The History of Law and Order in Laredo
A Genesis of Justice
Long before Laredo ever existed, this area had some semblance of Law and Order. Native American bands of our region lived in accord with their own tribal laws. Chiefs oversaw maintenance of these, which were easily enforced in a society of hunter-warriors. Each brave had individual responsibilities to the tribe. Thus, it was among the Carrizo, Lipan Apache, & Comanche, who roamed this stretch of the Rio Grande River that a tradition of concern for law and order, and public safety was established which serves as the bedrock for our law enforcement & public safety function today.
History When the Spanish Colonist came, on May 15, 1755, they founded a “Villa”, a collection of ranch tracts centering on a small settlement. In Laredo’s early days, the “Alcalde” was often the local militia captain. Every able-bodied man served in the militia company, ready to ride in response to any emergency. This usually meant defending against Indian raids, but also included police functions, such as coping with bandits that attacked trading caravans on the route between Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico and San Antonio, Texas. So too in present times, our police battle to half theft of or from, tractor-trailers thus protecting international commerce and the free trade between the United States and Mexico in keeping with modern-day NAFTA mandates.
Off and on, throughout the years, military troops would be stationed in Laredo. Their duties would also include law enforcement activities. As well, the city’s municipal government would grow to include a magistrate and a constable or “Alguacil”. These facets would remain basically unchanged, until statehood brought. The City of Laredo & the State of Texas into the United States.
Today, the Laredo Police Department thrives in a bustling and growing border community that has exploded in population growth and size. It has become a nationally recognized and premier law enforcement organization comprised of over 500 proud and dedicated, sworn officer and civilian contingency of personnel immersed in community based policing service philosophies. It continues to provide the best possible law enforcement services for it’s residents and does so by maintaining the best in cutting edge law enforcement technology; the constant recruitment and retention of most hard working & devoted personnel; continuous comprehensive training; and aggressive crime fighting innovation that targets crime deterrence / apprehension efforts through substantive public partnerships that focus on education and enforcement, thus ensuring that Laredo remains a safe community.
A Proud Shield
Under the laws of the USA, local law enforcement became a strictly civil function. In 1846, as part of the Nueces County, Laredo’s first peace officer was a constable. From 1848 on, Laredo has been the seat of Webb County. Now a Sheriff was also on hand to help enforce the law. In 1848, The City of Laredo became incorporated and among the town officials was a City Marshal. The Marshal’s office was the forerunner of the Police Department, Thus February 09, 1850, the date of Laredo’s incorporation, is also the birthday of the Laredo Police Department. For the past one hundred and fifty years, the citizens of Laredo, like many settlements on the wild frontier, had a citizen’s Vigilance Committee. In that era, vigilantes aided peace officers. They upheld the law, rather than trying to be deputized and ride on horses, tracking down violent marauders. It is a legacy that is still in evidence.
Even more effective that the Vigilance Committee of the past is today’s Laredo Crime Stoppers, wherein concerned citizens sponsor a reward program to provide information to the police and allied law enforcement agencies, to help apprehend criminals.
During the Wild West Era, mid cattle drives, the “Iron Horse” of the railroads, saloons, and buckboards, the Marshal kept the peace on our legendary Streets of Laredo. Eventually, the office expanded to include a few police officers. During emergencies, volunteers would be deputized as special officers.
Among the more notable of Laredo’s Marshal’s was Steve Boyard. A pistolero from Louisiana, Boyard kept order in the town, fired officers who were derelict in their duty of took bribes, fought political graft, and was involved in the big Guarache-Bota shoot-out, on April 07, 1886. On the date, San Agustin Plaza erupted with blazing weapons, in one of the largest gunfights in the history of the West.
1898 would see our city’s first Washington’s Birthday Celebration. It also brought the Spanish American Wars. Two local veterans of that conflict, Miguel Benavides & Candelario Mendiola, returned home, to pin on badges. The two became detectives and served under Marshal M. Brennan. Mendiola would rise through the ranks and eventually became Chief of Police of the Laredo Police Department.
Brennan was described as being a big, burly, bushy-mustached individual. He was the very image of an Irish cop. In 1912, he oversaw the investigation of Devy Levantansky, who had been stabbed and bludgeoned on his own downtown store. The case was solved, resulting in the conviction of James Compton, the last person hanged on the Webb County gallows.
Although, “City Marshal” remained the official title (and an elected post) through 1962, the 20th Century brought changes. The Marshal’s office became the Laredo Police Department, with the Marshal normally being referred to as the Chief of Police. Over time, there came uniforms, automobiles, female officers, radios, and even computers. Six-guns were replaced by double action revolvers and automatic pistols, just as lever-action rifles gave away to riot guns. However, the mission, the danger, in addition to the pride, remains unchanged.