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.