In 1850, Millard Fillmore was President of the United States. The Civil War and subsequent assassination of President Abraham Lincoln were years away. San Diego, in that year, became one of the original 27 counties chartered by the State of California. (Today, there are 58 Counties.) It encompassed an area of over 42,000 square miles and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, boasted a population of 791 people. Agoston Haraszthy (shown right), a Hungarian Count, elected first Sheriff of San Diego County, later went on to gain fame as the “Father of the California wine industry” in the Napa-Sonoma area today known as Buena Vista.  From those humble beginnings, the Sheriff’s Department has carved out a remarkable rich history that is synonymous with that of San Diego County. That history is now on exhibit in the Sheriff’s Museum.

Sheriff Haraszthy built the first cobblestone jail in historic Old Town, the birthplace of California. Two years later, after the first San Diego jail was built, the famous Judge Roy Bean became its first escapee. With a penknife, he dug himself out under the foundation of the cell. That jail stood less than 100 feet from where the Sheriff’s Museum now stands.

The late 1880’s of San Diego County saw the arrival of other famous lawmen, including Wyatt Earp, who came to do his own brand of peacekeeping. As a hired gun, he was indicted for five killings in the Old West. San Diego’s Horton Plaza is now the site of where Wyatt Earp opened a gambling hall just prior to 1900.

In the term of Fred M. Jennings, the 18th Sheriff of San Diego County, Mrs. Olive Belle Chambers was appointed as a Deputy Sheriff in 1913, becoming the “first lady with a badge.”

Edgar F. Cooper, who became the 21st Sheriff in 1929 is remembered most for forming the County’s first industrial road camp and the creation of a Juvenile Delinquency Division with the Sheriff’s Department.

The longest term of any Sheriff in San Diego County belongs to Bert Strand, the 23rd Sheriff. Among his many achievements during his 21 years in office, one of the most important was the organization of the Sheriff’s Reserves.

As the 26th Sheriff of San Diego County, John F. Duffy served five terms. His milestones include reclassification of women from “jail matrons” to Deputy Sheriffs and the development of the Sheriff’s Crime Prevention Program and the Emergency Planning Detail. He was credited for bringing the Sheriff’s Department into the 20th Century.

Bill Kolender served as the 28th Sheriff of San Diego County from 1995 until his retirement in 2009. As the leader of one of the largest Sheriff’s Departments in the nation with over 50 years in the law enforcement profession, Sheriff Kolender made a significant impact in improving law enforcement throughout California. Among his accomplishments is the establishment of the department’s first Domestic Violence Unit which became operational in January ’98; the expansion of the Senior Volunteer Program; and new small storefront offices throughout the County focusing on Community-Oriented Policing. He has been instrumental in improving equipment for the deputies, the department’s infrastructure, including the building of new jail facilities, new stations, new Communications Center, Jail Information Management System just to name a few.

Following Sheriff Kolender’s retirement, Sheriff Bill Gore took office as the 29th Sheriff of San Diego County.

From horses to motor cars, airplanes, helicopters and highly sophisticated computers and laboratory equipment, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has come a long way since 1850.