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Orlando Winfield Wilson
Born (1900-05-15)May 15, 1900
Veblen, South Dakota, U.S.
Died October 18, 1972(1972-10-18) (aged 72)
Poway, California, U.S.
  • Police superintendent
  • author
Years active 1925–1967
Title Superintendent
Military career
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1939–1947
Rank Sergeant
Battles/wars World War II

Orlando Winfield Wilson (May 15, 1900 – October 18, 1972), also known as O. W. Wilson, was an American police officer, later becoming a leader in policing. Wilson served as Superintendent of Police for the Chicago Police Department under the Richard J. Daley administration from 1960 until retiring in 1967. chief of police in Fullerton, California and Wichita, Kansas, and authored several books on policing.


Early life and career

Wilson was born on May 15, 1900, in Veblen, South Dakota, and moved with his family to California.[1] In 1921, Wilson enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in criminology and studying under August Vollmer. Wilson graduated in 1924, with a Bachelor of Arts degree.[2] While at Berkeley, he also worked as a police officer with the Berkeley Police Department; such education for a police officer was rare at the time.[3] During World War II, Wilson served as a Provost Marshal with the U.S. Army and retired from the service with the rank of full colonel in the military police. Wilson remained in Europe until 1947 as an advisor to local law enforcement.


In 1925, Wilson became chief of police of the Fullerton Police Department for two years.[2] He then spent two years as an investigator with the Pacific Finance Corporation.[4] In 1928, at age 28, he became chief of police of the Wichita Police Department, where he served until 1939.[2] In Wichita, he led reforms to reduce corruption. There he instituted professionalism in the department, requiring new hires to have a college education, and introduced innovations, such as the use police cars for patrol, mobile radios, and use of a mobile crime laboratory.[3] He believed that use of two-way radio allowed for better supervision of patrol officers, and therefore more efficient policing.[4] When the war ended, he remained in Europe until 1947, leading reorganization of police forces in Europe.[5]


In 1960, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, in the wake of a major police scandal,[6] established a commission headed by Wilson to find a new police commissioner.[7] In the end, Daley decided to appoint Wilson himself, as Commissioner.[8] Beginning on March 2, 1960,[4] Wilson served the Superintendent of Police of the Chicago Police Department until 1967 when he retired. Reforms demanded at the outset by Wilson included establishment of a non-partisan police board to help govern the police force, a strict merit system for promotions within the department, an aggressive, nationwide recruiting drive for hiring new officers, and higher police salaries to attract professionally qualified officers.[8] For starters, Wilson moved the superintendent's office from City Hall to Police Headquarters and closed police districts and redrew their boundaries without regard to politics. Hiring standards were raised, graft curbed, and discipline tightened, with a new Police Board overseeing it. Wilson updated the communications system, adopted computers and improved record-keeping, bought new squad cars, and eliminated most foot patrols. Police boasted of quicker response times to citizen calls. Police morale, and the public image of the police, rose. Wilson also improved police relations with the black community. He recruited more African American officers, promoted black sergeants, and insisted on police restraint in racially charged conflicts.[9]


Wilson had also taught at Harvard University in the 1930s, working with the Harvard Bureau for Street Traffic Research.[10] He also served as director of the New England Traffic Officers' Training School, which offered intensive two-week courses to police officers on traffic safety and enforcement.[10] In 1939, Wilson became Professor of Police Administration at Berkeley.[11] From 1950 to 1960, Wilson was the dean of Berkeley's School of Criminology.[2] Wilson authored several books, including Police Records, Police Planning, and the highly influential work, Police Administration which was first published in 1943.[5] While at Berkeley, Wilson also served as a consultant, advising cities including Dallas, Nashville, Birmingham, and Louisville, Kentucky on reorganization of their police agencies.[4]

Police professionalism

By the 1950s, Wilson's ideas of police professionalism, presented in Police Administration, were widely implemented in police agencies across the United States.[12] These ideas remained popular until the advent of community policing.[13] Wilson believed that preventive patrol and rapid response to calls would be effective, creating a sense of police omnipresence among criminals.[13]

Personal and death

Wilson, together with his wife Ruth Elinor Wilson, had one daughter.[4] Wilson had another son and daughter, by a previous marriage.[4] After retiring from the Chicago Police Department in 1967, Wilson lived in Poway, California until his death in 1972.[2]


  1. Lyman, Michael D. (2004). Police An Introduction. Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-118222-6. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Guide to the Orlando Winfield Wilson Papers, ca. 1928–1972". Online Archive of California. Retrieved 2006-10-20. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Donnermeyer, Joseph F., Robert L. O'Block (1991). Security and Crime Prevention. Elsevier. ISBN 978-0-7506-9007-2. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 "Educator on a New Beat". The New York Times. March 2, 1960. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Russell, Gregory D., Terry Gingerich, Rebecca Paynich, James A Conser (2005). Law Enforcement in the United States. Jones and Bartlett Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7637-8352-5. 
  6. Friedman, Lawrence M. (1993). Crime and Punishment in American History. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-01461-3. 
  7. "Police Head Resigns in Chicago After Stratton Bids Mayor Act". Associated Press/The New York Times. January 24, 1960. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Chicago Chooses Criminologist to Head and Clean Up the Police". United Press International/The New York Times. February 22, 1960. 
  9. "Police". Encyclopedia of Chicago. Retrieved 2007-04-14. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Halsey, Maxwell (November 11, 1936). "Law Enforcement Held Safety Need". The New York Times. 
  11. "O.W. Wilson". University of Central Missouri. Retrieved 2006-10-20. 
  12. Weisburd, David, Anthony A. Braga (2006). Police Innovation: Contrasting Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-83628-9. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Chu, James (2001). Law Enforcement Information Technology: A Managerial, Operational, and Practitioner Guide. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-1089-8. 

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