A glimpse into the early days of the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD). Contributions and suggestions are always welcome.


SAPD police sheild circa 1900 Early law enforcement in San Antonio began with the Alguacils of the Villa de San Fernando de Bexar, and progressed to the Texas Rangers, Vigilantes, and City Marshals of early San Antonio.

Early San Antonio history can be divided into four areas :

  • 1718-1836: San Antonio de Bexar Under Spain & Mexico
  • 1837-1860: Era of Texas Independence & Early Statehood
  • 1860-1870: San Antonio During Civil War & Reconstruction
  • 1870-1900: San Antonio Becomes a Modern City

Courthouse and Jail Building 1950 Construction began in 1850 on the Courthouse and Jail Building, located on the NW corner of Military Plaza. This 2-story building later became known as the "Bat Cave".

San Antonio Police Department c. 1900, on steps of the new City Hall:
SAPD Department circa 1900



  • Population of San Antonio: 12,256
  • Reconstruction Texas Governor E.J. Davis set up a State Police force under the Police Act, with authority to operate anywhere in the state (known as the "Davis Police").


Police Act overturned. Texas Rangers re-instated.


  • Colt issues its classic .45 Single Action Revolver which soon became the sidearm of choice for Texas lawmen.
  • John Dobbin is appointed Marshal and transforms the police from a frontier, cowboy-type group into an organized, uniformed police department.


  • San Antonio police officers are issued standard uniforms.
  • Police officers are required to wear a shield and to conceal their firearms under their uniform coats.


  • The new Texas Constitution goes into effect.
  • Barbed wire introduced to San Antonio & its widespread use leads to "fence cutting" and range wars.


Railroad service finally reaches San Antonio. San Antonio's first street car, pulled by mules, goes into operation.


Telephone service introduced in San Antonio by Western Union.


  • Electricity extended to entire city center.
  • State of Texas purchases abandoned Alamo and gives it to City of San Antonio.


First automobiles arrive in Texas.


In the first half of the 20th century, the SAPD acquired cars, motorcycles, radios, and other technology. They also established the Training Academy, and became a professional, modern police organization.

The 19th century had many rural, frontier crimes for the police to face. These included American Indian and bandit raids, cattle rustling, and gunslingers. At the beginning of the 20th century, these were replaced by rising urban crime. New challenges included :

  • fast getaway cars in bank robberies
  • more organized crime and corruption
  • alcohol (Prohibition)
  • narcotics
  • traffic accidents
  • labor unrest

In 1900, San Antonio residents were not always linked by telephone to someone a few blocks away. By 1950, San Antonio had a television station broadcasting national news every evening. The SAPD entered the 20th century on horseback, and found itself 50 years later with aerial surveillance units, radio-equipped patrol cars, and an urban expressway.

Also in 1900, Elizabeth Dunn (Hardy) was hired as the first female member of the San Antonio Police Department. Her duties were to monitor female prisoners.


During this time, the SAPD entered the era of Civil Service. The population of the city expanded, and the SAPD grew in both manpower and modern technology.

SAPD Lab Car in 1960 For the SAPD, the post-war period brought both stability and change. In the past, mayors were in charge of appointing the Chief of Police/Chief Marshal. This meant there was a long list of chiefs going in and out of office according to the popularity (or whim) of the mayor, who was himself subject to an election every two years.

With a change in city government to a council-manager format, the position of Chief of Police entered a new period of stability. The longest-serving chief in SAPD history, Chief Bichsel, was appointed in 1953, and remained in the position for 19 years. Only five other men served as chief throughout the rest of the 20th century.

The 1950s was also a period of expansion in SAPD, not only of manpower, but also of facilities. These included a new headquarters building, an expansion of the crime laboratory, and updated equipment for officers and support staff. This led to an increase in professionalism in all areas of the department.

Chief Bichsel's appointment as Chief of Police in 1953, and the 1957 Leonard Report (A Survey of the Police Department) are among the most significant turning points for SAPD.

SAPD Headquarters on Nueva Street - Original 1962 one-story building:
Original 1962 SAPD Headquarters on Nueva St.