A History of Brutality, Racism,
and Corruption in the

The Summerdale Scandal and the Impact of Superintendent O.W. Wilson’s Reform Efforts

by Joeseph Lipari.

The exposure of an active North Side police-burglary ring in January 1960 set in motion of series of changes that would greatly affect the behavior and policies of the Chicago Police Department over the next several decades.  The Summerdale scandal investigation, named for the police department’s 40th district at the time (currently the 20th district), was handled by state’s attorney Ben Adamowski after lifelong burglar Richard Morrison confessed to operating a lucrative burglary ring with eight Chicago police officers.

OW Wilson
Once it became clear that this scandal would become a political liability, the Daley administration began to search for a new police commissioner with a reformer image that could bring legitimacy back to the CPD.  Orlando W. Wilson, a highly respected dean of criminology at the University of California, was tapped to reform the notoriously corrupt CPD. 

Wilson’s tenure as Police Superintendent (Daley had to change the title from “Commissioner” to avoid residency requirements) ushered in an era of “modernization” that had unexpected repercussions for police-community relations.  Wilson had been a member of the de-Nazification team that had reorganized Germany’s police force in the wake of World War II.  The military discipline and administrative re-organization that Wilson forced through Chicago’s police department angered many long time police officials and unintentionally led to an increased tension between police officers and youth of color. 

Much of Wilson’s organizational reforms were aimed at undermining the political control of Chicago police officers by ward bosses.  Among Wilson’s most significant reforms were a reduction in the number of police districts from 38 to 20, the acquisition of a modern police communications system, a more centralized chain of command, the


Further Reading:

Roger Biles, Richard J. Daley: Politics, Race, and the Governing of Chicago (1995)

Richard Lindberg, To Serve and Collect: Chicago Politics and Police Corruption from the Lager Beer Riot to the Summerdale Scandal, 1855-1960 (1998)

Joseph Lipari, Policing the Color Line: Race, Power, and the Politics of Policing Post-War

development of a continuous public relations campaign, and an internal investigations division to gather intelligence on police misconduct.  In addition, Wilson’s reforms required that the police budget balloon to more than double, from $72 million in 1960 to $186 million in 1961. 

Known as a racial liberal, Superintendent Wilson was also responsible for increasing the number of black officers on the force from 500 to 1,200 in only two years.  One of Wilson’s key insights was that a racially diverse city could never be successfully policed by an overwhelmingly white police corps.  However, his support for the controversial (and racially applied) “stop-and-frisk” policy and his emphasis on producing statistical, measurable results increased beat officers’ daily confrontations with ghetto youth and further exacerbated existing racial tensions.  Moreover, the Chicago Police Board established in the wake of the Summerdale scandal and originally touted as a means to insulate future police chiefs from political influence, became, in practice, another political tool for the mayor after Wilson’s retirement in 1967.