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SLOJX Police 1 LAW(LESSNESS) AND (DIS)ORDER Let’s take a safety quiz. Of the following, who could NOT arrest you in San Luis Obispo in 1870? A. Marshal B. Sheriff C. Night watchman D. Deputy Marshal Yes, it’s a trick question…the answer is “D.” There were no deputy marshals until 1872. Indeed, there were no “police” for many years after our incorporation as a Town. With an 1870 population of about 1,000, public safety was more about fires than felons. Since San Luis Obispo was also the County “seat of justice,” there was a sheriff and town constables to maintain the peace. Why did there need to be another overlay of bureaucracy…and expense… of lawmen in the budding community? One requirement by the Legislature in 1856 for the Incorporation of a Town was the election of a Marshal. At the earliest recorded meetings of the Town Trustees in 1870, a series of assignments not usually associated with law enforcement became duties of the Marshal including issuing dog tags, clearing obstructions from eventual street extensions, discouraging the driving of cattle, hogs, or sheep through the Town, removing haystacks and assuming the duties as Pound Keeper and Tax Collector. An early ordinance allowed him $15 per month plus a percentage of fees collected. For these tasks and others the pay was raised to $30 a month (plus fees). The Marshal’s record keeping was often called into question as there were repeated directives by the Trustees for audits. While not ordinarily considered police personnel, the night watchman for San Luis Obispo had a unique role. By 1872, the Trustees authorized $30 per month for a night watchman named Fine who seems to have disappointed some residents who wanted him replaced. The Trustees declined to do so. The next year, a Resolution was passed specifying a prescribed route and amount of time the man could “be absent” (10 minutes) or stop at any one place (five minutes). The assignment began at 9 p.m. and continued to daybreak, seven days a week. The Town Trustees specifically authorized the night watchman “to arrest” anyone not obeying any ordinance. His main task, however, was to watch for fires. If he saw one, he was to fire his gun and yell “FIRE”! Long before incorporation as a Town, the few residents of San Luis Obispo were at times terrified and satisfied with their attempts to prevent …and punish…crime and criminals. 2 Walter Murray, editor of the Tribune, lawyer, District Attorney and judge wrote of the rampant crime in the area in 1853: “…scarcely a month passed without the disappearance of some traveler, or the finding of dead bodies or skeletons on the roads leading out north or south from here. Many a cattle-dealer from the upper country has come south to invest, and never returned.” Dead men tell no tales! In the heyday of violence, a Vigilance Committee was formed (1858) to dispense justice. The roster of members is a veritable “Who’s Who” of the pioneer settlers of the valley. More than one posse (including one with future Governor Romualdo Pacheco) pursued the villainous. If captured, a tree limb and a rope ended any issue of guilt. Local records are vague as to the distribution of justice. While there were courts, justices of the peace, County and Town officers and jails, any formal organization known as a police department waited years for formation. With the Incorporation of San Luis Obispo as a City in 1876, there was a renewed emphasis on public safety as a new major City committee was Police, Jail and Fire. This Committee along with one for Streets and Town Lands and another, Finances and Ordinances, were composed of Common Council members. As to a “Police Department,” the first Ordinance was passed in late October 1877. The Department included the Marshal and two policemen who were paid $65 per month or an amount while “actually on duty.” The job was for three months only and then the two men needed to reapply for the position. The Marshal was “ex-officio” Chief of Police. The Council probably was concerned a new title would mean more salary. Requirements included wearing a shield (it was a misdemeanor to lend it to anyone) and to refrain from playing any game of chance or skill while on duty. Releasing anyone before bail was posted or a court order given were also misdemeanors. Additionally, the new law provided directions as to the keeping of an arrest register as well as the first description of a police report. Laws and law enforcement developed slowly as by the turn of the century only 3,021 residents officially populated the City. Reports of crime in the local newspaper were most often about those in other places. Either San Luis Obispo had little crime to report or the editors’ preferences were for positive news only. We prefer the first choice. 3