Pliny Raymond "Cass" Castanien, a former police reporter for The San Diego Union and author of a book published last year on the history of the San Diego Police Department, died Sunday of cardiac arrest at Kaiser Permanente Hospital. He was 85.
Mr. Castanien, who was named for a Roman scholar, Pliny the Elder, was hired to cover the police beat for the Union in 1948. By the time he retired in 1974, he had covered the city's Police Department for 26 years and had worked with eight city editors.
Considered a classic police-beat reporter, he was known throughout the ranks of the Police Department, from new recruits up to the chief. There was even a television character based on the San Diego newsman.
Mr. Castanien was the prototype for the newspaper reporter in the 1959-1960 television series, "Manhunt," which was based on the San Diego Police Department. Actor Pat McVey portrayed Mr. Castanien, who worked as a technical adviser for the series.
As a journalist, he wrote about mayhem, felonies, accidents and fires. But he always kept an eye out for the gripping human-interest stories that cross the police blotter. He also wrote extensively about the challenges and problems faced by the cop on the beat.
He is credited with establishing a police-academy program to promote good relations between police and the news media. He was honored by the Police Department for fair and accurate reporting.
After retiring from the Union, Mr. Castanien was asked to work as an unpaid historian for the Police Department. In an office at the department's Northern Division, he wrote "To Protect and Serve: A History of the San Diego Police Department and Its Chiefs, 1889-1989." The book was published in 1993.
At the time of his death, he was at work on a book of trivia about the Police Department.
Mr. Castanien attended Oklahoma A&M College and Wichita University, majoring in journalism. He got his start as a police reporter at the Wichita Beacon in 1931. He subsequently worked as a police reporter for the Wichita Evening Eagle for nine years. He worked for a year for the Tulsa World before joining the Union.
During World War II, he was a staff member of the Office of War Information assigned to the state of Kansas. He also served in the Army Air Corps as an undercover investigator.
Mr. Castanien's first wife, Imogene, died in 1967. He married Barbara Anderson, a former employee of the county Coroner's Office, in 1968. They met while he was covering police stories. The couple traveled widely in retirement, mainly in Mexico. She is his only survivor.