Boston’s First Black Police Commissioner Is Sworn In


Boston is a city that prides itself on making history. It created a volunteer night watch in 1636 and established a publicly funded police department with full-time officers in 1838. But it took until Monday for Boston to swear in its first African-American police commissioner, William G. Gross, 54.

Who is the new police commissioner?

For the last four and a half years, Mr. Gross (pronounced like toss) has been the superintendent in chief, the second-highest position on the force. Now he is replacing the outgoing commissioner, William B. Evans, who will become the executive director of public safety at Boston College.

Did he grow up in Boston?

As a 12 year old, the new commissioner moved from his grandmother’s farm in rural Maryland to Dorchester, a large, diverse Boston neighborhood. It was 1975, a year after a federal judge ordered the city to desegregate its public schools, a decision that led to violent protests in some predominantly white neighborhoods. Boston became a symbol of northern racism.

When did he start his career?

After graduating from high school, Mr. Gross became a police cadet in 1983. When he became a patrolman two years later, the city was suffering from a crack epidemic and record-high homicide rates. His career trajectory led him to the police gang unit, the drug-control unit and the training academy. Before being chosen as chief superintendent, he supervised the night shift.

What does the city’s police force look like?

The Boston Police Department is two-thirds white. Most of its high-ranking officers are also white. White residents, though, make up only 45 percent of the city. Mr. Gross said on Monday at his swearing-in ceremony that implementing a plan to increase diversity in the department was one of his four goals. The others were expanding community policing efforts, maintaining transparency and boosting officer wellness.

What do we know about racial disparities in Boston’s policing?

A recent Boston Globe analysis found that almost 70 percent of the nearly 15,000 individuals the police had observed, interrogated or searched in 2016 were African-Americans. But black resident make up only 25 percent of the city’s population.

Last month, The Washington Post published a report saying that among major American cities, Boston had the widest gap in arrest rates for white and black homicide victims. Since 2007, the police have made an arrest in nearly 90 percent of the cases with white victims but in only 42 percent of the cases with black victims, the report said. Black victims account for most of Boston’s killings.

The former police commissioner, Mr. Evans, told The Globe that detectives approach every homicide case the same way. “To think that we care less about minority victims is an insult to me,” Mr. Evans told the newspaper last month. “It all comes down to the evidence,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t matter what color you are.”

What is the new commissioner known for?

Mr. Gross immerses himself in the community. On Twitter, he loves to share pictures from neighborhood meetings and with residents.

At a rally for immigrants in January 2017, Mr. Gross spoke to the crowd and told them that the Boston police “are not agents of ICE.” During a rally in Boston last August, just days after the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., he was seen amid the 15,000 counterprotesters marching to denounce hate. He praised their right to peacefully exercise free speech and took dozens of photos with marchers.

About two years ago, Mr. Gross became one of the first officers in Boston to volunteer to wear a body camera. Last week, Boston’s mayor announced that the city will introduce 400 of those cameras to the force, providing Mr. Gross with the first of many tests in his new job.

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