William Rawls

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William A. Rawls
The Wire Rawls.jpg
First appearance "The Target" (episode 1.01)
Last appearance "–30–" (episode 5.10)
Created by David Simon
Portrayed by John Doman
Gender Male
Occupation Baltimore Police Department Major (season 1)
Baltimore Police Department Colonel (season 2)
Baltimore Police Department Deputy Commissioner of Operations (seasons 3-5)
Acting Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department/MSP Superintendent (season 5)
Title Acting Commissioner/MSP Superintendent

William A. "Bill" Rawls is a fictional character on the HBO drama The Wire, played by actor John Doman. Over the course of the series, Rawls ascends through the higher ranks of the Baltimore Police Department, eventually becoming Deputy Commissioner of Operations and, at the end of Season 5, Superintendent of the Maryland State Police. His career pre-occupation is often portrayed as detrimental to both effective law enforcement and those under his command; seen, for example, in his repeated attempts to renegotiate his responsibility for case-work.

When Rawls is promoted to Deputy Commissioner, he is put in charge of the weekly ComStat meetings. During these meetings, he often berates and chastises his Majors when they make mistakes or are unable to control crime rate in their respective jurisdictions. He proves to be a no-nonsense leader, although his tough demeanor is usually aided by his obstinance and crude wit, typically down-speaking and dismissing suggestions he finds unsuitable. Little is disclosed of Rawls' personal life aside from allusions to his closet homosexuality and his wife and children.


Season 1[edit]

Rawls is a Major and commanding officer of the Homicide unit in Season 1. He is a careerist, concerned only with maintaining the case clearance record of his unit, and is extremely demanding of his detectives. He is upset when Jimmy McNulty bypasses him to Judge Phelan to encourage further investigation of the Barksdale organization. He confronts McNulty about his insubordination. At the request for manpower and instruction of Burrell, Rawls send McNulty and Michael Santangelo to the Barksdale detail as they are the two "humps" he no longer wants (Burrell does not want to see good police work in the case, so he's told the unit commanders to dump their squads of detectives that were either useless or unwanted). Santangelo is picked for failing to meet his clearance quotas and is then used as Rawls' inside man in Cedric Daniels' Barksdale detail. McNulty is a capable detective but was deemed insubordinate and disloyal due to the back-channeling. Rawls relies upon Sergeant Jay Landsman to handle much of his communication with the men under his command in homicide.

McNulty attempts to placate Rawls by working several old murder cases, most notably the Deidre Kresson case, linking them all to the same gun, and to D'Angelo Barksdale. Rawls is delighted, and wants to immediately issue a warrant for D'Angelo. When McNulty learns of this, he is dismayed, since arresting D'Angelo was premature and would tip off Avon Barksdale to their investigation. The detail persuades Daniels to fight Rawls' push for arrests. Eventually Daniels goes over Rawls' head and meets with Burrell, convincing him to put the warrants on hold for the time being. This further infuriates Rawls, and he begins hounding Santangelo to bring him something on McNulty. Rawls demands that "Sanny" either clear a "whodunit" case by day's end, inform on McNulty, or else leave the unit altogether due to his low clearance rate. McNulty and Bunk Moreland manage to save Santangelo's skin by clearing one of his open cases while sending Santangelo on a trip to a phony gypsy named "Madame LaRue".

Following the shooting of Detective Kima Greggs in a buy bust gone wrong, Rawls becomes personally involved in the investigation. His first action is to order all non-essential personnel, including Greggs' friends in her detail, to disperse from the crime scene. He later speaks to a distraught McNulty and reassured him that he was not ultimately responsible for the shooting but again expressed his hatred for his subordinate.

When McNulty convinces Daniels to go around his superiors and try to involve the FBI in the Barksdale case, Rawls gets a chance for revenge - he reassigns McNulty to the marine unit at the suggestion of Landsman after falsely telling him he would like to see him land on his feet and asking where he didn't want to go. Rawls also transfers Santangelo to the Western District as a beat officer (which backfires, as Santangelo finds he's much happier with the demotion to patrol). Rawls transfers in Lester Freamon to replace McNulty, noticing his talent for detail in the Barksdale investigation.

Season 2[edit]

Rawls gets promoted to colonel, partly on the basis of McNulty's work on the Barksdale case, but his former detective remains a thorn in his side. When McNulty comes across a floater while on marine patrol, Rawls manages to convince another department that the case belonged to them. McNulty uses wind and tide charts to prove that the death occurred in Rawls' jurisdiction. When thirteen dead women turn up in a cargo container at the ports, Rawls again tries to avoid responsibility for the investigation, and McNulty again finds proof that the deaths fell under Rawls' jurisdiction, earning McNulty a permanent spot on his list of enemies. Rawls has Landsman assign the case to Lester and Bunk because he believes they are the best investigators in his squad. He demands personal reports from his detectives.

When Daniels' detail is re-formed at Stan Valchek's insistence to investigate Frank Sobotka, Rawls signs off on every officer Daniels wants from his original Barksdale detail, with the exception of McNulty, who Rawls insists will either drown or quit the force before leaving the hated marine unit. Rawls eagerly pressures Daniels to take on the responsibility for investigating the fourteen murders which Daniels initially refuses in order to keep the case simple, but later accepts due to persuasion from Freamon. In exchange, he extracts a promise from Rawls to give him whatever he needed to solve the murders. When Daniels demands McNulty, Rawls is ultimately forced to pull McNulty out of marine patrol and return him to Daniels' unit. Rawls thus allows McNulty to be Daniels' responsibility but will not let him any further back into C.I.D.[1]

The fourteen murder cases prove to be a boon for Rawls, as all of them are cleared by Daniels' team at the end of season two.

Season 3[edit]

With Burrell's promotion to Commissioner, Rawls is promoted to Deputy Commissioner of Operations in his place.[2] They preside over weekly COMSTAT meetings with their district commanders. Rawls is ruthless in his pursuit of complete accountability and awareness from his subordinates. As Commissioner, Burrell writes the orders from the Mayor's office, and Rawls as Deputy for operations makes sure these orders were enforced. Rawls' responsibility in the COMSTAT meetings is to interrogate individual commanders about their performance while Burrell then makes a decision as to what needs to be done by the Majors in order that they remain in their post. While Rawls berates several Shift Commanders over the season, he commends others like Daniels on a number of occasions as the type of commander he sees as both dedicated and competent. When Daniels is reassigned to target Stringer Bell, Rawls is seen remarking "Cedric Daniels to the rescue."

When Lamar is sent by Brother Mouzone into a gay bar to search for Omar Little, Rawls is shown briefly in the background. He is out of uniform and holding a drink. He has a smile on his face and appears to be at ease in the environment, suggesting that Rawls is probably gay or bisexual.[3] However, in the first episode of season one he has a photograph on his desk with his wife and daughter suggesting he might be closeted.

During the shutdown of Hamsterdam, Rawls personally orders the mobilization of the Quick Response Team (QRT) and drives into the thick of it with his car radio playing Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, an obvious homage to the infamous scene from Apocalypse Now, subsequently acknowledged in the DVD commentary for the episode. This goes against Colvin's wish that no mass arrests would take place and also denies Daniels a QRT unit for the take-down of the Barksdale organization.

Season 4[edit]

Rawls is Burrell's first port of call when subpoenas issued by the major crimes unit upset Senator Clay Davis and Mayor Clarence Royce. Rawls suggests that Lester Freamon is the most likely source of the problem and recommends that the unit get proper supervision.[4] Rawls thus transfers a hostile lieutenant named Charles Marimow, nicknamed the "unit killer" due to his reputation for destroying units, to head the MCU. Marimow's caustic leadership results in an immediate shutdown of the unit's drug-money tracing activities and a return to street level investigations. Rawls preempts a rebellion from Freamon and subdues it by threatening his colleagues and offering him a transfer back to homicide. Rawls also facilitates the move of Kima Greggs from the unit into homicide as a favor for Daniels.

Rawls shows great political acumen when Burrell makes the mistake of assigning Greggs to the politically sensitive murder of a state's witness to slow the investigation down on the Mayor's behalf. He allows Burrell's plan to go ahead and when it is leaked to the press Burrell falls out of Royce's favor. Rawls tells Royce that he did not act differently as he is a loyal subordinate who always follows his boss's orders. Looking to replace Burrell, Royce asks Rawls if he is ready to take command in the wake of Burrell's mistake, through telling Rawls that if he fixes this situation, Royce will keep his actions on hand.

Rawls also endears himself to Tommy Carcetti's campaign. He receives word from Lieutenant Hoskins, his insider in the Mayor's office as commander of the mayoral security detail, that Royce has fallen out with State Delegate Odell Watkins. Rawls feeds this information to Carcetti so that he can recruit Watkins's support and asks Carcetti to remember him if he was elected. Rawls then assures the election goes smoothly by interfering with the dead state's witness case, reassigning Norris and Greggs to election duty for the day as the department is 20 officers short of duty.

Carcetti is elected Mayor and then begins trying to make the department more productive. He observes the department and work and sees an unmotivated investigation unit and petty drug arrests and then comes to Rawls. When Carcetti asks Rawls about the problems in the department, Rawls claims that affirmative action and pressure from the mayor's office has made policing a numbers' game. He states that to appease the voters and have a department that is demographically a match to that of the city, a 20% hike in the number of African American officers is required. He says this has occurred up the chain of command as well as in the academy and the early promotions have put inexperienced officers who are more trained to handle statistical values than they are to set out good policing strategies in command positions. Rawls claims that if it were up to him, he would focus on high end drug enforcement, a claim that Daniels (an African American commander who Rawls does view as "good police") does not believe.

Despite being a loyal subordinate, Rawls develops a power struggle with Burrell over who controls the activity in the Department. Rawls is commanded to control day-to-day activity by Carcetti. Carcetti has no faith in Burrell's capacity to change the department's problems. Burrell is threatened by Rawls, allowing the promotion of Daniels from Major to Colonel at the Mayor's request. Daniels is the most apparent threat within the department to dethroning Burrell as Commissioner. Rawls does not realize that Daniels could be promoted ahead of him until Valchek points out the hindrance of Rawls' Caucasian race, specifically due to Baltimore's African American majority and the fact that the black community will only accept a white Commissioner if there is a black Mayor, or vice versa. The political irony of season 4 is that Rawls helped Carcetti beat Royce in the election with the Watkins information, when it's likely that Rawls would have been named Commissioner if Royce had been reelected.

Season 5[edit]

Rawls continues to serve as Deputy Commissioner for Operations and begins to work amiably with Commissioner Ervin Burrell again. Mayor Tommy Carcetti puts the department under severe strain by cutting their funding and failing to deliver on his promises to initiate change. Rawls has to deal with extremely low morale amongst all officers and is still expected to deliver a reduction in the crime rate by Carcetti.[5][6] Rawls and Burrell continue to manipulate their statistics.[7][8] The altered statistics are discovered by Carcetti giving him the political ammunition he has been waiting for to fire Burrell. Carcetti plans to move Rawls to acting commissioner while he prepares Cedric Daniels to take over the post permanently.[9][10] The transitions in the police department were officially announced at a press conference attended by Carcetti, Burrell, Rawls and Daniels.[11] In the series finale, Rawls is seen being sworn in as the Superintendent of the Maryland State Police as a reward for his loyalty to Carcetti and his allowing Valchek to become commissioner.


Rawls' distinctive manner of intimidating subordinates is based on real-life Baltimore CID commander Joe Cooke. Simon has also commented that Rawls' attitude towards the murder rate and his unit's clearance record is a product of the extreme pressure he is under.[12]


  1. ^ Dan Kois (2004). "Everything you were afraid to ask about "The Wire"". Salon.com. Retrieved 2006-07-12. 
  2. ^ "Org Chart - The Law". HBO. 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  3. ^ Ed Bianchi (director); Ed Burns (story and teleplay), David Simon (story) (2004-11-28). "Reformation". The Wire. Season 3. Episode 10. HBO. 
  4. ^ "Character profile - Deputy Commissioner William Rawls". HBO. 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  5. ^ Joe Chappelle (director); David Simon (story and teleplay), Ed Burns (story) (2008-01-06). "More with Less". The Wire. Season 5. Episode 1. HBO. 
  6. ^ "The Wire episode guide - episode 51 More with Less". HBO. 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-22. 
  7. ^ Ernest Dickerson (director); William F. Zorzi (story and teleplay), David Simon (story) (2008-01-13). "Unconfirmed Reports". The Wire. Season 5. Episode 2. HBO. 
  8. ^ "The Wire episode guide - episode 52 Uncomfirmed Reports". HBO. 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-22. 
  9. ^ Scott and Joy Kecken (directors); Chris Collins (story and teleplay), David Simon (story) (2008-01-20). "Not for Attribution". The Wire. Season 5. Episode 3. HBO. 
  10. ^ "The Wire episode guide - episode 53 Not for Attribution". HBO. 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-22. 
  11. ^ Dan Attias (director); Ed Burns (story and teleplay), David Simon (story) (2008-01-27). "Transitions". The Wire. Season 5. Episode 4. HBO. 
  12. ^ David Simon (2005). The Wire "The Target" commentary track (DVD). HBO.