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Chief of Police Crowley
by Kate Hays Crowley

photo of Police Chief Patrick Crowley The story of my father's life as chief of police of San Francisco is the story of the organization of the department and its development into an efficient unit of protection of the life and property of a great city. In 1866 Patrick Crowley was elected chief of police of San Francisco and with that victory began the real work of his life.

As chief of police in those turbulent days of the transition period was a very different thing from being chief now, this modern department is as perfectly organized as a piece of clockwork, and the chief sits in his office, like a big, powerful director watching from the center of his web the network of power that stretches over the city–and far beyond–moving his men to do his will as easily as the typist does the keys of her typewriter.

A wonderful thing is that great mechanism–the police department of a great metropolitan city, that safeguards the thousands upon thousands of a city's dwellers, that knows so many secrets; that has a ready cold-blood knowledge of so many skeletons in closets; that marks and reports the comings and the goings of the unsuspecting.

It was not that sort of perfect mechanism however, when Patrick Crowley became chief, nor was being chief then what it is now. He was chief of less than a hundred men in a community where interested citizens believed it their duty to get out and take an active, and often violent part in righting the wrongs or wronging the rights of their time.

It was a day of riots and the chief took an active part, an actual physical participation in the very real dangers of his time. Those were wild times, full of wild projects, when he became chief, and he had not only individual offenders to deal with, but such gangs as the average law-abiding and protected citizens of today believes have existence in dime novels. There were the Sons of Freedom, the Revolutionary Committee, the Protrero toughs, the Sandlotters to be reckoned with.

The Sons of Freedom met in an empty barn on the southwest corner of Market and Ninth Streets at midnight, muffled in black dominoes, using no lights, rallying around a skull on a pedestal, bound together by a fearful oath, planning ghoulish crimes. Chief Crowley broke this up by introducing several members of his force into the circle and learning their secrets.

The Revolutionary Committee had a den at Lombard and Montgomery Streets and busied itself making most ingenious bombs intended to remove some of our most prominent citizens. Just as the bombs were ready and members of the committee were being detailed to apply them my father put his hand out and gathered them in, bombs, committee and all.

In the Protrero troubles, when rioting sprang out of the Anti-Chinese sentiment, the Chief made a sort of a military expedition of it. The Protrero was a long way over the sand dunes and creeks then, and at the head of his men he went out on horseback to subdue the rioters.

I remember well how he armed himself with a revolver and a knife in his belt, and a special club called a riot club, and a short shotgun filled with buckshot and set out for the Protrero. My mother watched him ride away and the, so sure that he would be brought back to her, wounded or dead, prepared his bed for him and beside it all the necessities for a surgical emergency. But he came back safe and sound, having mastered and dispersed the lawless ruffians and my mother confiscated the big club and kept it as a souvenir of that, her day of terror.

On the occasion of the Sutter Street [streetcar] strike, the dynamiters came to the top again and the Chief gathered the evidence of conviction himself. He was one of the detail that surrounded the suspected dynamiter's house, that pursued them, that picked up the bomb wrapped in dress lining, and fitted the wrapping to the piece of new cloth it had been cut from.

When the Sandlotters were making the City Government the byword, my father not only threatened to arrest the mayor himself, but captured the agitators so neatly that their followers had no chance to make a disturbance.

In the Anti-Chinese troubles he headed a posse armed with old muzzle-loading rifles down to the Pacific Mail docks and guarded the place for thirty days with such unceasing vigilance that, when the strain was over, he fainted from exhaustion—the first time he had fainted in his life.

All the riots that fell to his share were not from public troubles.

One of the first was when a mob gathered and demanded the murderer of Maggie Ryan, a little child who had been most shockingly dealt with and killed by a depraved creature. The whole emotional community was incensed and men and women gathered in a vengeful, menacing mob when the news flew through the city that the murderer had been caught. It closed around the police and their victim muttering that it would tear him him from limb, and Chief Crowley, then as always in the thickets of the fray, fought his way through, knocking men this way and that with his vigorous fists, and literally dragging his terrified prisoner into prison and safety by the nape of his neck. In the Goldenson case, where the angry mob ran wild upon the streets to destroy the youth who had wantonly murdered his young sweetheart, my father and his men broke sixty-four clubs on the heads of indignant citizens before getting Goldenson into jail.

Another time when he felt to the full the zest of the game was in the arrest of the Brothertons, forgers, who had escaped from prison, and after whom he was out in full cry leading the pack. He was then ambushed and in his eagerness to get them, leaped a fence catching his coat on the pickets and rolling to their feet. It was a critical moment, and the escaped men were desperate. Without almost superhumanly quick action, he was at their mercy, but the chief was active as well as resourceful. He turned a somersault that brought him to his feet and brought his gun and a challenge to bear on them at the same time, and the Brothertons went back to jail with him.

These are but a few on the many incidents that marked my father's career as two-time Chief of Police from 1866 to 1897. During all these years so rich in the history of San Francisco in its transition from a small community to a great city, he served the city with his heart and soul and when his retirement was announced, it was a source of great satisfaction to him and to us all in the family that the press of San Francisco was unanimous in rendering him the fullest measure of tribute for work well done.

Police and Peace Officers' Journal
December 1929.

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