Three 9-foot tall bronze statues preside over this memorial to over 1,500 California Peace Officers who have fallen in the line of duty since statehood was achieved in 1850. The three figures on the memorial, which was dedicated in 1988, represent the different eras of law enforcement in California history, and were designed and sculpted by a retired County Sheriff Division Chief. Annual ceremonies are usually held at the site to commemorate the lives of officers lost each year.
California’s Peace Officers have served since the state’s earliest days. Sheriff Joseph McKinney, considered to be the first officially designated California officer killed in the line of duty, died before the state was officially ratified by Congress in the Sacramento Squatters’ Riots of August 1850. Since then, the names of over 1,500 officers have been added to the list of the honored dead.
In 1976, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed a law authorizing a committee of officers to fundraise for a Peace Officers’ memorial on the state capitol grounds. The memorial’s original form was a glass case containing two swords and a leather-bound book, in which were written all the names of California’s slain officers. In 1985, however, Governor Deukmejian encouraged legislation that would expand the memorial. A 9-member Peace Officers’ Commission was established to lead the effort, consisting of eight officers and one widow.
On May 13, 1988, the new monument was unveiled to the public in a ceremony presided over by Governor Deukmejian. Designed and sculpted by retired Los Angeles County Sheriff Division Chief Vic Riesau, the new monument featured three 9-foot tall figures, each representing a different era in California law enforcement: a County Sheriff of the 1880s, a state traffic officer of the 1930s, and a city patrolman of the 1880s. Additionally, the sculpted, life-size figures of a mother and child are perched on a nearby bench, with a bronze American flag folded beside them.
Surrounding the base of the statue are plaques containing the names of every Peace Officer whose life has been lost in the line of duty. A two-day ceremony is held each year on May 8, designated by state law as California Peace Officers’ Memorial Day (separate from the national Peace Officers’ Memorial Day on May 15, but still in close proximity to Police Week, which is designated as the week in which May 15 falls).