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Finding Aid to the Thomas J. Cahill Papers, 1936-2002 (bulk 1954-1995)
SFH 15  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance
  • Separated Materials
  • Related Materials
  • Technical Requirements
  • Processing Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Contents
  • Arrangement

  • Collection title: Thomas J. Cahill Papers
    Collection identifier: SFH 15
    Contributing Institution: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
    100 Larkin Street
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    415-557-4567
    info@sfpl.org
    Physical Location: Collection is stored onsite.
    Language of Materials: Collection materials are in English.
    Physical Description: 7 cartons, 2 oversize flat boxes (10.7 cubic ft.)
    Date (bulk): 1954-1995
    Date (inclusive): 1936-2002
    Abstract: Cahill's papers document his professional and public life from the 1940s-until his death in 2001, tracing the trajectory of his career as a San Francisco Police Department officer, homicide inspector, deputy chief of police, and chief of police; as well as his public life after he retired from SFPD, when he continued to be a prominent public figure and public speaker. The collection consists of police records, mainly from an undercover vice investigation from the 1950s; correspondence; scheduling diaries; speech materials; papers from conferences and events; certificates and awards; newspaper clippings and publications, the bulk of which feature or include Cahill; photographs, and audiorecordings.
    Creator: Cahill, Thomas J., 1910-2002

    Access

    The collection is open for research, with photographs available during Photo Desk hours. Please call the San Francisco History Center for hours and information at 415-557-4567.
    Audiorecordings are being reformatted and are currently unavailable for use.

    Publication Rights

    All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the City Archivist.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Thomas J. Cahill Papers (SFH 15), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

    Provenance

    Gift from John M. Cahill, son of Thomas J. Cahill, June 3, 2003.

    Separated Materials

    Photographs have been transferred to the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.
    The following publications have been transferred to the San Francisco History Center's book collection and may be found in the online catalog: The San Francisco Committee on Crime, Moses Lasky and William H. Orrick, Jr., Co-Chairmen. A Report on the San Francisco Police Department, Part I: The Eighth Report of the Committee. San Francisco: June 9, 1971.
    The San Francisco Committee on Crime, Moses Lasky and William H. Orrick, Jr., Co-Chairmen. A Report on the San Francisco Police Department, Part II: The Ninth Report of the Committee. San Francisco: June 17, 1971.

    Related Materials

    Researchers are encouraged to see also the San Francisco History Center's Biography Files for a file on Cahill and the Mayoral Papers of George Christopher, Jack Shelley, and Joseph Alioto for further documents concerning issues and events of the time.

    Technical Requirements

    Audiorecordings recorded in multiple formats, including wire spools, Memovox, reel-to-reel tapes, and phonographic discs (33 1/3 and 78 rpm).

    Processing Information

    Processed by Larissa C. Brookes in 2006 and completed by Wendy Kramer in 2010.

    Biography

    Thomas J. Cahill started his working life humbly as an ice-delivery man in San Francisco in 1931. By 1958 he had become San Francisco's Chief of Police, responsible for the oldest police force west of the Mississippi River. Cahill focused his ambitions on making San Francisco a safer city, instituting novel and sometimes controversial approaches, working with the FBI and U.S. Congress, and addressing scores of audiences throughout his career and retirement to discuss crime control and prevention.
    Cahill was born in Chicago in 1910, though he spent most of his early life in Ballylarkin, County Kilkenny, Ireland, where his grandfather had a 165-acre farm. Cahill's father left Ireland for Chicago as a young man but decided shortly after Cahill turned two to return to Ireland. Cahill was educated at Callan Christian Boys School and also at Ring College, in County Waterford, Ireland, where he trained as a teacher. Cahill also learned to speak, read, and write Gaelic fluently.
    Even though he was raised in Ireland, Cahill grew up listening to his father enthrall neighbors and friends with stories about America. Cahill promised himself he would return one day.
    On February 2, 1930, when he was nineteen, Cahill began his journey to the U.S., traveling with a cousin who was returning to his father's ranch in Alhambra, California. The Great Depression had only recently begun but was still causing record unemployment, and Cahill found few jobs on his own. He worked on his uncle's ranch before heading north to San Francisco, where he tried to join the police force. However, regulations required applicants to have lived in San Francisco for at least five years before applying.
    Instead, Cahill found work delivering ice blocks. In this job, Cahill learned "every nook and cranny" of San Francisco (O'Riordan), knowledge that became handy when he served as a patrol officer. After Cahill realized electric refrigerators would soon replace iceboxes, and with the encouragement of his new wife, Margaret, he entered the police academy, starting the six-week course in July 1942.
    At the police academy, Cahill's fellow cadets named him likeliest to become police chief (see Series 3, Public Relations and Research). After graduating from the academy, Cahill patrolled streets as an officer in the Potrero Division. By 1950 he had become an inspector in the SFPD's homicide detail, working on at least one important case with the man who would become the next police chief, Francis (Frank) Ahern.
    Mafia-related crime, such as murders and bookmaking, were one of Cahill's concerns as a police officer and, later, as a homicide inspector. After a man's garroted body was found inside a car trunk in the Marina, Cahill and Ahern educated themselves thoroughly in Mafia connections, names, and activities in the U.S. The two believed that the murder had been a Mafia killing.
    Their investigative work earned them nationwide attention. In 1950, Cahill and Ahern testified in the San Francisco visit by the Senate Crime Investigating Committee, an inquiry instigated by Senator Estes Kefauver (Tenn.). Both inspectors won high praise from Kefauver's committee, having compiled the most extensive collection of information about the Mafia that the committee had seen.
    Frank Ahern became Chief of Police in 1956, naming Cahill his Deputy Chief of Police shortly after. Ahern's tenure as chief was brief, ending on September 1, 1958, when he died at a baseball game at the now-demolished Seal Stadium. Mayor George Christopher named Cahill Chief of Police shortly after Ahern's death, on September 5, 1958.
    One of the innovative approaches Cahill took as police chief was to introduce police community relations programs, which allowed citizens an official, public forum in which to discuss their opinions - negative or positive - about the police force. The first such programs in San Francisco were in the Potrero, Northern, and Haight Ashbury-Golden Gate Park Divisions, the latter being introduced in January 1963. Cahill also introduced Tactical Crime Prevention Squads and a Canine Unit, explaining that dogs were much easier to stop than bullets.
    Cahill was active in safety and crime-related concerns outside the SFPD. He served on President Lyndon B. Johnson's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice from July 1965 to June 1967, appearing on Meet the Press to discuss the Commission's findings. He also served as president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police from October 1968 to the following October.
    Urban rioting, increasingly violent protests, armed militias, rising crime, and the lowering level of respect held for police officers challenged Cahill in his final years as police chief. Reacting to rising crime rates, Cahill encouraged the public to "rise up and support law enforcement" and urged the press to publicize police accomplishments rather than failures ("Chief Cahill in Strong Talk"). However, Cahill's exhortations no longer resonated so strongly with audiences. In the 1950s, Cahill told high school students they could choose one of two paths - one path leading to an upstanding life and the other to the electric chair. By the mid-1960s, such speeches were no longer successful.
    Yet Cahill did not rely on pleas to the public to reduce crime and violence. He also researched possible sources and ramifications of civil unrest, preparing a remarkable report, The Outlook for Civil Disobedience, in 1967. In addition, the SFPD prepared 128 Hours: A Report of the Civil Disturbance in the City & County of San Francisco. This report presents the SFPD's examination of police, government, and individual action that occurred after a police officer fatally shot an African-American youth in Hunter's Point on September 27, 1966.
    Cahill retired as police chief on February 4, 1970. Then-mayor Joseph Alioto had requested Cahill's retirement, as the mayor sought to infuse the police department with "new blood" (Raudebaugh). San Francisco, like almost every major U.S. city, had been experiencing a relentless increase in crime; its police force had also not changed enough under Cahill to attract and retain qualified police officers. Under the existing seniority system, new recruits faced seven or eight years of night duty. This system also required new recruits to wait twelve to fifteen years before being promoted to sergeant.
    After leaving the SFPD, Cahill continued to work in the law-enforcement field and serve the public. He joined the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company as Chief Special Agent, a position he held until July 1, 1975, shortly after he reached his mandatory retirement age. He also ran successfully for a position on the San Francisco Charter Revision Committee. Cahill lived a highly public life, accepting frequent offers to address various civic, community, and professional groups.
    Cahill died of heart failure on October 12, 2002, at age 92. Despite his advancing years, he continued to be actively involved in public concerns until his death, making speeches and writing letters. He was survived by his third wife, Elizabeth (Wright), and four children: Thomas, Jr.; John; Edward; and Elizabeth.
    Sources:
    "Chief Thomas J. Cahill: A Life in Review," The Watch Report, Fall/Winter 1998.
    O'Riordan, Mikel. "Pillars of the Community," The Irish Herald, October 1996.
    Ostrow, Al. "Detective Team on Trail of the Mafia," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 1951.
    "'People's Commission' Sets Berkeley Probe", San Francisco Examiner, February 5, 1970.
    Raudebaugh, Charles. "Why It Happened", San Francisco Chronicle, February 5, 1970.
    Rubenstein. Steve. "Mourners Remember Cahill," San Francisco Chronicle, October 18, 2002.
    "Stage Is Set for the Kefauver Committee's Big Show", New York World-Telegram and Sun, March 10, 1951.

    Scope and Contents

    Cahill's papers document his professional and public life from the 1940s until his death in 2001, tracing the trajectory of his career as a San Francisco Police Department officer, homicide inspector, deputy chief of police, and chief of police; as well as his public life after he retired from SFPD, when he continued to be a prominent public figure and public speaker. The collection consists of police records, mainly from an undercover vice investigation from the 1950s; correspondence; scheduling diaries; speech materials; papers from conferences and events; certificates and awards; newspaper clippings and publications, the bulk of which feature or include Cahill; photographs, and audiorecordings.
    Most of the photographs document events held in honor of Cahill, with a few photographs from trips or enclosed with correspondence. Occasions include a testimonial dinner on June 23, 1967, the Hall of Justice rededication ceremony of March 10, 1994, and Cahill's 90th birthday party. A small number of photos are unidentified and/or undated and have been arranged in a separate series. Many of the photographs have been removed from scrapbooks and photo albums: photographs from the testimonial dinner, June 23, 1967 were originally housed in two albums; the Hall of Justice rededication ceremony photos were housed in three albums; and photos from Cahill's trip to Buenos Aires, Dec. 1-18, 1968 are still mounted on the disbound album pages.
    Sound recordings are included in the police records of Series 1 and as part of Cahill's professional activities in Series 3. While much of the material is partially or completely unidentified, portions that have been identified are described below in Series descriptions.

    Arrangement

    Arranged in five series: 1. San Francisco Police Department Records; 2. Correspondence; 3. Professional Activities 4. Clippings and Printed Material; 5. Photographs.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Cahill, Thomas J., 1910-2002 -- Archives
    San Francisco (Calif.) . Police Dept. -- Archives
    Law enforcement--United States
    Police chiefs--California--San Francisco
    Police chiefs--California--San Francisco--Photographs
    San Francisco (Calif.)--Social conditions
    Sound recordings
    Vice control--California--San Francisco