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Steve Willard

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San Diego Police Department (CA) (Images of America)
Steve Willard  More Info

About the San Diego Police Department

Prior to 1889, law enforcement in San Diego was handled by city marshals and constables. Between 1845 and 1850, the town was under military control. In 1850, the state senate drew up a charter providing for a five-man city council assisted by a marshal, an attorney, an assessor and a treasurer. The voters chose Agostin Haraszthy as both sheriff and marshal.


The frontier lawman was patrolman, detective, criminologist, jailor, process server, clerk and executioner. His first requirement was raw courage. Hedepended upon the gun on his hip to back up his orders. His first interest was in keeping alive and bringing the culprit to justice, dead or alive.


In 1850, the council decided to build a town jail. Two bids were received, one from the Israel brothers for $3,000 and the other from Haraszthy for $5,000. Because Haraszthy's father was president of the council, Haraszthy got the contract -- bankrupting the city. Four hours after the first prisoner was incarcerated, he dug his way through the wall with a pocket knife.


The city eventually purchased a cage and put its first escape-proof jail in the Old Town Plaza. In 1871, the jail was moved to the location of the present county courthouse at Front and C Streets in new San Diego.


The metropolitan San Diego Police Department was established May 16, 1889. On June 1 of that year, Joseph Coyne, the city marshal, was appointed the first chief of police.


The first police uniform consisted of derby hats, coats with high collars and badges with seven-point stars. Chief Coyne was paid $125 a month, his officers $100 a month; they worked 12-hour days, seven days a week. In 1895 shifts were reduced to eight hours -- but salaries also dropped: $25 a month. Mounted patrolmen furnished their own horses, but did receive $100 a month for feed and care of their animals. The modern mounted patrol began in 1934 in Balboa Park. It was abolished in 1948, but was re-established in 1983 and remains active today.


Among other milestones: Harry Vandeberg was the first detective (1907); W. E. Hill was the department's first motorcycle officer (1909); the first traffic signal was installed around 1920 at Fifth Avenue and Broadway (it was manually controlled by an officer who stood in the center of the intersection); the crime lab was established in 1939; patrol cars got one-way radios in 1932, two-way radios four years later; and the first reserves appeared on the scene in 1942.


The first police headquarters was in City Hall at Fifth Avenue and G Street. Several moves later, the department relocated at Dead Man's Point, named because of its use as a burial place for sailors and marines during the charting and surveying of San Diego Bay. The department remained there -- at 801 West market Street -- until 1987, when it moved into its current seven-story headquarters building at 1401 Broadway.





Steve R. Willard is a 20-year member of the San Diego Police Department. A writer for law enforcement periodicals, Steven Willard also serves as the vice president of the San Diego Police Historical Association, which supplied the vintage photos for his Images of America, San Diego Police Department.  Since joining the San Diego Police Department in 1985, Steve Willard has worked “patrol, crime prevention and the detective bureau. In addition to extensive expertise in forensic video and composite artistry and covert alarm systems, Vice President Willard holds a certificate in intermediate Crime Scene Investigation from California State University Long Beach and an advance certificate from the California Department of Justice. He has also obtained certificates in intermediate and advanced courses in fingerprint classification and identification through the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”  He is also the author of America’s Finest: The History of San Diego City Law Enforcement.


According to the book description of Images of America, San Diego Police Department, “The San Diego Police Department dates to 1889, when out-of-control crime forced the end of the highly ineffective city marshal’s office. With violence on every corner and Tombstone’s venerable Wyatt Earp running the marshals’ gambling interests, change was desperately needed. But the first days of the SDPD weren’t easy. Within two years of its formation, the city’s economy tanked, 36,000 of the town’s 40,000 citizens left, and the department’s newly appointed chief refused to take the job. Still, San Diego eventually developed into one of the nation’s largest cities and most popular tourist destination—a multifaceted metropolis perched between the extremes of Los Angeles and Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and the desert. Today more than 2,000 highly trained sworn SDPD officers, 700 support staff, and more than 1,000 volunteers form one of the world’s most innovative and internationally recognized police forces.”

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