The early life of John W. Polcyn is probably not what you would expect for someone who would become Chief of Police for the City of Milwaukee. He was born in Lemont, Illinois on November 22, 1892 to Joseph Polcyn and his wife Helen* (also known as Lena.) Joseph and Helen would have at least two other sons in Illinois before they moved the family to a farm in Sobieski, Wisconsin sometime between 1896 and 1899. There, John grew to a tall (six foot) young man, but farm life must not have been for him. Showing a complete lack of respect for authority and the law, John fled the farm in 1910 and ran away to Chicago where he promptly lied about his age (he was only 17 at the time) and enlisted in the Marines. At the time, the Marines were still serving their traditional role as armed soldiers aboard ships and John spent two years assigned to the battleship U.S.S. Vermont. When he left that post, it was just in time to serve as part of the U.S. Expeditionary Force sent to Mexico in 1912.
John left the Marines after serving four years and rising to the rank of sergeant. He then settled in Milwaukee where he got a job as a street car conductor. That job lasted no more than four years, because on April 1, 1916, at the age of 23, John enlisted in the Milwaukee Police force and was appointed as a patrolman. Early on, he put his experience as a Marine sergeant to good use by training new recruits in discipline and neatness, but his talents were not confined to that position. He gradually worked his way up the ranks. On October 9, 1923 he was promoted to Sergeant. In 1925, while a Sergeant on the traffic squad, he devised double lane traffic on Wisconsin Avenue and other downtown streets to reduce congestion, a solution which was widely lauded by the citizenry. He was promoted to Lieutenant on September 5, 1928. In 1934, he was put in charge of the central station, the largest of the Milwaukee police force. Because of that position, he was in charge of many police details at parades and festivals and he became one of the most widely known members of the Milwaukee police. In 1945, he was selected to be the next Chief of Police after the resignation of Joseph T. Kluchesky.
|John Polcyn at home, shortly after being sworn in as Chief of Police, with his wife, Helen (Fons), daughter Naomi Just (left) and daughter-in-law, Rita Polcyn. Originally published in the Milwaukee Journal, 8/1/1945.|
As Chief, John Polcyn was known as being a friend of the patrolman. He made sure that politics played no part in the appointment or promotion of police officers, and that any officer could succeed on merit along. He made frequent trips to Madison and with hard lobbying was finally able to convince the government to change the law and reduce the police work week from 48-hours to 40-hours, just like the work week of anyone else. He awarded citations for police service beyond the call of duty, and made them meaningful by tying them to extra days off or preferential vacation time. He regarded the beat cop as the best public relations agent available to the force. He regretted that economics had forced patrolmen off the streets and into cars so that they could cover more territory. He tried to keep the good relations with the public alive by awarding miniature police badges and citations to citizens who had given tips that resulted in the apprehension of criminals.
Polcyn is credited for increasing the pace of modernization in the Milwaukee police force with "groundbreaking and radical changes". Among those changes were the creation of the Youth Aid Bureau where a select number of police officers are trained and specialized to help young people in trouble with the law, or leaning in that direction. The Milwaukee bureau, created by John Polcyn in 1946, was one of the first in the country. However, they proved such a success that by 1956, there were 19 just in Wisconsin alone. He created a Personnel Bureau in the Department to better help the regular cop and streamlined other functions of the department. Other innovations that he instigated were one-man squad patrols and combination squad/ambulances. He created the night parking fee system, the first in the nation. Last but not least, he also started the Police Aid Program in 1952 in conjunction with a program to create better race - relations.
All his efforts to keep Milwaukee crime free did not go unrecognized. His standing in the community earned him the 1954 award of the outstanding Milwaukean of Polish Descent given by the Milwaukee Society of the Polish National Alliance. Other lauds including recognitions from then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and U.S. Attorney General (and later Supreme Court Justice) Tom C. Clark. Mayor Frank Zeidler stated that Polcyn had "brought as much fame to Milwaukee as any citizen in the city's history."
John retired from the police force in 1957 because of treatment for heart problems. He spent the few remaining years of his life by reverting to his agricultural roots and tending to 20 acres of cherry trees in Door County. He was there when he died in his sleep of a heart attack on November 14, 1959. He was survived by his wife, Helen Fons, (a half first cousin of Louis A. Fons, Featured Profile #7), a daughter, Naomi (Polcyn) Just, and a son, Richard Polcyn.
*The transcription of the Wisconsin birth record for her daughter Anna gives her maiden name as Nisz. The transcription of the Wisconsin birth record for her son Bernard gives her maiden name as Glos.
NOTE ON FAMILY LINES: Just as with Joseph Martynski, I have now marked a family line on the Milwaukee Polonia Project Tree for John Polcyn. However, instead of just marking the person in the Featured Profile with the family line, I thought it would be more informative to mark one or more of ancestors of the Featured Profile with the family line designation. In that way, blood relations other than direct ancestors or descendants would also be shown. Therefore, the descendants of Joseph Polcyn (John's father) are now marked with a RED family line designation.
Relation to Nearest Featured Profile: (Joseph Martynski, Featured Profile #25): Brother of brother-in-law of son-in-law
Alternate Path From Another Featured Profile: Louis A. Fons (Featured Profile #7) > father, Frank Fons > father, Stephan Fons > son, Joseph Fons > daughter, Helen (Fons) Polcyn > husband, John W. Polcyn
Sources: (page references in newspapers are to pages on Google News)
"500 Poles Pay Tribute to Polcyn," Milwaukee Sentinel, October 3, 1954, p. 7.
John Polcyn (1945 - 1957)
"Polcyn is Sworn in as Chief of Police," Milwaukee Journal, August 1, 1945, p. 1.
"Polcyn, Retired Chief of Police, Dies at 66," Milwaukee Journal, November 14, 1959, p. 1
Wellauer-lenius, Maralyn A., Milwaukee Police Department, p. 12, 80.
"Youth Aid Bureaus Do Good Job Here and in the State," Milwaukee Journal, August 2, 1956, p 1.