Records of the City of San Luis Obispo Police Department,
including affidavits, letters, summons, and arrest records relating to the Police Courts, Recorder’s Office, and jail of the
City of San Luis Obispo.
San Luis Obispo was formally recognized as a township in the State of California by a legislative act in February 1856. Since
1852 county law enforcement officers, including a Sheriff and County Judge, had been appointed bi-annually as the township
experienced a slow transition from Spanish-Mexican law and traditional Western-settler customs to the newly adopted state
and county procedures. Law administration, previously afforded by Spanish-Mexican law, by settler community consensus, and
by groups known as “vigilance committees” (self-appointed enforcement committees) was still widely practiced throughout the
state during the transition. Between 1856 and 1876 local practice shifted to officially elected and appointed law enforcement
positions per California State and Federal procedures. The new roles included a Justice of the Peace, Marshal, Sheriff, Police
Judge, Night Watchman, and Constables.
In March of 1876 the town was officially incorporated as the City of San Luis Obispo and soon after City Council approved
an ordinance creating the Board of Police Commissioners (May 15, 1876). The Board, consisting of the Mayor, Police Judge,
and City Marshal, was responsible for appointing and governing a small police force consisting of a marshal and two officers.
The first official Police Department was established with City Ordinance 31 approved on 1 November 1877. Ordinance Number
5, which had established the Board the year before, was repealed and superceded. The new ordinance included, among other changes,
a statement in Section 6 requiring the marshal to “keep a register of arrests” detailing the suspect, the accused crime, and
the location of the incident.
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