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P.O. Box 60631
Reno, NV 89506

Phone: 775-200-0578
Fax: 888-496-0270

The History of Policing Reno

By Jim Gibbs, 2018

    This web site had its beginning as project in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the creation of Reno as the Northern Nevada connecting point for the railroads in 1868. The event coincided with the 40th anniversary of the graduation of the 10th Northern Nevada Police Academy of which officer Jim Gibbs wearing badge 254 graduated. Intended as part of the City of Reno birthday celebration, Jim Gibbs began researching a historical look at the history of the enforcement of law in Reno since the beginning nearly 150 years ago.
    Many want to date the beginning of the Reno Police Department at 1903 when Reno was incorporated with its own governing city council under a charter which has been amended over the years, but still exist today.
    The reality is that Reno was incorporated three times prior to 1903 with its own local laws to enforce. The initial Town rules or laws were created by the Washoe County Commission 1879. When Reno was incorporated as a town in 1879 the “Town Orders” were enforced by the elected constable of the Reno Township and his deputies.
    Reno was incorporated again under new legislation and the Town Orders were reconstructed as “ordinances” of which one created the Town’s police department. The Reno Police Department was created by law in 1889.
    Reno’s very first “chief of police” was a man named John Douglas. Chief Douglas remains somewhat obscure. Not much is really known about him and we have not found a photo of him.
    John Douglas may have been the best choice for chief of police because of his experience maintaining roadways. As Chief of Police his job went beyond maintaining law and order. Douglas was also given the task extending and maintaining the streets and alleys. His duties also included supervising the connecting and flushing of sewers in the Town of Reno. John Douglas would hold the position of Chief of Police for four years.

    Assisting Douglas in watching over the welfare of the town were a few officers referred to as watchmen. Harry P. Brown was one of those officers. He would follow in Douglas' footsteps as chief of police.
    Richard Nash who was another officer working for Douglas was a former constable. Nash was shot in the line of duty by a guy named Ortiz. As the first guy to shoot a Reno police officer Ortiz experienced instant justice. He was taken from his jail cell and lynched by a vigilante mob. The vigilantes strung Ortiz up on the old iron Virginia Street Bridge in 1891.
    Reno was legislatively structured by an Act to Incorporate Reno as a city on March 8 1897. However, this time with a city council. Ralph S. Osborn was one of the councilmen appointed by the Nevada State Legislature and was then selected as Reno's first Mayor. An attempt to challenge the creation of the city came in the case of A. G. Flecher v city council to test constitutionality of the Incorporation Act. The case  failed and the city council remained intact for 2 years.
    What exactly became of the status of Chief Brown and the other officers is not clear A police department was not part of the city structure. Durning the 2 year period the city council depended upon the elected constable to function as a City Marshal.
    By the time Reno was again restructure under the current system of government in 1903, the town was broke and heavily indebted.
    After the incorportation in 1903, Charlie Leeper was appointed the new Chief of Police. Former Chief Harry Brown took a postion as a patrolman.
    Harry P. Brown, working as a patrolman under a new administration in 1905, would be the first Reno officer to give his life in the line of duty.
    No doubt, this site will reveal that the Reno Police Department goes back farther than most realize.  


Reno Police 1907-1950

Although the Reno Police Department was established in 1903 under a newly created city council and  occupied a couple of temporary buildings, in 1907, they moved into the newly constructed City Hall at the intersection of Front and Center. The City Hall side of the building faced south on Front Street and the entrance to the police station faced east on North Center Street.  In the photo above, the entrance to the police station can bee seen facing Center Street. Entrance to the jail was in the alleyway. When first occupied, the massive tower was the tallest structure in Reno.

Reno Police 1950-2020

In 1950, the Reno Police occupied their new headquarters at 455 E. Second Street. For many years they would share the building with the Reno Municipal Court. Although the court found a new home and all inmates would be transferred to the County Jail in the 1980’s, the Reno Police would continued to occupy the building It currenting is the longest serving building used by the Reno Police Department having served for 70 years.


JIM GIBBS, Reno Police Historian

When this history project began, I had no intention of becoming a historian of the Reno Police Department. What started as a project for an academy class reunion took on a life of its own. I volunteered to digitize all photos and items currently held by the department as “historical” items. In turn, I was allowed to retain a copy. Word of my efforts spread and many former officers have volunteered personal photos to the project. One most valuable resource has been the Facebook page “RPD Alumni & Family Group”. It has actually become a fun challenge to aging memories to put names to faces in photos taken so many years ago.

I have been humbled by the friendship and assistance provided by the current Reno Police administrative staff. Especially Deputy Chief Oliver Miller and Deputy Chief Tom Robinson. Frankly, I wish I could have worked under their administration.

I can’t say enough good about Chief Jason Soto. Not only has he trusted me with what little historic resources the department has preserved, but has actually set in motion an Annual Report which will document for future generations the history of the current Reno Police Department.

I ask you to please, if you have a photo, or story to share, please forward it to me. My goal is to turn everything over to the police department for preservation. My email is

Jim Gibbs #254 

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