Streetwise: SF Police Department On Duty All Around Town

by Frank Dunnigan

Last year, STREETWISE looked back through the OpenSFHistory photo archive at some of the images of the San Francisco Fire Department, and now we explore memories of the San Francisco Police Department, including the many diverse functions performed by the women and men of SFPD across many different neighborhoods.

Boy Scout Day, February 1941.Boy Scout Day: boy scout with Archbishop Mitty on the steps of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Mayor Angelo Rossi at left, February 1941. (wnp14.4761; Courtesy of a Private Collector)

Boy Scout Day in 1941 was celebrated on the steps of St. Mary’s Cathedral at Van Ness Avenue and O’Farrell Street (destroyed by fire in September of 1962). Here, a young Scout meets San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi (in topcoat), San Francisco Archbishop John J. Mitty (wearing vestments and miter), and San Francisco Chief of Police Charles Dullea. At right is Rev. Harold E. Collins, then secretary to Archbishop Mitty and later the long-time pastor (1946-1976) of St. Cecilia Church in the Parkside District. Police Chief Dullea had a son, Rev. Charles Dullea, S.J. who served as President of the University of San Francisco (USF) from 1963-69.


Mission Police Station, April 22, 1948.Mission Police Station at 3059 17th Street near Folsom; 125 patrons were arrested in a police raid of an ‘indecent stage performance’ at the Verdi Club, April 22, 1948. (wnp14.12464; photo by Charles Doherty, Examiner Negative Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector)

The routine of processing suspects and subsequent record-keeping has changed only a bit in the current era of computers. Here is a booking scene at the old Mission Station in 1948. Located at 3057 17th Street near Treat Avenue, it was originally built in 1902, damaged in 1906, and then quickly repaired. It had continued use for another 44 years until SFPD moved Mission Station to a new building at 1240 Valencia Street in 1950 and then to a newer and larger building at 630 Valencia Street in 1994. The 1902 building, shown here, is still standing and it evokes memories of old-time San Francisco.

Read more about the history of the old building and see vintage photos of the structure.


Market Street, September 21, 1951.Officers John Kellejian and Joseph Daly, who stopped a man from jumping from the 8th Floor of 995 Market, September 21, 1951. (wnp28.0496; photo by Jimmy Stewart / Courtesy of a Private Collector)

This image shows Market Street spectators with the SFPD officers who were successful in talking down a person who was threatening to jump from a nearby building at 995 Market Street. The ground-floor businesses along this stretch of Market Street in the background have all changed over the years.


William Randolph Hearst's Funeral, August 17, 1951.Elevated view west on California Street between Leavenworth and Hyde, showing parked sedans and police escort for funeral of William Randolph Hearst, August 17, 1951. (wnp14.13469; Courtesy of a Private Collector)

Traffic control is often needed at events involving prominent individuals. Here is just the beginning of the procession of limousines during newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst’s 1951 funeral cortege along California Street from Grace Cathedral to his final resting place at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma. Today, a newer apartment building has replaced the garage, and all the other businesses have changed.


Fillmore and Sacramento Streets, November 8, 1952.Night view north on Fillmore towards Sacramento Street; overturned vehicle at the curb with police and onlookers, November 8, 1952. (wnpwnp28.2908; Courtesy of a Private Collector)

SFPD has responded to countless vehicle accidents over the years that have made officers wonder, “what in the world…?” such as this 1952 scene at Fillmore and Sacramento Streets in Lower Pacific Heights. The corner store pictured in the background is now an ice cream shop.


Noe and Liberty Streets, May 1959.Traffic boy posing with motorcycle policeman on Noe and Liberty Streets in Dolores Heights, May 1959. (wnp27.2026; Courtesy of a Private Collector)

The school safety program was developed in the 1920s and remained active for decades. Shown here is an SFPD officer and school safety patrol volunteer at Noe and Liberty Streets in Noe Valley in 1959. Although many remember the program as being boys-only, numerous girls were also members beginning in the 1950s at many public and private schools.

Read more recollections of the program in the April 2014 STREETWISE.


Market at Grant Streets, April 27, 1960.Looking south down Market Street from Grant; motorcycle escorts flanking motorcade for Charles DeGaulle’s visit, April 27, 1960. (wnp14.4968; Courtesy of a Private Collector)

Safety and security for visiting dignitaries is another important duty for SFPD. From 1958 to 1960, the Department handled major visits and downtown motorcades involving the arrival and welcome parade for the newly-relocated Giants baseball team in 1958, visits from U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower (1958), Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (1959), and French President Charles de Gaulle (shown here in 1960), plus campaign stops from presidential candidates John Kennedy and then-current Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960.

Read more about numerous presidential visits to San Francisco over the years in this 2021 article by Arnold Woods.


Valley near Church Streets, August 18, 1967.Early morning fire at 188 Valley Street near Church Street; firemen helping elderly woman walk over fire hoses on ground with policeman walking alongside, August 18, 1967. (wnp69.00194; photo by Chet Born, SF Fire Department / Courtesy of Guardians of the City)

San Francisco Police Department officers routinely coordinate their activities with the San Francisco Fire Department in providing mutual responses to many situations, including helping an elderly resident at the scene of this 1967 fire on Valley Street.


O'Farrell near Larkin Streets, June 30, 1974.View east on O’Farrell Street near Larkin at approaching Gay Freedom Day parade; line of police on motorcycles ahead of drum and fife group, June 30, 1974. (wnp72.083; photo by Greg Gaar / Courtesy of Greg Gaar)

A row of uniformed SFPD motorcycle officers lead San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day parade up O’Farrell Street to Civic Center Plaza on June 30, 1974. Many of the business have changed in the past half-century, including the parking lot sign advertising “Park & Lock” shown at left: “$1.50 for 24 hours”.


Ghirardelli Square, October 31, 1976.Campaign rally in Ghirardelli Square for President Jimmy Carter; seated are Mayor George Moscone, U.S. Representative from New York Shirley Chisholm, Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Alan Cranston, and Senator John Tunney, October 31, 1976. (wnp72.2643; photo by Greg Gaar; courtesy of Greg Gaar)

Security was tight at this Ghirardelli Square campaign rally for Jimmy Carter’s 1976 election bid, with both uniformed and undercover officers protecting the candidate and other dignitaries surrounding him. Just over one year earlier, President Gerald Ford was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt at the Post Street entrance of the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. SFPD and the Secret Service wanted no repeat incidents in 1976 – and this visit went smoothly.


Folsom and 2nd Streets, 1982.Flipped over truck and driver with police, Folsom and 2nd Streets, 1982. (wnp72.8192; photo by Greg Gaar / Courtesy of Greg Gaar)

Inexplicable vehicle accidents are part of the daily routine for SFPD officers, as shown here at the corner of 2nd and Folsom Streets in 1982. Numerous new high-rise buildings, both commercial and residential, fill the area today.


Cole and Haight Streets, May 1985.Police talking to ‘Diamond’ Dave Whitaker at de-fencing of ‘Hole on Cole,’ Haight Theatre site, Cole and Haight Streets, May 1985. (wnp72.11311; photo by Greg Gaar / Courtesy of Greg Gaar)

Officers speak with members of the public in 1985 at the vacant site of the former Haight Theatre in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The old theatre was demolished in 1979, and there was neighborhood opposition to a retail store being built there. The vacant lot was subsequently fenced off for several years, and construction later began on a multi-story housing project with ground-floor retail space. The buildings in the background across Haight Street have undergone changes in their street-level retail tenants, but have maintained the same overall appearance.


Although the San Francisco Police Academy graduated its original class containing women officers in 1975, it is important to remember those women who were on duty earlier. In 1944, due to staffing shortages as a result of World War II, six women were sworn in for traffic control duties – but they were NOT “meter maids.” They held the distinct title “Police Officer.” See a photo of these original women officers – Vera Wendt, Mary O’Malley, Rita Bernell, Florence Moodie, Elizabeth Rickey, and Amy Sliger – in the photo files of San Francisco Public Library.

Note that the San Francisco Police Department’s current force is made up of 14% female officers and that the department has recently made a commitment to increase that number to 30% by the year 2030.