Emil Harris: Los Angeles’ First Jewish Chief of Police

Emil Harris

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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, settling in Los Angeles in 1869.


Los Angeles

When the Turnvereinthe German Athletic Association of Los Angeles, was opened in 1870, Emil Harris became its gymnastics instructor.

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.

Also in 1870, 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, Harris led the posse that captured robber-murderer Tiburcio Vasquez, who was threatening Los Angeles.

Vasquez was promptly hanged and Emil Harris became a household name.

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

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

He 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.


Harris was a member of Congregation B’nai B’rith (today’s 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














  • Norton B. Stern and William M. Kramer, “Emil Harris: Los Angeles Jewish Police Chief, 1839-1921,” Western States Jewish History 39/4.
  • Norton B. Stern, “First Police Chief and Master Detective of Los Angeles, 1838-1921,” Western States Jewish History 41/3.
  • William M. Kramer, “Emil Harris: Our Jewish Police Chief, 1878,” Western States Jewish History 42/2-&3.