William Rawls,  played by John Doman and starring in all five seasons of the show, is a consistently high-ranking member of the Baltimore Police Department. Over the course of The Wire, Rawls ascends through the higher echelons of the Department, eventually reaching the rank of Deputy Commissioner of Operations and, at the end of Season 5, Superintendent of the Maryland State Police. This career pre-occupation is often detrimental to both effective law enforcement and those under his command as seen, for example, in his repeated attempts to renegotiate his responsibility for case-work and mistakes as commanding officer of Homicide, or his weekly passage of blame at ComStat meetings. Such circumventions of responsibility is aided by his obstinance and crude wit, typically down-speaking and dismissing suggestions contrary to his self-interest. Little is disclosed of Rawls' personal life aside from strong allusions to his closet homosexuality, and his marriage (which is spoken-of and suggested by a wedding ring) and children.


Season 1Edit

Rawls was a Major and commanding officer of the homicide unit. He is a careerist, concerned only with maintaining the case clearance record of his unit, and is extremely demanding of his detectives. He was enraged when Detective Jimmy McNulty went around him to Judge Phelan to encourage further investigation of the Barksdale organization. He confronted McNulty about his insubordination and told him he had his attention. At the request for manpower and instruction of Deputy Burrell, Rawls sent Jimmy McNulty and Santangelo to the Barksdale detail as they were two detectives he no longer wanted. Burrell did not want to see good police work in the case, so he told the unit commanders to detail their detectives that were either useless or unwanted. Santangelo was apparently not meeting his clearance quotas. McNulty though was a capable detective but deemed insubordinate and unloyal due to his meeting with Judge Phelan. Rawls relied upon Sergeant Jay Landsman to handle much of his communication with the men under his command in homicide.

McNulty attempted 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 was delighted, and wanted to immediately issue a warrant for D'Angelo. When McNulty learned of this, he was dismayed, since arresting D'Angelo was premature and would tip off Avon to their investigation. The detail persuaded Daniels to fight Rawls' push for arrests. Eventually Daniels went over Rawls' head and met with Burrell, convincing him to put the warrants on hold for the time being. This further infuriated Rawls, and he began hounding Santangelo to bring him something he could use against McNulty. Rawls demanded that Santangelo clear a case by days end, inform on McNulty, or leave the unit altogether due to his low clearance rate. An old case was cleared courtesy of Bunk Moreland and McNulty and credited to Santangelo to appease Rawls.

Following the shooting of Detective Kima Greggs in a buy bust gone wrong Rawls became personally involved in the investigation. His first action was to insist that all non-essential personnel, including Greggs' friends in her detail, leave the crime scene. He later spoke 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 convinced Daniels to go around his superiors and try to involve the FBI in the Barksdale case Rawls' got a chance for revenge - he reassigned 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 transferred out detective Santangelo to the Western District as a beat officer. Rawls transferred in Lester Freamon as a replacement detective noticing his talent for detail in the Barksdale investigation.

Season 2Edit

Rawls was promoted to colonel and CID (Criminal Investigations Division) commander, partly on the basis of Jimmy McNulty's work on the Barksdale case, but his former detective remained a thorn in his side. When McNulty came across a body on marine patrol, Rawls managed to convince another department that the case belonged to them. McNulty used wind and tide charts to prove that the death occurred in Rawls' jurisdiction. When thirteen dead women were found in a cargo container at the ports, Rawls again tried to avoid responsibility for the investigation, and McNulty again found proof that the deaths fell under Rawls' jurisdiction, earning McNulty a permanent spot on his list of enemies. Rawls had Landsman assign the case to detectives Lester Freamon and Bunk Moreland because he believed they were the best investigators in his squad. He demanded personal reports from his detectives.

When Daniels' detail was re-formed to investigate Frank Sobotka, Rawls signed off on every officer Daniels wanted with the exception of McNulty whom Rawls demanded would either drown or quit the force before leaving the hated marine unit. Rawls eagerly pressured Daniels to take on the responsibility for investigating the fourteen murders which Daniels initially refused to keep the case simple, but later accepted due to persuasion from Freamon. In exchange, he extracted a promise from Rawls to give him whatever he needed to solve the murders. When Daniels demanded McNulty, Rawls was ultimately forced to pull McNulty out of marine patrol and return him to Daniels' unit. Rawls thus allowed McNulty to be Daniels responsibility but would not let him any further back into CID.[1] Daniels' detail solved all fourteen murder cases at the close of the season, which proved to be a boon for Rawls.

Season 3Edit

Rawls was promoted to Deputy Commissioner of Operations when Ervin Burrell became Commissioner.[2] Along with Burrell, Rawls presides over weekly COMSTAT meetings with their district commanders. Rawls is completely ruthless in his pursuit of complete accountability and awareness from his subordinates. Failure to meet his standards resulted in reassignment. While Rawls berated several shift commanders over the season, Rawls commended Lieutenant Daniels on numerous occasions as the type of commander he saw as both a dedicated and good police officer. When Daniels was reassigned to target Stringer Bell, Rawls claimed that it was "Cedric Daniels to the rescue."

In a scene which takes place in a gay bar, Rawls is shown briefly in the background. He is out of uniform and holding a drink, implying that he is off duty, but nothing further has been made of this.

Season 4Edit

Rawls was Ervin Burrell's first port of call when subpoenas issued by the major crimes unit upset Senator Davis and Mayor Royce. Rawls suggested that Lester Freamon was the most likely source of the problem and recommended that the unit get proper supervision.[3] Rawls assigned a lieutenant loyal to him named Charles Marimow to head the unit. Marimow's caustic leadership resulted in an immediate shutdown of the unit's drug-money tracing activities and a return to street level investigations. Rawls preempted a rebellion from Freamon and subdued it by threatening his colleagues and offering him a transfer back to homicide. Rawls also facilitated the move of Kima Greggs from the unit into homicide as a favor to Cedric Daniels, now a Major.

Rawls showed great political acumen when Burrell made the mistake of assigning Greggs the politically significant Braddock murder case. Braddock was a state's witness and Royce feared that solving the crime would harm his chances of re-election if the motivation for the killing was Braddock's witness status. Burrell assigned Greggs to slow the investigation down on the Mayor's behalf, believing she would be inept as a homicide rookie. Rawls allowed Burrell's plan to go ahead and when it was leaked to the press Burrell fell out of Royce's favor. Rawls told Royce that he did not intervene as he is a loyal subordinate who always follows orders. Hoping to replace Burrell, Royce told Rawls that if he fixed this situation, Royce would not forget what he had done. Rawls had veteran homicide detective Ed Norris reassigned to the case and called a press conference claiming that Norris and Greggs had been working together all along.

Rawls also endeared himself to Tommy Carcetti's campaign. He received word from Lieutenant Hoskins, his insider in the Mayor's office as commander of the mayoral security detail, that Royce had fallen out with State Delegate Watkins. Rawls fed this information to Carcetti so that he could recruit Watkins' support and asked Carcetti to remember him if he was elected. Rawls then ensures the election goes smoothly for both parties by interfering with the Braddock case further. Rawls reassigns Norris and Greggs who 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 was 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 in command positions. Rawls claims that if it were up to him, he would focus on high end drug enforcement. Carcetti later learns that Daniels does not believe Rawls' claims.

Previously a loyal subordinate, Rawls political challenges led to a power struggle with Burrell over who controls the activity in the Department. Rawls was commanded to control day to day activity by Carcetti. Carcetti had no faith in Burrell's capacity to change the department's problems. Burrell felt threatened by Rawls allowing the promotion of Daniels from Major to Colonel at the Mayor's request. Daniels was the most apparent threat within the department to dethroning Burrell as Commissioner. Rawls did not realize that Daniels could be promoted ahead of him until Deputy Commissioner of Administration Valchek pointed out the hindrance of Rawls' caucasian race, specifically due to Baltimore's African American majority population and Carcetti's own caucasian race. Rawls helped Carcetti to beat Royce in the election with the Watkins information when Royce was more likely to have named Rawls Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department.

Season 5Edit

Rawls continues to serve as Deputy Commissioner for Operations and begins to work amiably with Commissioner Burrell again having accepted his position. Mayor 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.[4]



Season 1 appearances
"The Target" "The Detail" "The Buys" "Old Cases" "The Pager"
"The Wire" "One Arrest" "Lessons" "Game Day" "The Cost"
"The Hunt" "Cleaning Up" "Sentencing"
Season 2 appearances
"Ebb Tide" "Collateral Damage" "Hot Shots" "Hard Cases" "Undertow"
"All Prologue" "Backwash" "Duck and Cover" "Stray Rounds" "Storm Warnings"
"Bad Dreams" "Port in a Storm"
Season 3 appearances
"Time after Time" "All Due Respect" "Dead Soldiers" "Amsterdam" "Straight and True"
"Homecoming" "Back Burners" "Moral Midgetry" "Slapstick" "Reformation"
"Middle Ground" "Mission Accomplished"
Season 4 appearances
"Boys of Summer" "Soft Eyes" "Home Rooms" "Refugees" "Alliances"
"Margin of Error" "Unto Others" "Corner Boys" "Know Your Place" "Misgivings"
"A New Day" "That's Got His Own" "Final Grades"
Season 5 appearances
"More with Less" "Unconfirmed Reports" "Not for Attribution" "Transitions" "React Quotes"
"The Dickensian Aspect" "Took" "Clarifications" "Late Editions" "–30–"


Rawls distinctive technique for intimidating others is based on real Baltimore CID commander Joe Cooke, although Rawls is far more venal. Simon has also commented that Rawls attitude to the murder rate and his units clearance record is a product of the extreme pressure he is under.[5]


  1. Dan Kois (2004). Everything you were afraid to ask about "The Wire". Retrieved on 2006-07-12.

  2. Org Chart - The Law. HBO (2004). Retrieved on 2006-07-22.
  3. Character profile - Deputy Commissioner William Rawls. HBO (2004). Retrieved on 2006-07-22.
  4. "More with Less". Joe Chappelle, Writ. David Simon (story and teleplay), Ed Burns (story). The Wire. HBO. 2008-01-06. No. 1, season 5.
  5. David Simon. (2005). 'The Wire "The Target" commentary track [DVD]. HBO.
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