Boston’s top black public safety officials recognized
Yawu Miller | 7/2/2014, 10:45 a.m.
When Superintendent-In-Chief William Gross joined the Boston Police Department in 1983 as a cadet, crack cocaine hit the city’s streets, guns proliferated and police switched from .38 revolvers to Glock 9-mm pistols to keep up with the arms race.
The police needed better relations with the city’s black and Latino communities, where the guns and drugs were centered, but with few people of color in command positions, there was little to work with.
“The relationship between the police department and communities of color was very tumultuous,” Gross recalls.
Today, Gross is second-in-command in the police department, a member of the most diverse command staff in the department’s history. Half of the 24 command staff members are women or people of color. And, as Police Commissioner William Evans points out, “There’s a wealth of wisdom and experience there. Everybody’s well respected.”
Evans, Gross and much of the command staff were present Monday for a fete at Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen celebrating the new diversity in Boston’s public safety agencies. Gross, Sheriff Steve Tompkins and Deputy Fire Chief Andre Stallworth spoke, as did Mayor Martin Walsh.
Police Superintendents Randall Hallstead and Lisa Holmes, and Deputy Superintendents John Brown, Jeffrey Walcott and Michael Cox were among those present.
The shakeup that yielded the diverse command staff happened in the first week of Walsh’s term as mayor when he gave Gross and Evans free rein to build their own team.
“What [Walsh] told us is, ‘You guys have a vast amount of experience in this city. Select your own command staff.’ In a very political town, he has not interfered at all,” said Gross. “In one week, we picked the most diverse and most experienced staff in the department’s history. The average number of years served on this command staff is 29.”
Walsh, who also spoke during the event, underscored his commitment to diversifying city government.
“I made commitments during the campaign that I intend to keep,” he said. “I’m going to continue to work to diversify the Police Department. My commitment with the Fire Department is the same.”
Walsh said the new leadership in the Police Department has yielded good results so far, with shootings down over last year and more guns taken off the streets in the last six months than in all of last year.
The gathering was put together by Tompkins, Urban League President Darnell Williams, NAACP Boston Branch President Michael Curry and real estate developer and restaurateur Darryl Settles.
At the event, Police and Fire department brass mingled with other community members.
“Men like this, they paved the way for me,” Gross said, gesturing toward Darnell Williams and former U.S. Attorney Wayne Budd.
Williams, a former fire commissioner in Springfield, noted that Budd’s father, a WWII veteran, was the first black officer in that city.
“He had a way of talking to you,” Williams said. “He straightened out a lot of us. He really did.”
Gross cites another WWII veteran, the late Police Superintendent Willis Saunders, among his mentors. Gross and Hallstead recalled visiting Saunders shortly before he died in 2012.