This page is intended to provide an overview of history of the El Paso Police Department and how its history relates to and intertwines with more popular "old-west" history. It also outlines how the Department has progressed and grown over the years.
The El Paso Police Department has been in existence since the late 1800’s. The Department was formally “established” in 1884 though it was referred to as such on earlier occasions. The force was led by rapidly-rotating city marshals. These marshals were apparently chosen for their ability to control the rough persons attracted to the "untamed" west. Many of the Department’s early figures were former Texas Rangers. Others, in the later 1800's, served in the Spanish-American War with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders (RRR). The force was very small by today’s standards. Hiring was done one-by-one by newspaper advertisement.
The newspaper stories of the late 1800’s were very colorful and often contained considerable exaggeration. This exaggeration was intended for the benefit of the folks back east, those not adventurous enough to “tame the west”. The articles made for enjoyable reading at the time, and still do, but now hamper any attempt to collect historical fact. Much is now left up to speculation and imagination. Adding to this problem was a "feud" between staff at the Lone Star and the Times. This feud was never more evident than when the Department lost their first officer in the line-of-duty. The two papers had stories that were completely different. The Lone Star actually focused on the editor of the Times being directly involved!
The November 29, 1882 edition of the Lone Star printed an article which stated that the force was much too large for El Paso, a staggering six officers. This was a common theme in the Lone Star and the Herald in the late 1880’s and continuing into the 1890’s. By 1903 the two primary papers still in publication (Times and Herald) seemed to recognize the importance of having enough lawmen, the articles from that time on (to the present) complain that the force was too small and unable to provide a sense of security for the citizens.
Early in the Department’s history, the city marshal was often the “worst of the worse”, as was the case with other area law enforcement officers. It was necessary for the city marshal to have a "rough" reputation so they would not be challenged by the “bad guys”. As earlier stated, sometimes these men got their reputation through other law service; these men included the first city marshals, John Barnard Tays (Texas Rangers) and Texas Rangers. Others, in the later 1800's, served in the Spanish-American War with James Gillett (Texas Rangers). Other marshals slots and area law enforcement positions were held by men that got their reputation by less “honorable” means. Dallas Stoudenmire was an early city marshal, for about a year between 1881 and 1882. He was a notorious gunfighter with several “victories”. He was known for his speed and precision. Marshal Stoudenmire once allegedly gunned down “four men in five seconds”. He was responsible for the shooting deaths of two previous city marshals, Bill Johnson and George Campbell. Immediately after leaving the city marshal post, he became a deputy U.S. Marshal still stationed in El Paso. Soon thereafter he was himself gunned down by two of the notorious Manning brothers, George and Jim. The Mannings had a reputation for trying to control El Paso in those days. A third Manning brother, Frank, later became a city marshal himself. John Selman, an early El Paso constable, was most famous for killing John Wesley Hardin. Constable Selman evidently led by fear, as he was known as a rapist, a thief and for his involvement in the Lincoln County War. Selman himself was later killed by Deputy U.S. Marshal George Scarborough. In this “worst of the worse” scheme, you can see that it was not uncommon for one law enforcement officer to be responsible for the death of another.
On July 11, 1883 Assistant Marshal Thomas Moad was killed in a shoot-out at a downtown brothel. He was sometimes described as an “officer” and at other times as an “assistant city marshal”. Based on the size of the force at the time (and speculation) it is likely that “officer” and “assistant city marshal” were one-and-the-same. Moad is acknowledged as the first El Paso Police officer killed in the line-of-duty. To read the story of his murder, click on the Fallen Officers link at the top or the In Memoriam link in the left-side link bar.
Prior to joining the El Paso Police Department, Thomas Moad served in the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers. He was a Ranger just after the El Paso Salt War, and was involved in the battle against the infamous cutthroat gang of cattle-rustlers led by John Kinney. Mr. Kinney was a central figure in the Lincoln County War. One of Kinney’s men was William Brocius Graham (or Bresnaham) a.k.a. “Curly Bill” Brocious. He eventually became the leader of the Cowboy gang. In March of 1878 Curly Bill and Bob Martin robbed an “ambulance” being guarded by soldiers. It was thought that the Lieutenant aboard had a significant amount of cash and this was the target. The soldiers later died from wounds sustained in the attack. Immediately after this terrible incident, five Texas Rangers chased Brocius and Martin into old Mexico, El Paso del Norte (now Ciudad Juarez). After a short shoot-out, the Rangers were able to capture them. Brocius specifically was captured when shot in the ear by Texas Ranger Thomas Moad.
This is typical of the early days of law enforcement in El Paso and the “west” in general. Remember, at that time El Paso was on the “edge” in the westward movement. There were not many large “civilized” towns to the west and none nearby. This is something the newspapers of the day claimed was the primary factor which caused the early days of El Paso to be so violent. The “taming” of the west called for rough characters and these rough characters populated El Paso at the time.
On August 16, 1889 El Paso City Council appointed the first El Paso Police Department Chief of Police. Their selection was T.C. Lyons. T.C. Lyons had previously served with the El Paso Fire Department. His only known existing picture is from his tenure there. He was not the traditional “rough” character-type taming the west and his tenure likely was the beginning of law enforcement as we understand it to be; the mission being to serve and protect.
The 1890’s were marked by several scandals and the related frequent replacement of the chief of police. However, it was this time that the public became more aware of the importance of a law enforcement presence. By the early 1900’s the citizen’s attitude had changed toward law enforcement, recognizing them not as outlaws themselves but as servants and protectors of the public. There was some discussion in 1903 concerning taking officers’ side-arms away and leave them only with “clubs”. The citizens recognized the importance of the officers having their side-arms “just in case, at the ready” and this did not come to fruition.
In November of 1909 the Herald reported that the El Paso Police Department was making technological advancement with their implementation of a motor patrol. In that era “motor” did not refer to a motorcycle, as we have come to understand it…this was in fact referring to an automobile patrol.
In November of 1915 the Herald reported that the El Paso Police Department “will start taking fingerprints” of persons arrested in addition to descriptions and photographs.
A 1909 report showed Department staffing to be at 50 officers. A January 1916 report showed staffing to be at 72 Officers. The Department was growing and the community was supportive.
The year 1921 saw the shooting death of El Paso Police Captain P.H. (Harry) Phoenix. He was the eighth Officer to die in the line-of-duty, and the first that had served as chief of police (interim in 1919). Also shot during this incident was Captain Phoenix’s good friend, Sergeant Schuyler Houston. Although not killed during the incident Sergeant Houston never regained his full health before finally succumbing to pneumonia six years later, October 1927.
In May 1941 two females took the test for police clerk. It was not reported if they became police clerks, but this position was at the time a “stepping stone” to becoming a full-duty officer. When short of officers and funding, the mayor would “promote” police clerks to full-duty officers. It is unknown if those two females got the clerk positions they were testing for, but it is obvious that they were never made full-duty policewomen. In June of 1942 the newspaper published the first want-ad for a full-duty policewoman. Surprisingly, it was not until the graduation of the class of June 1974 that the first females (five) graduated from the Police Academy.
In December of 1945 the race barrier was broken when the Mayor appointed four ex-military “negros” as police officers.
In January of 1955 the newspaper reported that the El Paso Police Department would begin using “radar” to enforce speed laws. The 1950’s also saw a significant fire destroy most of the Police Department’s records.
In 1972 the El Paso Police Department established the first Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) Unit.
The 1990’s ushered in many technological advances and Community Policing. The year 2003 sees the Department’s officers with “less-than-lethal” methods of force (beanbag shotguns and tasers) and mobile computer terminals (as well as video cameras) in the patrol cars. In the very near future officers will have electronic ticket-writing capabilities and a Windows-based records system. It is said that the greatest weapon is the mind; standards in this area are at an all-time high. Hiring practices are strict, training requirements high and rigidly enforced and the Department has a good reputation for policing its own members. Officers are committed to their mission of working with the public to reduce or solve crimes and making the El Paso community a safe and pleasant place to live.
The Department has been in existence for over 120 years. The going was “rough” in the beginning and “rough” people paved the way. The Department has lost 23 officers in the line-of-duty and has had 37 different chiefs of police during that time. History was made, both good and bad; there have been some scandals, losses, and “bad times”, as well as advances and “good times”. The growing pains were in fact “rough” but ultimately resulted in El Paso reaching a societal and policing level that is unequalled in the state of Texas and in the United States. The police officers are good servants, the citizens are involved, and the community is safe.