Deputy Chief Richard Holder as depicted on the Inspiration murals. Image courtesy of Josef Norris.

Richard Holder a San Francisco native and Vietnam War veteran, will be remembered as a civil servant to the city, valiantly serving in the San Francisco Police Department for 28 years. Holder protected his community and never compromised on what he perceived as best for San Francisco. He began serving in the SFPD in 1972 and climbed the ranks until his departure in June 2000. Holder was appointed as SFPD Sergeant in 1980, Lieutenant in 1984, Captain in 1991, and San Francisco’s first African American Deputy Chief in 1998.

As a police officer, Holder consistently demonstrated bravery and courage in the face of danger. On December 17, 1976, Officer Holder and his partner, Officer Greg Winters, were shot at through their windshield while on patrol. On September 16, 1983, Holder’s name appeared in the San Francisco Examiner, as he embarked on a high-speed police chase to catch a man in a stolen car.

Holder additionally voiced his opinion in 1988 concerning spikes in criminal activity at the hands of transients in the community. When interviewed by the San Francisco Examiner, then Acting Captain Holder defended San Francisco’s homeless community, stating, “We’ve got several distinct groups here and the homeless people are not causing the problems.” As an officer of SFPD, Holder consistently made sure his opinions were known, and acted upon them. This was most apparent in his sudden resignation in 2000.

Richard Holder served as the city’s first African American Deputy Chief of Police. He served in numerous capacities for SFPD for 28 years.

Holder’s voluntary removal from the force proved to be the result of a conflict between himself and the Director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ronnie Davis, and Mayor Willie Brown. As Deputy Chief, Holder felt that under Davis’ supervision, San Francisco’s Housing Authority was not doing enough to enforce the new “one strike, you’re out” policy for public housing. This program was a directive from President Bill Clinton that was adopted by San Francisco’s Housing and Urban Development office (HUD) in 1991. As stated by Clinton, the policy served as “a clear signal to drug dealers and to gangs: If you break the law, you no longer have a home in public housing. . . . One strike and you’re out.” It served as a gear in Clinton’s larger war on crime but was overturned by an appeals court on January 25, 2001.

Nevertheless, Holder served as an enforcer of the law in 2000, when the “one strike, you’re out” policy was still legally enforced. During this time, the SFPD’s narcotics unit sent a list of 233 individuals identified as violators of this new policy to the San Francisco Housing Authority. Tension rose when the Housing Authority didn’t evict the majority of the offenders, countering that only “16 of the addresses were on the agency’s property.” This conflict resulted in rising tension between Director Davis, an ally of Mayor Brown, and Deputy Chief Holder. Holder however, chose to resign, ending his career on the force at 53 (Mattier and Ross).

Holder’s legacy is undeniably one filled with controversy. However, citizens can never forget his undying dedication to the law of the land as San Francisco’s first African American Deputy Chief. As a dedicated civil servant, Holder consistently used his position to protect San Francisco as he saw best fit.

Ian Duke

Works Cited

“Bang-up finale to chase.” SF Examiner. 16 Sep 1983.

Egelko, Bob. “HUD’s Drug Rule Overturned / Appeals Court Says ‘One-Strike’ Policy Evicts Tenants Unfairly.” SFGate. 25 Jan 2001.

Gordon, Rachel. “1 Strike, You’re Out of Public Housing.” SFGate. 29 Mar 1996.

O’Connor, John D. and Philip Matier. “Vehicular homeless jam Haight.” SF Examiner. 10 Feb 1988.

Ross, Phillip Matier Andrew. “Turns Out Deputy Chief Quit on His Own, After a Nudge.” SFGate. 14 Jun 2000.

“Shot fired at cops’ car, suspect quickly caught.” SF Examiner. 17 Dec 1976.

Steve Rubenstein, Yumi Wilson.“Deputy Police Chief Resigns After 28 Years on Force.” SFGate. 13 Jun 2000.

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