A glimpse into the early days of the San Antonio Police Department. Contributions and suggestions are always welcome.
Early law enforcement in San Antonio begins with the alguacils of the Villa de San Fernando de Bexar and progresses to the Texas Rangers, vigilantes, and City Marshals of early San Antonio.
Early San Antonio history can be divided into four areas :
Construction began in 1850 on the Courthouse and Jail Building, located on the NW corner of Military Plaza. This 2-story building later became known as the "Bat Cave".
Police shield in use c.1900
San Antonio Police Department c. 1900, on steps of the new City Hall
The Department acquires automobiles, motorcycles, radios and other technology, establishes a Training Academy, and becomes a professional, modern police organization.
1900: Elizabeth Dunn (Hardy) is hired as the first female member of the San Antonio Police Department. Her duties are to monitor female prisoners.
The rural, frontier crimes and dangers of the 19th c (Indian/bandit raids, cattle rustling, gunslingers, and so on) were replaced by more urban crime and problems: bank robbers who used fast getaway cars, organized crime and corruption, alcohol (Prohibition) and narcotics, traffic accidents, and labor unrest - a product of industrialization. Although there was a continuation of frontier attitudes towards law and order as late as the 1930s (the WPA Guide to Texas quoted a Texas jurist as saying, "In Texas the 1st question to be decided by a jury in any homicide case is: Should the deceased have departed?"), technology served to facilitate the dissemination of more accepted (nationally) attitudes. In 1900, San Antonio residents were barely linked by telephone to someone a few blocks away; by 1950 San Antonio had a television station broadcasting national news every evening. The Police Department that entered the 20th century on horseback found itself 50 years later with an aerial surveillance unit, radio-equipped patrol cars and an urban expressway system.
SAPD in 1901
Gray-uniformed SAPD officers c. 1900, outside the Market
Mounted Patrol 1903
Traffic Police on motorcycle, c. 1934.
SAPD enters the era of Civil Service. City population expands and the Department grows in manpower and modern technology.
Above: SAPD Laboratory Car and Equipment, c. 1960
For SAPD, the post-war period brought both stability and change. Mayors had previously controlled the appointment of the Chief of Police/Chief Marshal, with a long list of Chiefs going in and out of office according to the popularity (or whim) of the mayor, who was himself subject to election every 2 years.
New SAPD Headquarters on Nueva Street - Original 1962 one-storey building.
With the shift to a Council-Manager form of city government, the position of Chief of Police entered a new period of stability: the longest-serving Chief in SAPD history, Chief Bichsel (19 years) was appointed in 1953; only 5 other men served as chief throughout the rest of the 20th century. The 1950s was also a period of expansion in SAPD, not only of manpower, but also of facilities, with the passage of a bond for a new Headquarters building, an expansion of the crime laboratory, more (and more modern) equipment for officers and support staff, and an increase in professionalism in all areas of the Department.
Chief Bichsel's appointment as chief in 1953 and the 1957 Leonard Report (A Survey of the Police Department) are the most significant turning points for SAPD.
SAPD in the 21st Century: SAPD enters an era of Community Partnerships made possible through decentralization of services and accountability at all levels.
For more history, you may wish to visit the following sites