new plaque on the Ceres Police Department headquarters on Friday that he helped to build. The Third Street police department building formally memorialized the late ex-chief as the G.W. "Pete" Peterson Building during a special event.

Peterson, 77, died from cancer on May 21. He served as police chief of Ceres from June 1983 to March 1999 and during that tenure oversaw construction of the police headquarters as well as created a singular Department of Public Safety. The Public Safety Department concept held until last year when it was dismantled back into separate agencies. Peterson also introduced new technology to the department, including mobile data terminals, and started the canine unit and a motorcycle unit.

The ceremony was reminiscent of a family reunion that included former police officers, business men and community members who were supporters of Peterson.

Lee and Sheila Brandt wore T-shirts which they had printed for Peterson's memorial service last summer which read on the back, "Better than perfect," a trademark saying of Peterson's.

"This is awesome, them doing this," said Lee, a former city worker who was fond of the chief.

The couple visited with Peterson as he was battling the disease and were buoyed by his faith in God despite the direction the disease was taking him.

"He goes, ‘It's out of my hands. He knows what I want but I have to follow what He dictates,' " said Sheila. "So no matter how depressed you were when you went in to see Pete, he made you feel good. He was great at building your spirit."

Longtime rancher Sid Long showed up, reminiscing how he had coffee every morning with Peterson and Bob Wix, Danny Davis and Brian Carlin.

"He was a great guy and very passionate about what he did, too," said Long.

Mary Fenton, who has been with the city for 47 years, was hired by then Chief Leroy Cunningham, Peterson's predecessor.

"Pete was the greatest," said Fenton, who saw Peterson at different functions after his retirement.

Peterson took over the Ceres Police Department after the retirement of then Chief Leroy Cunningham. Art deWerk picked up where he left off.

Current Police Chief Brent Smith was the subject of Peterson's last promotion before retirement and called Peterson a great mentor who continued to offer advice.

"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."

Ceres Police Lt. Chris Perry told how he grew up near Peterson's home and one day as a kid jumped on his skateboard to get the mail. The board slipped out underneath him and struck the side of Peterson's freshly painted and polished Porsche. Perry related how he looked around and thought he wasn't seen and scurried away without being caught. Years later when Perry was sworn in as an officer by Peterson, years of silence over the incident ended when the chief leaned over and whispered "By the way, I saw you hit my car that day."

"That's what kind of man the chief was - he was a good man," said Lt. Perry at the ceremony.

Former Sgt. Hollie Hall reflected on his time serving under the chief.

"We had some real positive and negative times together," said Hall. He remembered how Peterson called him at 2 in the morning when he was patrolling the town with ideas for the chaplaincy program, Volunteers in Public Safety (VIPS) and the Abandoned Vehicle Unit. Peterson asked Hall to run with the ideas.

"We really scored a lot of touchdowns," he said.

After the event, Karen Peterson said Pete "really cared about people in this city" and would have proud to see his name on the building.

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.