Veteran officer to be Boston's 1st black police commissioner
Boston police veteran William G. Gross made history when he was named the city’s first black police commissioner
By Antonio Planas and Laurel J. Sweet
BOSTON — Boston police veteran William G. Gross made history yesterday when he was named the city’s first black police commissioner — an appointment that drew cautious praise across the board.
Gross, 54, now serving as the department’s second in command, will replace William B. Evans, who is retiring Aug. 4 to become executive director of public safety at Boston College.
“It shows that any kid in Boston ... will have the opportunity to be the mayor, the commissioner or the chief,” Gross said. “If you want to change, you need to change, that is why I became a police officer.”
Gross, a 33-year veteran with the department, had stints with the gang and drug control units, as an academy instructor, a sergeant and sergeant detective, and has served on Evans’ command staff as the superintendent-in-chief since 2014.
Gross takes over as the city’s top cop when many crime trends have decreased overall, but gun violence plagues minority neighborhoods. Police have also drawn criticism for failing to diversify, even as Boston is now a minority-majority city. Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he was “proud” to appoint the city’s first African-American commissioner.
“I don’t think the city has seen a police leader as loved and trusted in the community as Chief Gross,” Walsh said. “The important thing here is consistency. We are losing an incredible leader today and bringing in a leader right behind him who will be an incredible leader so the city of Boston, the Boston Police Department, the people of Boston, don’t lose that consistency.”
Gross’ mother attended the announcement yesterday, and Gross credited her for raising him and his sisters as a single mother — as well as the community she raised him in.
“This is my sincere thanks to the community for helping raise me, guide me and mentor me,” he said. “Women like my mother, who were reinforced by the community, we can do that for every family in Boston. One homicide is too much. One senseless act is too much. ... We are going to walk towards each other so we can step forward and overcome any obstacle that we face in this city.”
Gross, who described himself as “a true, street cop,” said curbing violence will be his biggest challenge.
Monica Cannon-Grant of the nonprofit Violence in Boston, said, “We have to have the mindset that we have to hold him accountable as well. Just being black is cool — but it is not enough.”
Citing a “state of emergency” due to violence in some minority neighborhoods, Cannon-Grant said. “I hope Chief Gross goes in with the mindset of creating real change and having real conversations with community members.”
Former city councilor Tito Jackson, who butted heads with Walsh on the mayoral campaign trail last year over issues including public safety and race relations, lauded Walsh for appointing Gross.
“Commissioner Gross will have important work to do in continuing to diversify the police department, to make some structural changes, but I know that he’s up to the task. We can continue down the path of trust-building, working with young people in the community, and ensuring the whole city of Boston is safe. It’s a good day,” Jackson said. “And a historic one.”
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