Bart Owens: A career of crimefighting |

Bart Owens: A career of crimefighting

Gregory Crofton

Lunch in the car – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk – allowed the arrest.

Bart Owens caught a robber running out of a 7-Eleven with a bag of cash. The inside of his car got covered with milk and food, but the arrest is one of Owens’ fondest memories from days in law enforcement.

South Lake Tahoe Police Cmdr. Bart Owens called it quits Tuesday after 31 years. He leaves behind a legacy of solid police work.

“For me and many of us Bart was always a moral compass,” said Brad Bennett, chief of police and fire. “Any dilemmas we faced he’d always have the right answers. We have had three or four people who really impacted this department by their mere presence … and he’s one of them. He always held his head up high and focused on what he was doing. It’s a tremendous loss to this department.”

The seeds of Owens’ police career were planted when he learned about law enforcement in classes at a community college. To pay for the classes, he worked at a bank. That job made him realize what he didn’t want to do with his life.

“I knew I didn’t want to be inside all the time,” he said. “And I feel I’m service-oriented. I like to help others.”

But before he quit the bank, he got a life-altering letter in the mail.

“I got that ugly draft notice. My heart dropped. I knew I was off to war.”

He completed a two-year tour in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star. Back in American, Owens became a sheriff’s deputy in Santa Clara in 1971. His first week on solo patrol almost made him question if he wanted to be a cop. That week he pulled a dead woman from a car, dealt with a sudden infant death and the suicide of a 36-year-old man.

“I was asking myself, did I do the right thing?” Owens said. But he had such a good time working with people and trying to do a good job that he stuck with it.

The first ticket he issued was to a man speeding in a Porsche at 65 mph in a 35 mph zone. As he wrote the ticket, his hands shook slightly because he was nervous.

“The guy was great. He said, ‘I was going too fast, I deserve the ticket,'” Owens recalled.

After six years in Santa Clara, Owens made a move to the South Shore. It was a decision made partly because the commute in the Bay area was getting to him, but mostly because he loves the outdoors.

Even before he moved, he would come to Tahoe to camp during the heart of winter. He and a friend would hike into the woods and make snow caves to sleep in.

“We liked to go out under a full moon so it would be light practically all night,” he said. “Getting up to make breakfast in the morning was tough, though.”

Owens joined the South Lake Tahoe Police Department in 1977. By 1982 he had been promoted to the rank of sergeant and seven years later he earned the rank of lieutenant commander.

The latter promotion officially put him behind a desk, something he didn’t relish. But he accepted his new roll, realizing the promotion would help his family.

“That was the hardest, I felt like I was back at the bank,” he said. “But my job really became making other officers like the work as much as I liked the work. I also believe I played a part in hiring good, sincere, honest people with a passion for this honorable profession.”

Owens, 53, has two grown children, Chad and Jennifer. His wife of 34 years, Chris, has been supportive of his career throughout.

“She’s hung with me through all the weird shifts, goofy hours and late nights,” he said.

In retirement, Owens has one plan: to enjoy himself.

“I’ll miss it. But I want to get out and truly enjoy life,” he said. “I’m not turning it off, I’m turning a page.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.