Emil Harris: Los Angeles’ First Jewish Chief of Police

Emil Harris

Values Code: I-E-L

Emil Harris, First Jewish Police Chief of Los Angeles

Emil Harris was born in Prussia in 1839

He came to the United States in 1853 and Los Angeles in 1869


The Turnverein

In 1870 the Turnverein – the German Athletic Association, was opened.

Emil Harris became its Gymnastics Instructor, and many Jewish boys learned physical culture from him.

The “verein” also had a rifle team and Harris soon became the Champion Rifle Marksman of Southern California.


Policeman, Detective & Chief

In 1870 Emil Harris became a Los Angeles policeman, one of only six.

During the Chinese Massacre riots of 1871 he did his best to protect the Chinese from the anti-Chinese mob and was trusted thereafter by the Chinese community.

Jewish merchants loved him because he watched over their stores – and conversed with them in Yiddish.

In 1874 Emil Harris led the posse that captured robber-murderer Tiburcio Vasquez, who was threatening Los Angeles.

Vasquez was properly hanged shortly thereafter and Emil Harris became a household name.

Vasques Rocks, north L.A. County, hideout of Vasques the bandit. #WS5099


Emil Harris was also a first-rate detective. The press had full confidence that Emil could solve any crime and they were almost always right.

Emil Harris was appointed the Chief of Police for Los Angeles in 1878.

Later, after stepping down as Chief, he started his own private detective agency becoming one of Los Angeles’ first private eyes.



Soon after his arrival in Los Angeles, Emil Harris helped create the first volunteer fire department in Los Angeles.


Emil Harris was a member of Congregation B’nai B’rith, (now, Wilshire Boulevard Temple).

In 1887 Emil Harris and his brother, Max, founded the Young Men’s Hebrew Association in Los Angeles.


Emil Harris passed away in 1921.

Tombstone of Emil Harris ^First Jewish Chief of Police of LA-Los Angeles



More information can be found in the following issues of Western States Jewish History:

  • Harris, Emil. Emil Harris: Los Angeles Jewish Police Cheif, 1839-1921. Norton B. Stern and William M. Kramer.; 39/4.
  • Harris, Emil; First Polic Chief and Master Detective of Los Angeles; LA; 1838-1921; Norton Stern; 41/3
  • Harris, Emil; Our Jewish Police Chief; 1878; Rabbi William M. Kramer; 42/2-3


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