The History of Criminal Justice at WSU

The Criminal Justice program at Wichita State University is one of the oldest in the United States. Founded by renowned police chief and scholar O.W. Wilson in 1937, only one other active criminal justice department has a longer history.

O.W. Wilson is considered one of the most important reformers in American police history. He is credited with being the lead architect of the professional police movement from the 1920s through the 1960s. A protégée of Chief August Vollmer, Wilson worked for Vollmer as a Berkeley, Calif., police officer. Wilson eventually became chief of police at Fullerton, Calif.; Wichita and Superintendent of Police in Chicago.

While Wilson was Chief in Wichita, the Wichita Police Department became known as the West Point of Law Enforcement and developed an international reputation of innovative police practices. He started the first police science program in the nation at the Municipal University of Wichita (later Wichita State University). Wilson developed a list of the major aspects of a police officer's job. From the list, he eliminated low level skills, tasks which could be best taught by a police department or a training academy, and subjects which could not achieve a degree of academic respectability among professors. From those tasks remaining he constructed seven courses: criminal law, personal identification, police patrol practices, criminal evidence, traffic control, criminal investigation, and police administration. Subsequently, these seven courses were added to the college curriculum in 1936.

Through the years the program at Wichita State has evolved from strictly a police science program into a program that encompasses the entire criminal justice system including criminological theory.
Faculty in the program have an international reputation and have conducted research and published books and academic papers, which have contributed to our growing understanding of crime, criminals and the criminal justice system. The interdisciplinary faculty holds degrees in criminology, criminal justice, psychology, sociology, law, and public administration.