The Unique History of OCSD and Knott's Berry Farm Security

By Robert Stoffel

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Knott’s Berry Farm started a most unique relationship nearly 70 years ago. It all began in the late 1940s when Knott’s Berry Farm was starting to get more and more visitors on a regular basis and the Knott family thought some sort of security was needed. Knott’s had discussions with Buena Park Public Safety but they felt they were too small and did not have the necessary resources to do an adequate job. Keep in mind that at this time, Buena Park was not yet an incorporated city, and the land that Knott’s occupied was actually in unincorporated Orange County. For many of us it is hard to imagine the Buena Park of the 1940s as compared to the populated and built-out city of today. For a glimpse back in time, here is some historical information about Buena Park public safety taken from the Buena Park Police website:

On January 17, 1953, the City of Buena Park incorporated, followed by the City's Public Safety Department being established in April 1953. The City was initially three-square miles, with a population of 10,221. The Public Safety Department was a combination of police and fire services, under the leadership of Chief Carl Lollin, and four officers cross-trained in both police and fire fighting procedures. The Department was located on Ninth Street, just west of Highway 39, known today as "Beach Boulevard." The Department consisted of a fire station in the front, with two small rooms attached for police services to the rear. The Public Safety Department had only one police vehicle and three fire vehicles.

To further illustrate just how remote Orange County was, Walter Knott’s grandson Steve Knott recalls: “When I was 17 years old and driving from home in La Habra Heights to the Farm, I would encounter only one stop sign for that entire ride, and massive Orange groves were common between cities.” In fact, the first traffic signal around Knott’s Berry Farm was not installed until 1957, at Beach and La Palma.

When the Orange County Sheriff’s Department was asked about providing security, they too shared the same concerns as Buena Park regarding resources. Instead, Sheriff James Musick offered to “deputize” Knott’s employees, making them fully commissioned peace officers. It is believed this practice started in the very late 1940s or early 1950s. The Knott’s deputies wore an Orange County Sheriff uniform, complete with badge, uniform patch, and sidearm, but were not employed by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. They were hired and paid by Knott’s, who was also responsible for their actions.

This arrangement remained in place until the late 1960s or early 1970s, when the full peace officer commission was no longer offered. At that time, Knott’s personnel were provided limited peace officer powers, while on duty, under the Orange County Sheriff’s Special Deputy program. This was the same program used throughout Orange County where the Sheriff would grant Special Deputy status to those who needed legal authority. Initially, the Knott’s special deputies continued to wear a Sheriff uniform with the normal Sheriff shoulder patch. In the late 1970s the uniform patch was slightly changed to reflect the words Special Deputy Security. By the early 1980s the uniform again changed, this time to a tan shirt with a patch that simply read Special Deputy.

When Knott’s had the deputy and special deputy status, they would often be called on to provide assistance beyond the boundaries of the Farm. It didn’t happen on a regular basis, but it was not uncommon in these early years for Knott’s deputies to respond to calls for OCSD and Buena Park when they needed additional manpower. Legend has it that in those early years, before Buena Park had a police department, they would call the Knott’s deputies when a traffic ticket needed to be written!

 

Russell Knott, the son of founders Walter and Cordelia Knott, was in charge of general administration for the Farm, and as such was responsible for overall security operations. The first Security Chief at Knott’s Berry Farm was Harold Ohmneiss, who took office in September 1951 and reported to Russell Knott. According to Russell’s son Steve, Harold had retired from the Navy and hired many retired Navy servicemen as Knott’s deputies, and that appeared to work well.

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Chief of Security, Harold Ohmneiss. Photo taken in the early 1960s.

An article that appeared in the May 1952 edition of a Knott’s Berry Farm employee newsletter provided an early look at the duties of the Security Officer: “A group with duties as varied as any on the Farm is the staff of Security Officers. Directing traffic, helping to find misplaced children, taking care of minor first aid problems, transferring money, helping guests or employees with automobile problems and dispensing volumes of information to guests are but a few of a security officer’s duties. On Sundays and holidays about ten officers and parking attendants direct the parking of the thousands of cars and operate the tram service to and from the main buildings. With more than 40 acres of parking space this is no small task. On busy days officers are stationed at railroad crossing and trestle as an accident prevention measure. They form an efficient fire department under the direction of fire chief Clyde Finley who also serves as chief of the West Anaheim Volunteer Fire Department. Each week a fire drill is held with practice in fire prevention, checking electrical and gas outlets and drilling with firefighting equipment. Always helpful, courteous and friendly, the security officers do much toward promoting friendly relations and maintaining the smooth operation of the Farm.”

 

By August 1956, the Knott’s Berry Farm security force consisted of 15 men, 14 of whom patrolled the grounds in the uniform of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. All the men were deputized, and by rank the force consisted of the Chief, one Captain, two Lieutenants, three Sergeants, and eight Patrolmen. These employees were Sgt. Dick Berry, Bob Cornett, Mark Everett, Jack Good, Oliver Hess, Don Hoy, Frank Marchott, Chief Harold Ohmneiss, Lt. Pete Parsley, Sgt. Wendell Ramsay, Bill Schlamadinger, Lt. Archie Scott, Sgt. Earle Skinner, Capt. Don Stewart, and plain-clothes officers Jim Wagoner and Carroll Williams.

At some point during the 1950s, unarmed security officers were also added to the mix, wearing various types of a casual uniform with a Boysenberry style patch. They were soon known as “berry patchers” because of the uniform patch, and these Knott’s employees had no relationship with the OCSD.

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A “Berry Patcher” did not have Deputy Sheriff peace officer powers, wore several varieties of uniforms over the years, and performed duties that did not require a Deputy Sheriff to handle.

Knott’s Security operated out of a security office located in what today is known as the Marketplace. The office was relocated to inside the amusement park after the entire building was torn down in 1997 to make way for the GhostRider rollercoaster. Hundreds of Deputies and Special Deputies worked as Knott’s employees between the late 1940s and the late 1980s and operated out of the same security office since they were Knott’s employees. There was never any Orange County Sheriff’s substation on the property.

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Handling traffic control, parking vehicles, and providing directions was a primary job of the security officer/deputy.

Harold Ohmneiss with the Security department six passenger GMC “3 door pickup truck” placed into service in 1961 and used as the primary patrol vehicle.

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Walter and Cordelia’s grandson Steve Knott, seen here in 1963. Steve attended the Orange County Sheriff’s police academy in 1962 and would later serve as Director of Security when Chief Harold Ohmneiss retired in the mid-60’s.

The article below was published in 1963 in the Orange County Peace Officers 38th Annual Book and provides a glimpse into early 1960s Knott’s Berry Farm Security operations.

Knott’s Berry Farm’s Security Department consists of approximately 90 employees, 34 of whom are commissioned Orange County Special Deputy Sheriffs. They are governed by the rules and regulations set forth in the Orange County Sheriff’s manual regarding wearing apparel and the high standard of personal conduct and public relations for which the Sheriff’s Department is noted. We participate in the Orange County Basic Training Classes for Police Officers at Orange Coast College in addition to training classes held here at the Farm.

This Department maintains traffic control on perimeter streets and on the 230 acres of restaurant and amusement park area. Each foot officer is equipped with a 2-way “Handi Talkie” radio with direct communications with three patrol cars, a base station and several electric carts which are used in directing traffic. These radios are an invaluable aid to us in our many other duties, such as re-uniting lost parents with their children and responding to First Aid calls, plus general control of the grounds.

Other responsibilities of this Department are the maintenance of a First Aid Station staffed by two registered nurses, the cleanliness of grounds and restrooms, protection of guests’ autos while they are visiting the Farm, and also prevention and suppression of fire.

This Department has always had a very close association with surrounding cities’ Police Departments and with our own Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Knott’s Berry Farm’s version of a Security Officer is “a good public relations man as well as a man well trained in police work.” Ninety-eight percent of our personnel are retired Service men who received training in the Services which has given them a good background of stability, good public relations and the ability to handle people properly.

Knott’s continued to have a good working relationship with Sheriff Brad Gates, who took office in 1975; however, as time moved on, it was becoming clear that the urban Orange County of today no longer needed the Special Deputy program. By the late 1980s the program was phased out completely, not only at Knott’s Berry Farm, but countywide. From that point forward, Knott’s has only had un-armed security officers with no relationship to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and as such ending a most interesting relationship between the OCSD and Knott’s Berry Farm.

History of the Deputy Uniform and Uniform Patch

There were three versions of the Deputy uniform and patch used throughout the history of Knott’s Security.

 

The original “Deputy” patch worn by the fully commissioned deputies was the same patch worn by an Orange County deputy sheriff on the green uniform. The badge numbers issued to Knott’s were first in the 1100 series, and later, when additional numbers were needed, the 1400 series. The badge center seal was uncolored, where a regular deputy sheriff badge had elements of color in the seal.
 

The “Special Deputy” security officer had three versions of a uniform.
The first version of uniform was the same green shirt, green pants, and patch (no change).
In 1978 the patch changed, to include the words Special Deputy on the top and Security on the bottom.

 

In the early 1980s, the Special Deputy uniform changed to a khaki shirt and green pants, and the patch changed to the words Special Deputy on the top and nothing on the bottom.

Use of Two-Way Radios at Knott’s Berry Farm

In the 1940s and 1950s, before two-way radios were utilized at Knott’s Berry Farm, the Security Office would receive a call for service and use the public-address system to alert the deputy by making a generic announcement.  This was the same PA System used to let visitors know that their table was ready at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant!  Upon hearing the announcement, the deputy would find the nearest telephone and call the office to receive details of the call.  Once the call was completed, the deputy would again telephone the office and provide a disposition. 

In 1955 an Orange County law enforcement VHF low band base station radio was installed inside the Security Office. This radio was programmed with the Orange County Sheriff, and later Buena Park Police channels, allowing for Knott’s Security to monitor and transmit, if necessary, with these agencies. The radio provided situational awareness for Knott’s, who would relay appropriate information to the Knott’s deputies. A law enforcement VHF low band mobile radio was also installed inside the primary patrol vehicle, with the same programming as the base station radio. Both radios were removed from service in the 1970s when Orange County law enforcement transitioned to a new UHF radio system. It was not until 1980 when one law enforcement UHF Motorola MT500 portable radio was provided to Knott’s by Buena Park Police, and it was carried by the mobile patrol deputy. This radio was programmed with Red, White, Blue, Orange North, Orange South, and Buena Park Green, and it was the Green Channel that was normally monitored by Knott’s Security. When the Special Deputy program was disbanded, the radio was no longer utilized at Knott’s.

Knott’s was licensed on one business band VHF simplex channel in 1960, becoming the first “two-way radio system” deployed specifically for Knott’s personnel. This one channel was used primarily by Security, First Aid, and Parking Control for the first 10 years, with additional channels added in the 1970s and beyond for other park operations. The Knott’s dispatcher was known as “Station-K” on both the law enforcement and business radio channels.

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Security office in 1955, Deputy Don Stewart sits at the desk with the law enforcement radio base station to his left.

Chief of Security Harold Ohmneiss using the VHF low band law enforcement radio in 1955.

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Knott’s Deputy Archie Scott using the first field radio deployed at Knott’s. This radio was the Motorola Handi-Talkie, operating on a business frequency obtained by Knott’s in 1960.

The first radio “shoulder speaker” used at Knott’s as seen in this photo of Deputy Gene Beck.

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