Let’s Talk Clovis: Clovis Police Chief Thomas W. Higgason (1956-1980)

Photo courtesy of Clovis Museum – Pictured from left to right: W. Nelson, Jim May, Thomas  Higgason and Chief Bruce Spurgeon pose for a photo in front of the Clovis Police Department’s first police car in 1948.

By Peg Bos | Clovis Museum

Thomas “Tommy” Higgason was born in Tennessee in 1923. His family moved to Clovis in 1925. We are sharing information that was provided by the Clovis Police Department and the Clovis Chamber at the 1997 Hall of Fame Awards.

His family struggled with hard times during the great depression. Tommy had began working at an early age and learned to cook by age seven.

Tom did not complete his senior year at Clovis High School and joined the Navy in 1942. He was assigned to the USS Tennessee and served in the South Pacific Combat Zone.

As a member of the gun crew, his gun mount was hit by enemy fire and seven of the 40 crew members lost their life.

Tom served on shore patrol in Philadelphia during his last six months of service. The police officer he rode with urged him to stay and join the police department, but Tom was anxious to return to Clovis.

He was discharged from the Navy in December 1946. On his return, he applied for a position with the Clovis Police Department, Fresno Police Department and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department.

A 1965 article written by Mal Johnson, publisher of the Clovis News, stated: “When Bruce Spurgeon was appointed as Clovis Chief of Police in 1947 the police force consisted of one patrolman and no patrol cars.”

Tom as a patrolman in February 1947. Tom used his own car for the first six months.

Spurgeon asked the City Council to purchase a car and they stated funds were not available. The Chief stated he would purchase a vehicle and pay for it from the mileage he would receive from the City. The Council relented and purchased the patrol car, a 1947 Ford. The 3.5 officers protected the City’s one square mile with a population of 2,650.

The police budget in 1947 was $15,000. Full-time officers worked six days (10 hour shifts) for $175 per month. Tom married Pauline Porkorny in 1948 and the City provided a $25 salary increase.

Tom worked night patrol and attended Fresno City College during the day (completed his GED while in the Navy). He received a teaching credential. He was promoted to Sergeant in 1951 and Lieutenant in 1954.

In 1955, Clovis PD moved from a one desk operation at the Municipal Court (401 Pollasky, formerly 1912 First State Bank building) to 533 Pollasky (new facility that was shared with the Fire Department).

A unanimous vote by the Council and Mayor John Weldon appointed Tom as Chief of Police in 1956. Tom appointed Frances Qualls as the first woman officer in 1958.

During the 1970s, Chief Higgason developed an Educational Incentive Program that resulted in an average education level of three years of college among his officers. The Juvenile Service, Investigative and School resource Program were initiated.

The “walking beat” of Old town (discontinued in the late 1940’s) was reestablished and the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics Team) was created.

By 1977, Higgason had added Capt. Gino Pishione and Lt. Jack McGaughy to his administrative staff; five investigative officers, three juvenile officers, 20 patrol officers and a eight communications/records department.

During his career he taught criminology, police management and corrections at Fresno State and Fresno City College.

Tom was an active volunteer in Clovis. His enjoyed restoration of old Indian motorcycles and Thunderbirds. His antique collection included obsolete ammunition, an original Plainsman rifle and Colt frontier single action revolvers.

His dedication to preserving the safety of Clovis residents during his years of service remains an important part of our rich heritage.