Burbank Police Department Honors Fallen Officer Joseph R. Wilson on 60th Anniversary of His Passing

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(Photo By: Edward Tovmassian)

A ceremony was held in front of the City of Burbank Police and Fire Headquarters on Thursday to honor fallen Burbank Police Department Officer Joseph R. Wilson. 

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Following tradition of the Burbank Police Officers’ Association, a wreath was stationed at the Guardians statue in front of the headquarters as a token of remembrance of Wilson’s service to the department. 

(Photo By: Edward Tovmassian)

June 17 marks the 60th anniversary of Wilson’s End of Watch. In 1961, while on duty and riding his police motorcycle through a green light, Wilson was struck and killed by a car that had run a red light at the intersection of Buena Vista St. and Thornton Ave. The driver of the vehicle was arrested and booked for suspicion of manslaughter and felony drunk driving.

At the time of Wilson’s passing, then-BPD Assistant Police Chief John McAuliffe spoke highly of his professionalism and referred to him as a “superior officer and dedicated to his work, especially in traffic safety.”

BPD Sgt. Chris Canales, Detective Aaron Denning, Officer Rashaad Coleman, Officer Christopher Caldwell, and Officer Jesse Horn made up the Honor Guard who together placed the wreath in front of the office headquarters. 

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On Wilson’s Officer Down Memorial page, numerous comments from police officers and Burbank residents have been left over the years. One message from 2011 was written by Burbank local Don Ray, who referred to Wilson as “The man who probably saved my life a dozen times.” 

Ray detailed that, at age 10, he received a citation from Wilson for going through a stop sign while riding his bicycle on 7th St. and Verdugo Ave. The punishment included attending an educational traffic seminar at Burbank Police headquarters, which Wilson spearheaded. He educated young visitors on traffic laws and the importance of abiding by the same codes followed by street vehicles. 

“I believe that Officer Wilson singlehandedly taught an entire generation… how to drive safely — for life,” Ray wrote. “It was a time when the Burbank Police Department was willing to invest in a full-time traffic officer to teach young people the rules of the road — and cite them when they broke those rules. I wish they would do that today. I believe it would save lives.”

Over the years, Ray was cited several more times by Wilson for violating traffic regulations on his bicycle. Lessons he learned from Wilson helped Ray remember to remain cautious on the road as an adult, and he felt that Wilson “cared about [him] the way a father would,” and “cared about scores of other young Burbank kids the same way.”

“I still think of him as a hero,” Ray added. “And I have to believe that his lessons have kept me alive for five decades.”

While he only served as an officer for a total of 3 ½ years, Wilson’s exemplary contributions to the department are still felt through BPD operations. Today, their 58-member Traffic Bureau carries on Wilson’s legacy of promoting traffic enforcement, education, and regulations. 

“Officer Wilson’s passion for traffic safety was noted by his superior officers,” Burbank Police Department Public Information Officer, Sgt. Emil Brimway said. “Traffic safety and education remains one of the key components for the Burbank Police Department.”