Chief Spreine to step down

Barbara Diamond

Laguna Beach will be looking for a new police chief.

James Spreine, who has helped protect lives and the property in

Laguna Beach for more than 21 years, announced Tuesday that he will

retire in late October or early November.

"My heart is here, but there comes a time when you have to let go

and step aside and let others step up," Spreine said. "And it will

give me more time with my beautiful wife."

Spreine and his wife, Linda, a lieutenant in the Orange County

Sheriff's Department, are a two-chief family, at least until she

retires Jan. 19 as Laguna Niguel's Chief of Police Services.

The Spreines are building a home in Sequim, across the Olympic

Peninsula from Seattle, where they will settle after retirement.

"Jim has done a fabulous job of making the police department

visible and accessible to the community," Mayor Elizabeth Pearson

said. "He is one of us and he will be sorely missed."

A law man to the core who finds it hard to resist the call to

duty, Spreine expects that he, and perhaps his wife, might get

restless after the edge is off the joys of retirement and consider

taking short interim jobs while departments seek permanent chiefs, or

the couple could serve as consultants.

Spreine will take into retirement the memories -- good and bad --

of almost 35 years in law enforcement. Asked about his worst memory,

Spreine said two were tied.

"The first was the storm when we lost two lives," Spreine said.

"I don't blame the department or myself after this many years or

even then. But when your career is based on protecting life and

property and you do, in fact, lose a couple of lives due to such a

horrific and catastrophic event, it is very hard on you, your

department and your profession.

"So, I took that very seriously. It really did bother me and it

bothers me to this day. "

The second worst memory is the day rookie officer Larry Bammer was


"It was quite frightening for me," Spreine said. "I think it is a

chief's greatest fear to have an officer shot or killed in the line

of duty. That was a difficult day.

"I don't want to short anyone, but those are the two that

immediately spring to my mind."

On the other hand: there are good memories.

"I didn't know it at the time, but when I accepted the offer to be

a police lieutenant in the city of Laguna Beach and became a member

of the Laguna Beach Police Department it was the best moment in my

career, other than when Linda said she would marry me. Everything

after that has been good."

The Spreines spend their off-duty hours biking, antiquing and with

their four children and two granddaughters. His collection of police

memorabilia is choice and cherished.

Linda Spreine was a sergeant in the Laguna Beach department when

they began courting.

It was deemed in the best interests of the department and to keep

her career unblemished by any hint of nepotism for her to leave the

department after their marriage. She joined the San Clemente Police

Department as a patrol officer, but quickly rose to the rank of

sergeant before the sheriff's office contracted to police the city.

Starting as deputy, she again climbed up the ranks.

"She is one of the finest law enforcement officers I have ever

known," husband Spreine said. "Sequim has already tried to recruit

her, but she said not right now."

Spreine grew up in Washington. He graduated from Queen Anne High

School in Seattle.

After an honorable discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps, in which

he served during the Vietnam War, Spreine joined the San Clemente

Police Department in May of 1970.

He came to the Laguna Beach department as a lieutenant under the

captaincy of Neil Purcell Jr. in January 1981.

Spreine followed Purcell up the ranks. He was promoted to captain

when Purcell was made chief and to deputy police chief when Purcell

was named director of public safety, with Rich Dewberry as deputy

fire chief.

Spreine had no competition for the chief's job when Purcell

retired in 1997, although City Manger Ken Frank had one reservation.

"I told him I was hesitant because he had not been particularly

involved in the community as deputy chief," Frank said. "But I think

he has done a great job as chief and has been a valuable asset to the


"He was in the Realtor's Fashion Show and appeared in No Square

Theatre -- although I wish he had kept his clothes on."

One of his most priceless contributions has been as a member of

the advisory board of Community Services Programs Youth Shelter in

Laguna Beach.

His family problems as a youngster gave him invaluable insight in

dealing with the teenagers at the Youth Shelter, with whom he shared

his story.

"Jim has been a more than faithful supporter of anything to do

with young people," shelter Executive Director Margot Carlson said.

"He is a busy man, but he takes the time to attend monthly meetings

of our advisory board and he supports our youth diversion program at

the police department."

As a community leader, Spreine serves on the Advisory Council for

the Laguna Beach Community Clinic and is staff liaison and a member

of the Laguna Beach HIV Advisory Committee.

In addition to his duties and activities in Laguna Beach, Spreine

is a past president and active board member of the Orange County

Chiefs of Police and Sheriff's Assn. He was on the committee that

developed the curriculum for the Peace Officers Standard Training

Supervisory Leadership Institute and has served as a class


Spreine is a member of the boards of the Orange County Gang

Steering Committee, and the Orange County Emergency Medical Care

Committee. He serves on the executive board of the Regional Narcotics

Suppression Program and Integrated Law and Justice System.

He is a member of the Countywide Automated Witness Management

Program, the Community Services Council; the California Chiefs Assn.,

and area representative;

Spreine holds an associate of arts degree in criminal justice from

Saddleback Community College and a bachelor's degree in criminal

justice from Cal State Fullerton.

He is a graduate of the FBI Executive Development Course and the

FBI Command College.

Recruitment for his replacement will begin in the near future,

according to Spreine. Department captains Paul Workman and Danell

Adams are both expected to apply.

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