Off Beat: Ex-top cop approached traffic from different direction

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter


photoPolice Chief John Blaker's nonticket ticket.


Just as Vancouver was introducing its new police chief, we also got an introduction to the guy who'd held the job 70 years ago: the chief who created the nonticket traffic ticket.

The new hire is James McElvain, who was sworn in Dec. 16. We've run the list of previous chiefs during recent VPD transitions, and for some reason, that list starts with John Blaker's tenure from 1937 to 1945.

On the day McElvain was sworn in, we got a letter from one of Blaker's relatives with information he wanted to share about his great uncle. It was all a big coincidence; still, Wayne Ritter's timing was great.

The Ridgefield resident sent a few items that Blaker had put into a scrapbook.

Along with clippings from The Columbian, there was an example of the "ticket" issued to out-of-town traffic offenders. About 51/2 inches by 3 inches, it was more of a "welcome" card than a law enforcement tool.

There was a space where the officer wrote in the offense, and the section below explained: "Knowing this was unintentional and that you will not err in this respect again, there is no penalty to you, our guest."

It features a copy of what's described as an original sketch of the old Fort Vancouver stockade, looking similar to the replica that was built years after Blaker died in 1952.

Blaker was not above shattering traffic laws himself … in a good cause.

Ritter included a newspaper clipping of an "experiment." As a fellow officer timed him, Blaker drove from the Interstate Bridge to the north city limits, which was near Kiggins Bowl back then. He obeyed every traffic law and never topped 25 mph. On the reverse trip, Blaker did 40 mph or better all the way and blew every stop sign.

He saved 90 seconds. That was the lesson, of course, and it was hammered home in the newspaper clipping: "There are motorists who insist on endangering human life … just to save 90 seconds."

There was no word whether Blaker's return trip included lights and siren.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.