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Mesa Musings: Remembering the 'gem' of the Police Department

July 11, 2011|By Jim Carnett

Costa Mesa has named its new police chief.

I can't help but think of how fortunate we were with the selection of the city's first police chief, nearly 60 years ago.

Arthur R. McKenzie was his name. He was quite a guy.

Art was affable, good-natured and a friend to all. I was a kid at the time, and the kids of this city loved him. Adults, too. Can you imagine that?

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In 1955, I was a fifth-grader at the Lindbergh School. I remember Art coming to our campus and delivering a bicycle safety lecture/demonstration to fifth- and sixth-graders on the playground. We were transfixed.

He also encouraged us to purchase license tags for our bikes (which I did, for 50 cents, I think). I proudly displayed the tag on the rear of my bike, just below the seat.

Following his presentation, the burly, 37-year-old officer lingered for a half hour, informally chatting and answering questions. He possessed an engaging smile and infectious laugh.

That night at the dinner table, I bragged to my parents and two younger siblings that I'd talked with "The Chief" that day. Everybody in this community knew who Art McKenzie was. Often, you'd see him out and about in his police cruiser.

Before coming to Orange County, Art served with the Los Angeles Police Department, but left the department after contracting polio. He recovered, but for the rest of his life found it necessary to sometimes wear a leg brace beneath his trousers.

He was named Costa Mesa's first police chief in 1953, shortly after the city's incorporation. When he arrived, the city had a population of 16,000. His first police department consisted of himself and three full-time officers. The department operated from 8 a.m. to midnight.

McKenzie was Costa Mesa's chief for 11 years, through 1964, and laid the foundation for a highly professional, community-oriented, innovative department.

Art and his wife, Lura, were active in the community. Lura ran a dance studio in town. Both were gregarious and social.

Art often visited Costa Mesa High School to speak to classes or assemblies, or to glad-hand with students and faculty members in the quad. He and my principal, Les Miller, were good friends. Art could be seen at many Costa Mesa High athletic contests.

Chief McKenzie became a huge Orange Coast College football booster. On game nights at LeBard Stadium, he could be seen in his favorite spot, standing on the berm above the southern end zone, next to the locker room.

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