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James Robenson, City’s First Black Police Chief, Has Died

Published on Tuesday, November 21, 2023 | 11:32 am

The creator of the Pasadena Way, Former Pasadena Police Chief James Robenson, has died according to his wife Suzy.

He was 82.

Robenson was the City’s first Black chief. He ushered in a new era of diversity and inclusion. He led the department from 1985 to 1990.

The Chicago native joined the Pasadena force in 1964 and worked his way up through the ranks. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1974 and commander in 1979.

He retired in 1990 due to health problems.

When he took over, the department was recovering from racial tensions. The department was sued in 1978 for discriminating against African Americans and Latinos in hiring and promotion policies. The city settled the suit for $500,000 in 1983, two years before Robison became chief.

Robenson spent his entire 26-year career in law enforcement at the Pasadena Police Department. He rose through all the ranks, from undercover operative to Chief of Police.

During his administration, he had many accomplishments, most significantly, the creation of The Pasadena Way, a philosophy that placed the safety of citizens and the effectiveness of police as its highest priority.

Robenson shared his innovative philosophies on TV networks, at universities and professional organizations all around the country.

His dedicated contributions to the community of police were many. He served his city with pride, integrity, and a strong desire to make positive change in policing of the future, according to his wife.

James, or “Jim” as he was known, was a pioneer of community policing and created many programs that became models for other departments.

Under Chief Robenson’s administration, Pasadena was the first department in California and second in the nation to initiate, research, develop and operationalize Photo Radar, the traffic enforcement technique to photograph speeding motorists.

His administration was responsible for acquiring public funding support for the design and construction of the new police building of 1990.

Shortly after his historic appointment as Chief of Police, Robenson was selected to represent the United States to serve on the Atlantic Exchange Committee by Senator Richard Cheney who became U.S. Secretary of Defense and later became Vice President of the United States. He represented innovative municipal policing philosophy for this country at the Hague in Holland as a model for police departments throughout Europe.

As an equestrian himself, Jim created the first-ever Mounted Volunteer Police Unit. He and his wife, Susy, were honored to be invited to ride their horses in the Centennial Rose Parade in 1989.

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