Forensics Expert Shoji Horikoshi Dies at 86; Led SFPD Crime Lab

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SAN FRANCISCO — Shoji Horikoshi, former director of the SanFrancisco Police Crime Lab, which now bears his name, died on July 16 after a five-month battle with cancer. He was 86.

Born on Nov. 5, 1926 to Seijiro and Mitsu Horikoshi in San Francisco, Horikoshi was a Boy Scout and attended Raphael Weill Elementary and Roosevelt Junior High School. During World War II, he and his family were interned at the Tanforan Racetrack Center Stables for eight months, then were sent to the Topaz, Utah, War Relocation Authority camp, where four members of the family lived in a single small room.

Shoji Horikoshi at the Kimochi Spirit Awards. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto)

Horikoshi later said the camps made him keenly aware of the need to protect civil rights.

He left the camp to work at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, enlisted in the Army in 1945, and served in Europe with the occupation forces. After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1953, majoring in criminalistics, he got a job at Macy’s working in the warehouse.

“You do the best you can under the circumstances,” he said.

In 1955, he got an entry-level job with the San Francisco Police Crime Lab. When Horikoshi was a fledgling fingerprint technician, the field of law enforcement was just learning the value of modern forensics, and the SFPD was not considered on the cutting edge of that science, having a rudimentary fingerprint lab and little else.  He rose through the ranks until he was appointed director of the lab, and he stayed in that position through a dozen chiefs of police, serving for 38 years.

Horikoshi was a renowned forensics expert who lectured at the FBI Academy in Virginia. Although technically a civilian employee, his position within the SFPD was equivalent to that of a police captain. The San Francisco Police Crime Lab at Hunters Point was named the Shoji Horikoshi Crime Laboratory in recognition of his “extraordinary contributions” to the criminal justice system. This lab was considered state-of-the-art with the AFIS fingerprint computer, DNA testing capability, and electron microscopes.

He was also active in the SFPD’s Asian Police Officers Association and was one of the founding members and later president of the Northern California Asian Peace Officers’ Association. When Horikoshi retired from the SFPD, the main ballroom of the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco was packed with friends, colleagues, and dignitaries to honor his service to the department, the city/county, and the community.

After he retired, Horikoshi joined the board of Kimochi, a senior service agency based in Japantown, in 1997 and was chair from 2000 to 2006. He also served as chair of the Budget/Finance Committee. In 2010, he received the Kimochi Spirit Award to recognize his community spirit, longevity, and continued heartfelt “kimochi.” He remained an active member of the board until his passing.

In addition, he was a leader with the Nisei Voters League, California Association of Criminologists, and California Association of Crime Laboratory Directors.

“Shoji was the consummate professional and gentleman. In his quiet and unassuming manner, he would always get the job done,” said Fred Lau, former chief of police. “Shoji was a role model and mentor to generations of San Francisco police officers, forensic professionals, and law enforcement partners.

“He taught us, shared with us, and supported us. After all that he had endured through his life, he still spent his entire life helping others. Besides his San Francisco Police Department family and his own family, he had his Japantown and Kimochi families. He gave his all to whomever he knew.

“Shoji, you will always be a role model, mentor, hero, and great friend to me. I will miss you, but I will never forget you.”

Preceded in death by his siblings Akira, Shuichi, Asa, and Hiroshi, Horikoshi is survived by nieces Patricia Cochrane and Ann Mayeda, and nephews Brian Horikoshi and Carl Horikoshi.

His family said in a statement, “Shoji’s childhood was marred by racism and injustice, but he took an optimistic view of an imperfect world. He worked to make the world a better place than he found it. He had a passion for community service and a deep love of San Francisco and his many friends here. Shoji left many lives that are better for knowing him, and his memory brings smiles to all who knew him. We should all be so blessed to have lived such a life.”

Per his wishes, no service will be held. Remembrances can be made to Kimochi Inc., 1715 Buchanan St., San Francisco, CA 94115.

 

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