San Diego Sheriff's Museum and Educational Center
2384 San Diego Ave
San Diego, CA 92110

The San Diego Sheriff’s Museum and Educational Center opened November 17, 2001. 

Visitors from all over the world tour the museum.  Each year, approximately 12,000 fourth grade students tour the museum as part of the Old Town Cultural Historical Program.  Students learn about the role of law enforcement and crime prevention tips to keep them safe.  They're given Sheriff stickers and a child identi-kit to bring home to their parents.

How did it all begin?

When Sheriff Kolender was sworn in as Sheriff in 1995, one of his first official acts was to swear in Retired Deputy Don Van Hooser as the official department historian.  Beginning July 1981, Van Hooser spent years gathering historical memorabilia under then-Sheriff John Duffy. 

“He (Sheriff Duffy) wanted to have a museum for the history of the department and law enforcement in general in California because they are all linked,”  Van Hooser said in a 1988 article in the Daily California Newspaper. 

Duffy supported Von Hooser's efforts and encouraged him to proceed.  The museum collection was moved to the Santee Sheriff Station after spending eight years at the Sheriff’s Communications Center.  Van Hooser and his volunteers collected, preserved and maintained the museum collection at the Santee Station until the year 2000, when it was moved into the modern two-story building in Old Town. 

As the department began to approach its 150th anniversary in 2000, Sheriff Kolender approached his Senior Executive Assistant Mary Walsh, who was the museum liaison, and said, “Let’s find a real home for the museum -- one where the public can actually visit and learn about our rich history and the role of law enforcement.” 

Walsh immediately formed a Museum Site Selection Committee.  The committee included Don Van Hooser, Fred Grand of the Old Town Chamber of Commerce, Architect Ron Davis, Retired Sergeant Bob Torbett (then-President of the Retired Deputy Sheriffs’ Association), and Lieutenant Jim Duffy (son of former longtime Sheriff John Duffy).

The committee concentrated its search in Old Town because that’s where the department has its roots.  After looking at several sites, the committee got a break.  One day, Grand saw a “for sale” sign on a two-story office building that he’d seen two days before that said “sold.”  The building fell out of escrow and it was located practically right on top of the site where our first Sheriff, Agoston Haraszthy’s, original cobblestone jail once stood.  Grand contacted Walsh and they immediately knew it was the right home for the new Sheriff’s Museum.

It took nearly two years of very intensive fundraising and hands-on work to turn the museum into reality.  Major benefactors contributed $50,000 or more towards the project, including Ed Gaylord, Art Bartlett, former President and CEO of Century 21, County Supervisor Ron Roberts, City Councilmember Byron Wear, and an anonymous donor who was a friend of the department.

Due to the sense of urgency in purchasing the building, Sheriff Kolender and Walsh approached the Honorary Deputy Sheriffs’ Association asking for help in acquiring the building.  The association agreed to adopt the project and purchase the building.  Walsh would be the project leader and assist with fundraising to help pay for the building. 

Another committee was quickly established and included Rusty Burkett, Glen Callaway, Marlee Chapman, Ron Davis, Jim Duffy, Bob Evans, Ron Gatewood, Philip Goettsch, Sam Gonzales, Fred Grand, Mark Lyons, Kelly Marline, Larry Messersmith, Charlie Norris, Mark O’Connor, Ron Reina, Carl Sisskind, Dorothy Strout, John Tenwolde, Bob Torbett, Barbara Wallace, and Leslie Warner.

Over time, the committee raised over $400,000 worth of donated in-kind services, including flooring, drywall, security gates, display cases and much of the labor and the cobblestone walls. 

Retrofitting the building was no easy task and we were fortunate to have help from our committee members and some of our retired deputy sheriffs, including Bob Evans, who provided construction oversight, Ed Stalder, Dick Beall, Robert “Catfish” Williams, George Craig, Ralph Kraft, Bob Torbett, Art Hauer and several others.

They were also responsible for installing the memorial stone that is located in the courtyard that honors the past, present and future members of the Sheriff’s Department. The Retired Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, with Bob Torbett’s leadership, paid for the planter and memorial stone with three flagpoles and beautiful flowers.

As the committee prepared to layout the exhibits in the various galleries, members of the department were asked to volunteer to work on various exhibits including the jail, traffic, and communications exhibits. The ideas were put in a plan and greatly helped the Museum Committee finalize placement and display of the exhibits.

"The story of the Sheriff’s Museum in Old Town is full of all kinds of miracles," according to Mary Walsh.  “It belongs to every man and woman who has ever been (or will be) affiliated with the Sheriff’s Department either as a sworn member of the organization or as a volunteer ... It is a safe and fun place to learn about law enforcement and it is a great educational tool to teach children not to be afraid of cops, while at the same time, provide them with crime prevention tips and invaluable information to keep them safe.”

A few highlights of the museum include a behind-the-scenes look at crime fighting and an 1850’s cobblestone Sheriff’s Office complete with an original jail cell that can be compared to the modern day in the next room.  Visitors can listen to live radio calls, see a real Sheriff’s motorcycle, a helicopter and bomb detection robot, and a patrol car from the Duffy era.  A weapons gallery features an exciting display of over 200 confiscated weapons.  Other galleries include California history, courtroom, drugs and gangs, and a special gallery that honors the special deputies who were killed in the line of duty.  Visitors can purchase souvenirs and gifts from the museum's gift shop.  The courtyard can be used for special events and has been used to host several law enforcement conferences.

The museum’s slogan and mission are summed up beautifully in a quote from then-Sheriff John Duffy, who brought the department into the modern era, “Pride in our past promises hope for our future".  If he were around to see the museum today, he would not only be proud, but very optimistic about the department’s future.