Chance meeting led to stellar law enforcement career

Community Portrait:
By: Story and photograph Michael Kirby
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William “Bill” Scott was born at home near Scott’s Corner in Newcastle on Auburn Folsom Road in 1924, the second of four children. The familiar landmark was named after his family who lived nearby. His father, Robert E. Scott, was an opera singer considered to be one of the best tenors in the San Francisco Bay Area at one time. But in 1922 he gave up professional singing to marry, settle and raise a family in the Auburn area. Scott graduated from Placer High School in 1942, and in 1943 joined the U.S. Army and fought in World War II throughout France, Luxembourg and Belgium and was awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded in battle on the outskirts of the historic siege of Bastogne. Scott was evacuated for medical treatment when General George S. Patton’s Third Army relieved Bastogne. Scott returned to Auburn after the war and at 22 years of age attended Placer Junior College with the dream of becoming an archaeologist on the G.I. Bill. One day, walking past city hall (at that time on High Street), the Auburn Police Chief and a few officers were talking as Scott passed. He recalled, “The chief yells, ‘Hey Scott, you want to be a cop?’” Scott had never showed any real interest in law enforcement but replied in the affirmative and the chief instructed him to report to the station the next morning. This small exchange was the beginning of a 33-year career in law enforcement for Scott, including six four-year terms as Placer County Sheriff from 1955 to 1979. Scott went to work for the Auburn Police Department in 1946. For a man of 88, Scott recalls in great detail names, places and events that happened in his career like it was yesterday. He still has a steely handshake, and a clear, deep voice. In 1951, Scott went to work for Placer County Sheriff William Elam as a criminal investigator. In 1953 he was appointed the Auburn Chief of Police, a position he held until he became the Placer County Sheriff. “I assumed the sheriff’s duties in January 1955, and I remained in that capacity until 1979, six terms,” Scott said. His term is the longest served by any sheriff in the history of Placer County. Scott was an innovative sheriff and implemented many modern police techniques. When he was elected there were only 11 sworn sheriff personnel. The sheriff’s office was closed at night; there were no patrols, no in-house communication system. Scott started rural patrols in all the unincorporated areas of the county and a sub-station in Lake Tahoe. Resident deputies were established in Foresthill, Dutch Flat and Alta. Additional personnel were hired and the sheriff’s office got its own communication system. Scott mandated a peace officer training program that was required of all officers. Seeking an identity of its own, Scott changed the official Placer County Sheriff colors from black and white to the current colors of green and white. “The reason I wanted that is because I wanted the people in the community, when they saw a green and white car go by with a star on the door, to know it was their sheriff patrol at work,” he said. “I encouraged my officers to stop and talk to county residents, to introduce themselves and leave a business card,” he said. Scott was also instrumental in bringing forensic pathology to the sheriff’s department. Scott remembers some very high-profile criminal cases during his career. In a highly sensational case John “Jack” Santo, Emmett Perkins and Barbara Graham were three criminals operating in the Auburn area that were eventually executed in San Quentin’s gas chamber for a Southern California murder. The sheriff was also very involved in the Gus Anderson Lincoln murder case and the murders at the Bear River in 1971 by Clarence Otis Smith. Scott also was appointed to supervise security at the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley. This was during the Cold War and international tensions were high. “I had 175 people working security there,” Scott said. Scott currently lives in Auburn and is retired. His days of dealing with bad guys are over. But while he served as sheriff he did a good job, was well liked and brought modern law enforcement techniques to Placer County.