The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1993, Volume 39, Number 4
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

To Protect and Serve: A History of the San Diego Police Department and Its Chiefs, 1889-1989.

By Pliny Castanien. San Diego: San Diego Historical Society, 1993. Bibliography. Index. Photographs. Appendices. 121 pages. $14.95.

Reviewed by Clare V. McKanna, Jr., editor of Great Plains Research, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Author of essays on banditry, homicide, and prisons in California and the American West.

I first met Pliny Castanien at the San Diego Police Department in 1959. He was covering a police story and I was working as an ID tech in the Police Records Bureau. For years I read many of his columns in the San Diego Union and it came as no surprise that Cass would write a fascinating, informative book on the San Diego Police Department. After reading To Protect and Serve, there is no doubt that it was a labor of love.

Castanien tells his story through the lives of the chiefs of police. It is a compelling one that chronicles power struggles between members of city hall who meddle in police business to the detriment of police leadership, morale, and professionalism. The chief had to walk a fine line and any miscue could end in dismissal. It is not surprising that Castanien labels one chapter “The Revolving Door: 1891-1909.” Ten different chiefs ruled during that period. In 1891, William H. Crawford, a “three-month” chief, learned the hard way when C. W. Breedlove, a nondeputized officer, killed an AWOL sailor while attempting to arrest him. Coroner’s inquest testimony placed Crawford “at the scene of the fatal clubbing.” He resigned.

In 1909, the appointment of J. Keno Wilson brought stability to the police department. Wilson, a remarkable man, was one of the best chiefs. Photographs of Wilson reveal perceptive eyes and determination that have been borne out by his actions. A lawman for life, Wilson served as constable, cattlemen’s detective, city marshal, deputy sheriff, Deputy U.S. Marshal, and Chief of Police. As chief he survived two major crises: the Industrial Workers of the World free speech protest and the raid on prostitution in the Stingaree District below H Street. Although he approved of hosing down the IWW during their free speech protest in San Diego, Wilson advised against trying to destroy the Stingaree. He recommended limiting prostitution to that district. However, he obeyed his orders and conducted raids on November 10, 1912, arresting at least 138 women. In one of those oddities of history, the women were not booked, but were allowed to leave town if they promised not to return. According to the railroad ticket agent most bought round trip tickets to Los Angeles. Wilson endured the IWW protests and the Stingaree raids only to be deposed by the election of a new mayor.

The revolving door syndrome returned to plague the San Diego Police Department. In 1917 the mayor hired August Vollmer, Berkeley Chief of Police, to conduct a study on how to improve the police department. Vollmer “devoted nine single-spaced typed pages to positive recommendations for reorganization and fourteen pages to outlines of courses for the police school.” All to no avail. His excellent advice went unheeded.

The appointment of George Sears in September 1934 ushered in a period of stability to the police department. He reorganized the department and promoted the construction of a new city jail. In 1940 Clifford Peterson began to professionalize the San Police Department. He established the juvenile division, tightened operations within the property room, and developed better relations with other law enforcement agencies, and civic groups. One of his most important acts was to develop a new police training school headed by Sergeant Robert J. Karrow.

In October 1947, Elmer Jansen became chief. Noted for being ubiquitous, Jansen was likely to appear at any moment night or day, at police headquarters (including the Records Bureau) or where the action was, to keep his men vigilant. He was considered to be a “tough” cop. After his retirement the character of the San Diego Police Department changed. With the selection of William Kolender a new breed of cop began to gain ascendancy. College educated policemen like Kolender, Norm Stamper, Manuel E. Guaderrama, Ken Fortier, and Robert Burgreen ushered in a new era of community relations, computers, and a new high-tech police facility. Kolender tried to “rebuild police-citizen relations” with the use of police substations, walking beats, and horse and bicycle patrols. Accompanied by female patrol officers, sexual harassment, SWAT teams, BARF (Border Alien Robbery Force), police shootings, and the Sagon Penn encounter, the new era has garnered its share of supporters and critics.

Castanien provides the reader with an engaging narrative that traces the history of the San Diego Police Department through the rise and fall of the chiefs of police. This work is filled with marvelous photographs that chronicle the progress of law enforcement in San Diego. Castanien also provides a “Roll of Honor,” “List of Chiefs,” and the “Code of Ethics.” Anyone interested in law enforcement in San Diego will want to read this remarkable book. It is highly recommended by this reviewer.

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