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1845 to 1850

The town was under military control.


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. He depended 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.


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.

Prior to 1889

Law enforcement in San Diego was handled by City marshals and constables.

May 16, 1889

The metropolitan San Diego Police Department was established.

June 1, 1889

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.


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.


Harry Vandeberg became the first detective.


W. E. Hill became the department's first motorcycle officer.


The first traffic signal was installed at Fifth Avenue and Broadway (it was manually controlled by an officer who stood in the center of the intersection).


Patrol cars get one-way radios.


The modern mounted patrol began in Balboa Park, but was abolished in 1948. It was re-established in 1983 and remained active until 2010.


Patrol cars get two-way radios.


The first crime lab was established.


The first reserves appeared on the scene.


Police headquarters moved into its current seven-story headquarters building at 1401 Broadway.

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 St, until it moved to 1401 Broadway.

Crime Trends

For those interested in looking at crime trends over the past several decades, we have provided the City of San Diego Historical Crime Statistics available for the years since 1950, which shows both crime actual numbers and rates.

More History

For additional Department history, visit the San Diego Police Historical Association or try reading "To Protect and Serve: A History of the San Diego Police Department and Its Chiefs, 1889-1989," by Pliny Castanien. This book was published by the San Diego Historical Society and is described at its website.