Department History

From 1856 to 1894, San Mateo was referred to as the Second Township or the San Mateo Township of San Mateo County. The San Mateo County Sheriff was the chief law enforcement officer. Each township had Constables serve as their local law enforcement official. Like the Sheriff, Constables were elected to two-year terms in office. Two Constables were elected during each election to serve the San Mateo Township. Constables provided police service to the community, they carried out the orders of the Justice of the Peace, and they brought arrested individuals before the court.

On September 3, 1894, San Mateo was incorporated. A Board of Trustees was established to oversee the daily operations of the new city. The Trustees elected Peter C. Rogers to serve as the first Town Marshal. The Marshal assumed the duties as the chief law enforcement officer for the City of San Mateo. He collected business taxes and reported directly to the Board of Trustees. Constables and Night Watchmen provided police services under the supervision of the Marshal. Marshal Rogers served as Marshal until April 18, 1898.
Five Marshals served following Rogers. Their names and dates of service are as follows:
  • Joseph P. Cummings: April 18, 1898 - April 16, 1900
  • James R. Wallace: April 16, 1900 - December 16, 1902
  • Maurice F. Boland: December 16, 1902 - April 17, 1913
  • Aldon A. McComb: April 17, 1913 - April 17, 1917 (died while in office)
  • Thomas F. Burke: April 20, 1917 - January 27, 1944 (died while in office)
In December 1906, during Boland’s term of office, the Board of Trustees realized that the City of San Mateo had grown to the point where a police department was necessary. On December 24, 1906, the trustees passed a resolution and Ordinance #117 was adopted, thereby creating a 3-man police department. On January 1, 1907, the San Mateo Police Department was established and the first police officer, Thomas Tyndall, was hired. On January 28, 1907, John J. Friel was hired as our second police officer. Eleven months later, Ernest Ross was appointed as San Mateo’s third police officer. A question arose early in our history……Who was our first police chief? The San Mateo Times and Leader newspapers and the Board of Trustees often referred to Marshal Boland, Marshal McComb, and Marshal Burke as "Police Chief." Descendents of these three men believe their relative was the first police chief. So, who was our first police chief? City trustee minutes show that Boland, McComb, and Burke were appointed as Marshals. The 1922 minutes made reference to the "Marshal’s Report." In April 1923, the City of San Mateo became a Charter city. A City Manager was appointed, and the Marshal became a Police Chief. All three men performed the job as a police chief; however, Thomas Burke was our first chief. Thomas Burke died in office on January 27, 1944. Seven chiefs followed:
  • Robert O’Brien: February 1, 1944, to January 30, 1950. O’Brien died while in office.
  • Martin C. McDonnell: February 4, 1950, to February 12, 1972
  • Henry C. "Bud" Kohnen: February 12, 1972, to September 1, 1973
  • Captain Howard Trickett: Interim Chief
  • J.L. Laverne Coppock: November 19, 1973, to March 2, 1981
  • Captain Michael Bonnie: Interim Chief
  • Lawrence "Don" Phipps: May 11, 1981, to July 8, 1994
  • John C. Stangl: July 8, 1994, to May 1, 2000
  • Susan E. Manheimer: May 1, 2000, to the Present
In Memoriam
On August 19, 1956, Special Officer Stephen Clark was struck and killed by a stock car at the Bay Meadows Race Track while attempting to render aid following a crash on the track.

He was preparing to leave the track to direct traffic at the intersection of El Camino Real and Hillsdale Boulevard when two race cars had collided and crashed through the track fence at the south turn. A mass of spectators was attempting to reach the crash scene. Officer Clark instructed a fellow officer to keep the spectators from entering the track through the outside fence. As he attempted to cross the track to reach the inside fence he was struck by one of the stock cars.

Officer Clark had served as a volunteer reserve officer with the San Mateo Police Department for nine years. He was survived by his wife and brother.

On May 23, 1968, Sergeant Gordon R. Joinville was shot and killed by Zachery Ford Lilliard. He is the only San Mateo officer to have been killed in the line of duty. Sergeant Joinville was 34 years old and a 12-year police veteran at the time of his death. He left behind a wife, Margaret, and two small children

Sergeant Joinville was investigating the possible manufacture of LSD. His investigation led him to his ill-fated meeting with Lilliard at 5th & Claremont. During Sergeant Joinville’s encounter with Lilliard, there was a countywide alert because of an armed robbery, and radio traffic was very heavy. Sergeant Joinville asked Dispatch to run a computer check and was asked to "stand by." That was Sergeant Joinville’s last radio transmission. Lilliard shot Sergeant Joinville twice and then fled the scene.

Sergeant Joinville had a piece of paper on his clipboard that had a license plate number written on it. An involved investigation led to the identification of Lilliard as the suspect. Lilliard was arrested the following day in San Francisco. While in custody, Lilliard tried to bribe a correctional officer into allowing him to escape. The deputy filed a report against Lilliard. Days later, Lilliard acquired a gun. He held a jailer at gunpoint while he stole his jail uniform. Lilliard managed to escape from custody. He was apprehended and charged with 1st degree murder of a police officer. Lilliard was convicted and sentenced to death; however, his death sentence was overturned by the courts. Zachary Lillard died, at the age of 69, while serving a life term sentence in the California State Prison system.

On October 5, 1968, the Joinville Swim Center was opened on Kehoe Avenue in Sergeant Joinville’s honor. He has been memorialized at the San Mateo County Hall of Justice, the Peace Officers Memorial in Sacramento, and the National Peace Officers Memorial in Washington D.C.

Our Future
In mid 1993, the San Mateo Police Department implemented Community Oriented Policing. Our goal is to improve the quality of life for all persons who live and work in San Mateo. Our objective is to enlist the help of our citizens, service organizations, private businesses, utility companies, city services, and outside governmental agencies in an effort to strengthen the quality of life our citizens deserve.

 Chief of Police Susan Manheimer plans to expand our approach to Problem Oriented Policing. As we enter a new millennium, the San Mateo Police Department constantly seeks to improve our technology, our strategies, our organization and the way we do business.

Contact Us with Your Stories
The San Mateo Police Historical Project is ongoing. Anyone with information about former officers, memorabilia, photographs, and stories is encouraged to contact us. Send an Email to the Police Department.

SNAIL MAIL: San Mateo Police Department - 200 Franklin Parkway, San Mateo, CA