Sacramento Police Department

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Department History

The founding of the City of Sacramento was a turbulent one - a beginning when life was cheap, the stakes were high and a large percentage of the population acted with the philosophy "it was every man for himself."

By 1849, Sacramento had grown rapidly from a small settlement at Sutter's Fort to a town of 10,000 people. The discovery of gold had brought people from all walks of life together. Sacramento had all the problems of a Wild West town. There were murders, robberies, shootings, and various other crimes committed in the city. In the summer of 1849, the city experienced its first lynching when a gambler named Roe was convicted by a citizens' committee and hanged for murder. On August 1, 1849, the City of Sacramento was founded when the first meeting of a Common Council was held. At that time, the City boundaries were north to the American river, east to 31st Street, south to Y Street and west to the Sacramento River, encompassing 4.5 square miles. N. C. Cunningham was appointed as the first City Marshall (the position now known as Chief of Police) and was given two deputies to enforce the law.

The city did not have a building for a police station or jail, so in May of 1850, the ship, LaGrange, was moored at the foot of H Street on the river and officially became the police station and jail boat.

As a result of the Gold Rush in 1852, Sacramento had grown in size until the population had reached 150,000 persons. The Police Department was also increased to six men. In addition to normal police duties, these six officers had to deal with the first Chinese Tong War to ever occur outside of China. Also, the most ambitious murder plot ever recorded in the West occurred during this period. Three men, one of them the Public Administrator, plotted to kill 55 leading wealthy Sacramentans for their money. Fortunately, the Police Department identified the murderers and arrested two of them after the first killing. Both men were subsequently convicted and hanged for their crime.

The Police Department grew slowly from 1849 to 1913 when it had 36 officers. The men of the Department patrolled the city on foot and on bicycles. The Department had two bicycles at that time. A typical bicycle beat covered about one half of the entire city, or about 200 square blocks. In those years, the Department did not have radio equipment. Communication between the Police Station and the beat officers was accomplished by telephones located in specially designated "call boxes" distributed throughout the city for this purpose.

Modern police history, as we now know it, began in 1917. The city's population had declined to just 90,000 people after the Gold Rush boom, but the Department now totaled 100 men. During this period, other changes were made: the Department moved into the new Hall of Justice building at 6th and I Streets; the use of modern, fast automobiles had been incorporated as a new tool in police work; the Department had developed an experienced, well-trained detective bureau and possessed one of the finest fingerprint bureaus in the country. At this point, police operations had begun to enter fields of specialization.

The Department may be larger now and uses newer and more scientific methods in fighting and solving crimes, but the men and women of the Department are still dedicated to the same goal as the first three officers were in 1848; still providing the best police services possible to the citizens of Sacramento.

Whether by patrol car, motorcycle, bicycle, mounted horse, or helicopter, the men and women of the Sacramento Police Department serve with honor while striving to work in partnership with the community to fulfill the Department's vision of Community-Oriented Policing.


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