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Department History


San Bernardino County has been inhabited for over 1,200 years, with a great diversity of inhabitants. Various Native American tribes moved into the area as late as the 1500's with continued existence up to the present day. The first explorers were Franciscan missionaries, and later the Mormons who relocated from Utah. In fact, the county's first Sheriff was a Mormon.

In January 1853, the County of San Bernardino held its first election. Our first Sheriff was named Robert Clift. At that time, the town of San Bernardino covered only one square mile, and the county seat was established there. The County of San Bernardino has grown to encompass over 20,000 square miles with a population of 1.9 million.

In 1857, Sheriff Clift left the office of the Sheriff vacant, and Joseph Bridger was appointed to replace him. Sheriff Bridger held office from 1857 - 1859.

In 1859, the general lawlessness of the town was so bad, Sheriff Herring called upon the citizens to unite and run the outlaws out. Sheriff Herring held office from 1859 - 1860.

The Sheriff who served the shortest period of time was William Tarleton, who in 1860 held the office for only 2 weeks.

Charles W. Piercy was elected Sheriff in 1860, then resigned to run for State Assemblyman the same year. In 1861, Piercy was involved in the state's last political duel. Piercy felt he had been highly insulted in the course of a heated argument over the election of a United States Senator. Piercy's opponent in the duel was Don Showalter. Piercy issued a challenge. The duel took place on May 25, 1861, and the weapons chosen were rifles. The first round was ineffective and Showalter demanded another trial. His second shot struck Piercy in the mouth and killed him.

In 1860, Anson Van Leuven became the third Sheriff to hold office, until 1862. Gold was discovered during his term, which led to many problems in the area, and it was claimed Sheriff Van Leuven was powerless to handle the problems and called for United States troops for assistance.

In 1862, E.M. Smith was the next Sheriff, and he only served one month in office before dying.

J.A. Moore succeeded Sheriff Smith in 1862, and remained in office six months and then resigned.

In 1863, Henry Wilkes became the next Sheriff, and also served as Undersheriff for C.F. Fulgham. Benjamin F. Matthews then became Sheriff and was one of the early pioneers of San Bernardino County and a Mormon from Salt Lake City. Sheriff Matthews was active in the founding of the community.

Next in office was Sheriff G.F. Fulgham who served from 1863 to 1869. Although Sheriff Fulgham served six years in office, no records of any action have been located.

Following Sheriff Fulgham was Newton Noble, who served in office from 1869 to 1873. Sheriff Noble, an ex-officio Tax Collector, proved on several occasions that criminals could not lightly escape when he was on their track. As tax collector and temporary custodian of the public money, his honesty was undoubted and his vigilance established. Prior to coming into office, he devoted himself to farming and stock raising. His political proclivities were Democratic - though he was elected as an independent.

A.J. Curry followed Sheriff Noble, and served in office from 1873 to 1877. Sheriff Curry was a consistent Democrat, and a citizen of the county from 1857.

William Davies was nominated on August 21, 1877, and was described as an honorable man and a good citizen, and one of the oldest residents of the Valley, who had also proven himself one of the most enterprising. Sheriff Davies served in office from 1877 to 1879.

In 1879 John C. King was elected Sheriff of San Bernardino County, and played a leading part in the discovery of high-grade silver ore in the Calico Mountain area of this county. Sheriff King served in office from 1879 to 1882.

J.B. Burkhart was elected Sheriff in November 1882. He demonstrated that he was possessed of the ability and pluck needed for the office. Sheriff Burkhart served from 1882 to 1884.

Captain Nelson Green Gill, who was a native of New York, served in the Union Army, held many political offices in several states and became the first US Postmaster. As well as being one of our sheriffs from 1884 to 1887, Captain Gill was a successful farmer in Ontario , California .

John Albert Cole was a life-long resident of San Bernardino County . As well as being Sheriff from 1887 to1888, he was a hotel-keeper, horticulturist, and in the livery business, and was very successful. Sheriff Cole was a member of Token Lodge, No. 290, I.O.O.F., and of Colton Lodge, No. 37, Knights of Pythias.

Edwin Chidsey Seymour beat one of the most popular Democrats in the county. Sheriff Seymour served in office from 1888 to 1892, and was prominently identified with fraternal organizations and interested in orange and raisin grape culture.

James P. Booth was elected Sheriff in 1892, and served a two year term. Sheriff Booth received a majority of 3000 votes, on the Democratic ticket, while the Republican county ticket received 1,200 votes. James P. Booth was not only the Sheriff, but he was also a practicing Doctor and Surgeon in Needles.

Francis L. Holcomb held office from 1894 to 1898, and was involved in tracking a wounded robber who held up the Santa Fe at Oro Grande.

Charles A. Rouse was known as an expert rifle and pistol shot, and prior to becoming Sheriff, was employed by the Southern Pacific Railway Co. in Colton. Rouse was nominated on the independent Republican ticket for Sheriff of San Bernardino County and was elected by a good majority. Sheriff Rouse was in office from 1898 to 1901.

John C. Ralphs was the last horse-and-buggy Sheriff of San Bernardino County and served from 1902 to 1915. Sheriff Ralphs is credited with being without fear in the discharge of his duties. He was fair in all his actions, intolerant of crime, and had a deep seated instinct for fair play. "The iron hand in the velvet glove."

J.L. McMinn was Sheriff from 1915 to 1918. There isn't any other information on Sheriff McMinn.

The next three sheriffs in office were the father, son and nephew team of Shays. Walter A. Shay was appointed San Bernardino 's Chief of Police three different times by three different mayors, prior to being elected Sheriff in 1918. Sheriff Walter A. Shay was in office from 1918 to 1931.

Ernest T. Shay was Sheriff from 1931 to 1934, and contributed to the modernization of local law enforcement. He brought in radio dispatching and radio cars during his time in office.

Emmett L. Shay held office from 1934 to 1946, and continued effective policies set up by his father and uncle.

James W. Stocker was a firm believer in close cooperation with all peace officers. Sheriff Stocker had plenty of experience in law enforcement and left that vocation to take up cattle raising, in which he was most successful. Sheriff Stocker was a member of the State Peace Sheriff's Association. The San Bernardino Sheriff force totaled 93 regular paid officers, and nine substations. Sheriff Stocker held office from 1946 to 1950.

Eugene Mueller was the most flamboyant lawman the county ever had. Sheriff Mueller had his deputies wear World War II National Park ranger hats and during a nighttime raid, rather than tell his deputies, "Let's go, fellows," he gave the code word, "Geronimo." Sheriff Mueller held office from 1950 to 1954.

Frank Bland held a record of seven 4 year terms for a total of 28 years. Sheriff Bland brought in color photography, sound and movie crime re-enactment, the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center, modernization and expansion of the Forensic Lab, and Sheriff's aviation, to name but a few of his many career achievements. Sheriff Bland was in office from 1954 to 1982.

Floyd Tidwell brought us the mobile data terminals (MDT) - computers in our units - a new 800 MHZ radio system, which dramatically improved the communication capabilities within the county, and he increased the number of employees from 1800 to 2400 for even better service. Sheriff Tidwell was in office from 1982 to 1990.

Richard G. Williams was in office from 1990 to1994. He was the 32nd Sheriff. During Sheriff Williams' tenure the Department suffered severe budget difficulties due to an economic recession. Through Sheriff Williams' leadership, the Department was able to meet the county's ongoing law enforcement demands while suffering severe budget restrictions.

Gary Penrod was first elected Sheriff in 1994, defeating six other candidates. He served for 14 years, reelected in 1998, 2002, and finally in 2006. Sheriff Penrod was beloved by members of the Department and his counsel was valued throughout the state as he was elected president of the California State Sheriff’s Association.

When Sheriff Penrod retired on January 30, 2009, the Board of Supervisors appointed our current Sheriff Rod Hoops to complete the final two years of Sheriff Penrod’s term. Sheriff Hoops is a 30 year veteran of the Department and takes the helm at a difficult budgetary time for the Department as tax revenues are way down. At the time of his appointment, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has nearly 3,700 employees and a budget of over $440 million.




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