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1919 Yearbook

This is taken from Souvenir Book, St. Paul Police Benevolent Association, 1919, a 1919 publication.

John J. O’Connor
St. Paul’s Chief of Police

John J. O’Connor, the highly efficient chief of the Bureau of Police of this City was born in Louisville, Kentucky, October 29th, 1855, and with his parents, moved to St. Paul the following year.

His father was one of the pioneers and early business men of the City and served as a member of the City Council for several years.

Photo of John J. O'ConnorHaving finished his education, John J. O’Connor engaged in clerical and accounting work in the office of Beaupre & Kelly, remaining with that firm for about ten years. When twenty-six years of age, having tired of the monotony of routine work, he received an appointment with the City as a Detective, where he soon demonstrated his ability and aptitude and four years later was made Chief of Detectives, in which position he soon made a reputation for himself as one of the shrewdest thief-takers in the Country, and the criminal and lawless element found it wise to give St. Paul a wide berth.

About June 1st, 1900, having been out of the Police Department for four years, he was made Chief of Police, in which position he served continuously until March, 1912, at which time he resigned to engage in private business. When the Commission form of Government was adopted, John J. O’Connor was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Police, in which position his services have been eminently satisfactory to the citizenship of this community, and his administration of the Police Department has been efficient, not in the ordinary political sense, but as that word is used in modern business. He is not only honest, but competent, and has a long experience as one of the shrewdest detectives in the Northwest. It is said, on competent authority, that no one official has done more to make this city where the highest standards of law and order were maintained than Chief O’Connor. Mr. O’Connor came to his office as a specialist and expert, and not as a political appointee, and practically his entire career has bean identified with detective and police work. The following paragraphs are a brief and well considered estimate of his official experience in St. Paul, taken from the biographical sketch book, “Men of St. Paul.”

John J. O’Connor was born in Louisville, Kentucky, October 29th, 1855. His parents moved to St. Paul in 1856, and were pioneers of that City. His father was a well-to-do business man, and during the ‘70s was a member of the St. Paul City Council. John J. O’Connor attended school until he had mastered the fundamentals, and then went to work in the office of Beaupre and Kelly. He remained with that firm for ten years, and had excellent prospects of a successful business career. But business did not satisfy his peculiar talents and his inexhaustible vitality, and he found that he did not fit into the niche in which he had placed himself, and was discontented with the monotony of routine work. Finally he became interested in the work of the detective department, and when an appointment was offered him in this department he accepted it on impulse. It was in 1881, when he was twenty-six years old, that this appointment came to him, and his friends all regarded it as a joke, while his parents, who were prosperous and prominent citizens, considered it a harmless whim, of which he would soon tire. They were all mistaken, for the life which called for all his reserve energy, mental and physical, suited him exactly. John Clarke was made Chief of Police in St. Paul in 1882, and in a short time discovered among his corps of detectives a man with ideas and with the brains to put them into execution. In four years John O’Connor was at the head of the detective force, and was carrying on the policy of opposing “Organized crime with organized intelligence.” He became known all over the country as one of the shrewdest living detectives, and professional crooks gave St. Paul a wide berth. With the election of a new mayor, John J. O’Connor was removed, and during that administration thieves and murderers returned to St. Paul. In 1893, St. Paul discovered that her streets were infested with crooks of the worst class and of so much boldness that a messenger from one of the banks was robbed of $10,000.00 in gold as he stood in a corridor of the First National Bank. That was the climax to St. Paul’s retrogression to criminal control. In 1894 John J. O’Connor was appointed to his former position but hardly had an opportunity to put his plans into execution before a change in the administration caused his displacement in 1896. The next four years were devoted to private detective work, and he developed a registry bureau for the identification of criminals that has been of the greatest benefit to St. Paul. He also worked out a scheme for a model police system so that when Mayor Robert A. Smith went into office he was ready for the appointment to the position of Chief of Police, which was one of the first acts of the new Mayor. At the beginning of a service as Chief which continued fourteen years, Mr. O’Connor set to work to organize and discipline the force. Every sort of signal device was put into service, mounted patrolmen came into being for the first time, the detective force was reorganized and the police department as a whole was brought to a high state of efficiency.

The following is a brief pen portrait of Chief O’Connor written toward the close of his administration as chief of police: “He is of a complex personality, this Chief who is a profound criminologist without professing it; who maintains a degree of discipline that is military without its pomp; who directs 325 men with machine-like precision without destroying personalities; who allows no crime to go unpunished and thereby prevents many crimes. He is, as was said, a big man, with a big head; an eye that twinkles in just ordinarily but terrorizes the wrongdoers; a jaw drawn in lines that show the force and doggedness behind the easy-going manner; he is alert and quick in motion, and sharp and decisive in action. He believes profoundly in intuition, but never overlooks the force of logic. His judgment of men is rarely wrong, and his knowledge of the motives that move men is marvelous. And, withal, a stranger asked to guess at his profession would never dream of connecting him with the identity of a functionary whose name, mentioned in the hearing of any criminal in the country, will evoke the comment, “St. Paul is not a healthy town for me.”