CHIEF JAMES RUSSELL
SDPD 05/10/1897 - 05/04/1899
12/29/1865 - 01/21/1939
With Jake Brenning’s resignation the city was left searching for a new chief. Still seeking a top law enforcement job, James Russell approached the police commission and made it known he was interested.
Russell brought to the table an impressive resume having served as a San Diego city constable, a deputy city marshal and even acting marshal in the 1880’s. After leaving city law enforcement, Russell spent almost a full decade running a local detective agency and patrol service.
After reviewing Russell’s past police experience and his skills in managing a private business, the commission agreed he would be the best man for the job and he was appointed chief May 10, 1897.
One of Russell’s first acts as chief was the creation of the 8-hour patrol shift. Those hours would remain for patrol officers for 90 years until 1987 when a 4-days per week, 10-hours per shift, work schedule was implemented. Even with the cut in hours Russell made it clear he would fight any and all attempts to cut the officers pay. To effectively police the city, Russell told the council he would need a minimum of at least three more officers and eight if possible.
He also said the department needed to establish a rank of detective and asked for money to hire two. He also asked for a larger headquarters. If Russell thought asking for the world would get him half it worked. The request for a new headquarters was granted along with two new officers.
His request for detectives and a signal system for officers to keep in contact with each other were denied. The council also denied a horse drawn police wagon for patrol.
In the spring of 1898 tensions were running high in San Diego. The battleship U.S.S. Maine had exploded in Havana harbor and the Spanish-American War was just around the corner. Patriotic parades were held downtown and the entire police department was called in to handle the mass of people. In addition to crowd control, Russell put his officers on a heightened state of alert to watch for any signs of a Spanish invasion to the harbor.
Despite the buildup and fervor in getting ready for the war, it was actually over very quickly. On August 12, 1898, the Spanish surrendered and the war was over. The department could now breathe a collective sigh of relief. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Despite Russell’s many successes as chief, he committed political suicide by backing the wrong person for mayor. He opposed Edwin Capps and when Capps won the handwriting was on the wall. Shortly after Mayor Capps took office, the police commission sent Russell a letter saying despite being the best chief the city ever had, it was time to leave. If it made him feel better even Mayor Capps added he found no fault with his administration; it was simply politics. At the March 5, 1899, meeting of the police commission, Ned Bushyhead was appointed chief on a 5-0 vote. James Russell’s San Diego law enforcement career was over.