Police Motor Units
The History of Motorcycle Law Enforcement

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San Francisco, CA Police Department


San Franciso Police Traffic Video 1920's

History of the Phoenix on the Patch

In 1900, banker and art patron Mayor James Duval Phelan, mayor from 1897 to 1902, recommended to the Board of Supervisors the San Francisco adopt a flag and motto.  Over 100 designs were submited and John M. Gamble's proposal was selected.  It depicts a phoenix rising from it ashes on a white field.  The mythological phoenix appears in many ancient cultures and is a symbol of immortality. When the long-lived phoenix feels death is near, it builds a nest of aromatic wood and sets it afire.  A new phoenix then arises from the ashes, just as San Francisco arose from the great fires of the 1850s.  The motto "Oro en paz fierro en guerra" "Gold in Peace and Iron in War" refers to the city's then-recent experience during the Spanish-American War as the embarkation point for troops to the Philippines in 1898.

Seven Point Star of the San Francisco Police Department

By John Murphy

January 1, 2011

The Officers of the San Francisco Police Department have been wearing the seven-pointed star since 1886.  The seven-point star is worn over the left breast ostensibly implying that the star is meant to protect the most vulnerable part of the human body; the heart.  However, when I began to research the orgin of the seven-point star, I learned that the star meant much more to the department's founding fathers.  It symbolized their belief in God and in the Book of Revelation (Christian Bible).

In 1850, there was very little sign of Christianity or of any religion for that matter in San Francisco.  The San Francisco Police Department was established in the same year.  At that time and for several years to follow, the police officers wore different uniforms and police stars (five and/or 6-point stars).It wasn't unitl 1886, that C.W. Warner hired a jeweler nthe amed Irvine Jachens (on behalf of the San Francisco Police Department) to craft the seven-point star.  According to John Gravey, (Images of America - San Francisco Police Department 2004), the seven-point star represents the "seven seals" of the book of Revelation in the New Testament that include virtue, divinity, prudence, fortitude, honor, glory and praising God (Garvey 2004).  All favorable traits that police officers were expected to espouse.  The Department adopted the seven-point star to remind everyone of the precepts by which the officers were guided.

Although there is no document currently possessed or distributed by the San Francisco Police Department specifically identifiying the true or intended (by the founding fathers) symbolism of the seven-point star, it seems to reason that the underlying meaning certainly has its roots in religion.  Reflecting back on the mid-1800s, who were Irish Immigrants with strong belief in Catholicism,  Clearly, the inference has been established that the police officers donnong the seven-point star were not only seen as constables enforcing criminal laws, but as God's soldiers responsible for holding miscreants to a higher authority (good versus evil).

San Francisco Police Motor Unit Video 1920's

The History of San Francisco Police Motorcycle Unit 

Our SFPD Traditions Endure the Test of Time

by Paul Chignell

There are specific reasons that the San Francisco Police Department officers are set apart from other agencies.  Our uniforms, equipment, and approaches to performing police work in an urban setting are often distinct from even police officers in adjoining jurisdictions.  Frequently, we take great pride in the differences with other agencies.  It is not that we are better or worse then other agencies, but that we are different, and that the differences are time honored and repected within our ranks, whether a new officer or a grizzled veteran.

    Some of the day to day differences in our appearance as officers may seem minor and unimportant, but the changes, that other police departments and sheriff offices have evoloved have rarely touched the SFPD.

Our Appearance

     San Fancisco Police Department officers wear blue uniforms with patches on both shoulders.  We have never worn khaki or green uniforms.  The uniformed officers is in symmetry, with black or dark T-shirts under the uniform shirt, not white.

     Unlike suburban officers, we shy away from baseball caps, but prefer service caps with brass emblems.  When superior officers see the caps creeping in, they banish them, and rightfully so. 

     Police officers in San Francisco do not wear beards and goatees in uniform.  They and their superiors believe that a police officer or deputy sheriff looks absolutely incongruent with beards and facial hair. They are correct.

     When San Francisco officers pin on their seven pointed star on the ledt side of their chest, it is for a distinct reason.  They have been doing it since 1886.  It is on the left side to protect the vulnerable part of the officer, his or her heart.  And not the scourge of the police parlance, a badge.  The seven points represent the Book of Revelation and stand for virtue, divinity, prudence, fortitude, honor, glory, and praising God.  Police officers are expected to exemlify those characteristics.  In 1886 the jeweler Irvine Jachens designed the star and it remains to this day.

     It is not and never will be a badge.

Our Transportation

     San Francisco cops do not operate in cruisers or patrol cars or prowlers, and particularly not in green and white hues.  They only patrol in radio cars that are black and white in color -- and they have been since the 1940's. 

     Our officers work mainly in pairs, with the windows rolled down so we can hear and smell the sounds and fumes of distress.  If you see an officer with windows rolled up he or she is probably not a working cop.  For sure.

     Our motorcycle officers are experts at riding, particularly escorting all types of dignitaries including the President of the United States and all visiting heads of state.  The officers are called Solos, not memebers of the ""motors."

     The reason our officers are called Solos dates way back to the 1920s.  At the time, SFPD deployed its first motorcycles as rapid response teams, composed of a sidecar motorcycle, a driver, and a gunner.  The gunner carried either a Thompson sub-machine gun, or a shotgun.  The units were used to chase bootleggers over the county line and to respond to bank robberies, etc, in the new era of motorized getaway cars.  That unit soon morphed into use in traffic enforcement, for which they were better suited, and because the prevalence of cars and truck on city streets was increasing exponentially.  Soon, the sidecars were removed from the motorcycles and the officers went "solo" on traffic patrol.  The name stuck.

     

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1929

1930's

1940's

2012

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Photo by Peter Thoshinsky

Photo by Peter Thoshinsky

Commander Raj Vaswani


Information and Photos have been provided by the San Francisco, CA Police Department.  "The Article Our SFPD Traditions Endure the Test of Time" by Captain Paul Chignell has been reproduced with his permission.  I would like like to Thank Capt. Chignell and the SFPD for all their help.