Police Telegraph Boxes (aka Police Call Boxes) were installed throughout the City of Oakland, California sometime in the late 1800’s. Ten years after the telephone was invented, in 1886 Oakland had 39 ‘police telegraph boxes’ on street corners for officers to check in with the police station. Long before two-way radios in squad cars and cell phones, patrolmen were required to contact their stations on an hourly basis, if not more often. Because no direct voice communication was possible through the telegraph boxes, beat cops had to flip a certain switch every 20 minutes to a half-hour to indicate that everything was okay and no assistance was needed; if they missed one, reinforcements soon arrived.

The fire department had its own set of fire alarm boxes.

List of Oakland Police Telegraph Boxes - 1887

  1. Adeline and Third Streets
  2. Adeline and Seventh
  3. Adeline and Fourteenth
  4. Adeline and Eighteenth
  5. Broadway and Laurel
  6. Broadway and Prospect
  7. Broadway and Seventeenth
  8. Center and Twelfth
  9. Chester and Seventh
  10. East Eighth and Seventh Avenue
  11. East Tenth and Third Avenue
  12. East Eleventh and Thirteenth Avenue
  13. East Twelfth and Sixth Avenue
  14. East Twelfth and Twenty-second Avenue
  15. East Fourteenth and Twelfth Avenue
  16. East Fourteenth and Seventeenth Avenue
  17. East Seventeenth and Eighth Avenue
  18. Grove and Thirty-fourth
  19. Helen and B
  20. Kirkham and Tenth
  21. Kirkham and Fourteenth
  22. Market and First
  23. Market and Seventh
  24. Market and Fourteenth
  25. Market and Twenty-second
  26. Peralta and Pacific
  27. Peralta and Twelfth
  28. Peralta and Seventeenth
  29. Peralta and Thirty-fourth
  30. San Pablo Avenue and Twenty-second
  31. San Pablo Avenue and Twenty-eighth
  32. San Pablo Avenue and Thirty-fourth
  33. Telegraph Avenue and Hobart
  34. Telegraph Avenue and Sycamore
  35. Telegraph Avenue and Thirty-fourth
  36. Twelfth Street Bridge
  37. Twelfth between Oak and First Avenue
  38. Webster and Twelfth
  39. Webster and Twentieth

Directions for Police Telegraph Box Use

Keys to the boxes were obtained by an application to the Oakland Police Captain. Each key was numbered, and the recipient thereof was held responsible for the legitimate use and surrender of the key upon request.

To turn in an alarm, after opening the outer door, pull down once on the brass hook affixed to the inner door. A signal bell would strike inside, giving notice to reception of the call at the central station (City Hall) from which point two officers would be immediately dispatched by a conveyance always in readiness. The keys could not be removed except by the officers.

What became of Oakland’s boxes?

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged some of the underground cables used by the boxes. In the 1990s, the decision was made to remove most of the remaining boxes, but one modern box was left in each of the 35 precincts. They had a touch tone phone and modem jacks. Most of the old boxes were given to the Police Athletic League (PAL) and sold as a fundraiser. With increasing use of cellphones, the boxes were no longer needed and the last ones were removed in 2005. 1

Links and References

  1. The Oakland Police Call Box