Costa Mesa Police Department SWAT show their stuff as they surround a car and move in during a reenactment of a hostage situation during the 60th anniversary celebration of the CMPD on Sunday. (Susan Hoffman, Daily Pilot / May 28, 2013)

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Mike Healey doesn't appear in many of the historic photos that were on display in the Costa Mesa Police Department for its 60th anniversary open house on Sunday.

"I was behind the camera," he explained.

But he is part of the organization's beginnings.

Healey joined the department about seven months after its birth on Dec. 16, 1953. The police photographer came aboard as one of eight new hires, supplementing the original three officers and their chief.

At the open house, he celebrated the department's anniversary with more than 30 of his fellow retirees from the Costa Mesa force.

"It's just nice to see all the guys," said Healey, who worked for the CMPD from 1954 to 1979. "Unfortunately, we're all getting up in years. Our ranks diminish, it seems, like every year, but it's fun."

A new generation of policing was also on display as officers demonstrated SWAT tactics, motorcycle maneuvers and a mock arrest for the crowd.

Costa Mesa families brought their kids to sit in the cockpit of a police helicopter and see the classic police car parked next to the department's newly purchased high-tech vehicles.

At the opening ceremonies, three former chiefs joined current Police Chief Tom Gazsi on stage.

"It's hard for me to believe, as I look out over the large group gathered here today, what was actually happening 60 years ago today," said Roger Neth, one of the department's three original officers, who became chief in 1964.

Neth was the first patrolman to step foot on the streets of Costa Mesa after its incorporation. He and his two fellow officers drew straws for the first shift.

Neth won and officially started work at 4 p.m. Dec. 16, 1953.

From that day, Neth said, the department was on a path of growth and improvement, signing up volunteers and expanding.

Neth praised a Healey invention as an example of the department's early success.

Lawyers for drunk-driving suspects had started subpoenaing five or six officers at a time to appear in court, quite the blow to manpower at a small department, Healey said.

So in the early '60s, the photographer and his team rebuilt a surplus camera and a photo lab.

"We filmed the sobriety test of drunk drivers and told the arrestee's attorney, 'Would you like to see this or would you like the jury to see it?'" Neth said. "Needless to say, we experienced a nearly 100 percent conviction record in our drunk-driving cases."

The CMPD was founded on three principles, Neth said. "Be innovative, be progressive but above all, be professional."

That's a philosophy that Gazsi said carries on today, and he laid the credit at the feet of the department's employees.

"The reason we exist is to provide service for the community of Costa Mesa," Gazsi said. "The department wholeheartedly loves what they do. They pour their hearts into what they do on a day-in, day-out basis."