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Seven-Pointed Star of the San Francisco Police Department

January 1, 2011
John Murphy

By John Murphy

The Officers of the San Francisco Police Department have been wearing the seven-pointed star since 1886. The seven-pointed star is worn over the left breast ostensibly implying that the star is meant to protect the most vulnerable part of the human body; the heart. However, when I began to research the origin of the seven-pointed star, I learned that the star meant much more to the Department's founding fathers. It symbolized their belief in God and in the Book of Revelation (Christian Bible).

In January of 1848, gold was discovered in California causing an unprecedented migration of miners (mostly men) to Northern California. The Gold Rush continued for approximately two years during which the population of San Francisco grew exponentially. Contrary to folklore, very few people actually made their fortunes. In fact, the violent crime rate soared, including murder, robberies, aggravated assaults, prostitution (forced), and extortion. "Bands of hoodlums, amongst which were the notorious Sydney Ducks and the Hounds terrorized the town" (Hansen 1981 p.3). Many of the despondent gold seekers grew depressed and fell into the doldrums of alcoholism. Lawlessness was abounding, so out of necessity vigilantism grew rapidly since there were only a dozen police officers in the Department at that time.

In 1850, there was very little sign of Christianity or of any religion for that matter in San Francisco. The San Francisco Police Department was established in the same year. At that time and for several years to follow, the police officers wore different uniforms and police stars (five and/or 6-pointed stars). It wasn't until 1886, that C.W. Warner hired a jeweler named Irvine Jachens (on behalf of the San Francisco Police Department) to craft the seven-pointed star. According to John Garvey, (Images of America - San Francisco Police Department 2004), the seven-pointed star represents the "seven seals" of the Book of Revelation in the New Testament that include virtue, divinity, prudence, fortitude, honor, glory and praising God (Garvey 2004). All favorable traits that police officers were expected to espouse. The Department adopted the seven-pointed star to remind everyone of the precepts by which the officers were guided.

Also, Gladys Hansen in her book, Behind the Silver Star": An Account of the San Francisco police Department (1981) came to the same conclusion as Garvey, several years earlier (1981) as she illustrated the seven-point star in her book, (see attached diagram) labeling each point of the star with a favorable virtue.

Although there is no document currently possessed or distributed by the San Francisco Police Department specifically identifying the true or intended (by the founding fathers) symbolism of the seven-pointed star, it seems to reason that the underlying meaning certainly has its roots in religion. Reflecting back on the mid-1800s, who were the individuals that staffed the San Francisco Police Department? For the most part, they were Irish Immigrants with a strong belief in Catholicism. Clearly, the inference has been established that police officers donning the seven pointed star were not only seen as constables enforcing criminal laws, but as God's soldiers responsible for holding miscreants to a higher authority (good versus evil).

History of 7-Point Star

Garvey, John (2004) Images of America - San Francisco Police Department (p.12) Hansen, Gladys (1981) Behind then Silver Star: An Account of the San Francisco Police Department (p.3)