From my book “Pensacola’s Finest in Pictures”
“Raise your right hand and repeat after me.” Those are the last words the chief of police says to a new officer before he or she takes the oath of office to become a Pensacola Police Officer.
A flood of questions and emotions run through the officer’s brain at that moment: “What am I getting into?” “Am I up for it?” “What is expected of me?” and hundreds more. The cameras, the setting, the friends and family looking on don’t make the answers any clearer!
At that moment, the officer is following the time-honored tradition of accepting the responsibility to serve and protect the citizens of Pensacola. The new officer may not know it, but he or she is joining one of the oldest and most historic police departments in the United States. Most officers who become part of this old family don’t realize the historic institution they are stepping into, nor do they realize the legacy they will leave. Even though July 19, 1821 is celebrated as the department’s beginning, enforcing the law in this location began long before.
James Johnstone was appointed constable of West Florida in Pensacola in 1767 before the land was part of the United States. Juan de las Ruelas was the Alquacil (Spanish word for constable) for the Luna expedition in 1559. Before that, the Hawkshaw tribal councils had enforcers to see that their laws were carried out. In other words, men and women have been policing in Pensacola for a long time.