SDPD 03/11/1912 - 03/20/1940
03/20/1880 - 03/23/1947
John Thomas Peterson, 67, former San Diego Chief of Police, who served three terms under five different City Managers, died yesterday morning at 8:30 in his home. Mr. Peterson had been ill since 1941, and suffered a heart attack.

One of San Diego’s veteran police officers, he was appointed to the department March 11, 1912, and served more than 25 years before retiring in 1940.


Termed by political officials as “The Chief of Police who crusaded to rid the police department of political elements”, Mr. Peterson had been bucked twice from the chief’s saddle before his 3rd appointment in July 1939. He resigned eight months later and was succeeded by present Chief of Police Clifford Peterson. They are not related.

After his appointment to the department in 1912, he rose from Patrolman to Detective Lieutenant. The reigns of the department were first thrust in his hands June 13, 1932, when a City Council headed by Vice Mayor Al Bennett was in power. Mr. Peterson was dismissed two months later by A.V. Goeddel, City Manager.


In September 1933, Mr. Peterson was again named Police Chief by City Manager Fred Lockwood over Bennett’s objections and remained in office until September 1934, when he resigned. Detective Lt. George Sears was appointed in his place.

The former chief went into the automobile business as a salesman. He later purchased a Denier franchise and remained in the business for five years.

In 1939, Mr. Peterson was again named Chief of Police after Chief Sears retired following a political upheaval.  Fred A. Rhodes, City Manager, appointed Mr. Peterson and he remained in office until March 1940.


In naming Mr. Peterson to office, Rhoades said that, “The former chief if experienced, honest and has the courage and conviction to bolster the morale of the force by treating his people fairly.

Eight months later Mr. Peterson was asked to resign to make way for an outside man.  In doing so Mr. Peterson told the council “He did not solicit the position but since it was given to him he carried out the duties of the department accordingly.”

“He was a capable and loyal Police Chief and knew how to bolster the morale of the force most efficiently” Rhodes said yesterday.


A native of Birds Eye Oregon, Mr. Peterson came to San Diego in 1910. He is survived by his wife Mrs. Mary L. Peterson, four sons, Howard, J.P., Harold and John L. Peterson, a daughter, Mrs. Mae O. Johnson, all of San Diego.
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