In his 33 years at the Boston Police Department, William Evans never vied for the rumpled suit of the homicide detective or the worn jeans of the gang unit officer.
He was always happiest answering 911 calls and beating the street in the standard-
issue uniform worn by patrol officers.
“I just like being where the action is,” Evans said in an interview Friday afternoon, after Mayor Martin J. Walsh swore him in as the department’s 41st commissioner.
As Evans prepares to place his own stamp on the department, the uniformed officer will play a central role in his strategy for fighting violence in Boston, where the rate of major crimes has steadily dropped, but where shootings remain high and guns prevalent in some neighborhoods.
Evans, 55, said one of his top priorities will be to put more walking beats on the street, an idea pushed by his predecessor Commissioner Edward F. Davis, who created teams of officers who were assigned to patrol the city’s toughest neighborhoods on foot.
But Evans said he wants even more officers from the city’s 11 districts outside their cruisers and talking to neighbors and business owners.
“The community loves to see the visibility, and we’re going to make the officers as visible as possible,” Evans said in brief remarks moments after the swearing-in at the Salvation Army Kroc Center. “It builds a sense of trust for them, and we’re going to try to improve that.
Evans said he may bring back the gun buy-back program, which allows people to relinquish illegal guns in exchange for store gift cards.
He said he is also working on strategies to get religious leaders and parents to tell police where to find illegal guns. He said many adults know which teenagers and young men are carrying weapons or where they are hiding “community guns,” weapons hidden around neighborhoods and shared by small groups of people who use them when needed, then return them. Evans and Walsh said they want to create a task force that will look at the underlying causes of the “no snitching” culture that pervades some neighborhoods and discourages people from talking to the police.
Don Muhammad, Boston representative for the Nation of Islam and minister of Mosque No. 11 in Roxbury, said that kind of attitude shift is crucial.
“The cooperation of the community is not as strong as it used to be,” Muhammad said. “We have to have a community that says, ‘Yes, he wore a blue shirt, he ran that way.’ ”
He said his personal dealings with Evans indicate that the new commissioner is the right man to encourage officers to embrace the philosophy of community policing, a strategy that emphasizes building relationships with people in the community to prevent violence.
Muhammad recalled how Evans treated him when President Obama had come to the city for a speech. The event was downtown and Muhammad was trying to get inside when a police officer stopped him cold.
“‘Get out of the way,’” Muhammad remembered the officer telling him. Evans, who was nearby, immediately came over. “ ‘Brother Don, you go wherever you want to,’ ” Evans said, according to Muhammad.
Rank-and-file officers are also optimistic about Evans. His long tenure in the department established his reputation as a hard worker with a near obsessive attention to detail who never sought political favors, especially from his brother Paul, who was commissioner from 1994 to 2003.
“One thing I can say about my brother is everything he’s accomplished on the job he did on his own,” Paul Evans said in a recent phone interview. “It was not easy for him with his brother being the police commissioner. Everyone was watching.”
As a supervisor, William Evans was known as demanding but fair, said Mark Parolin, a South End sergeant who worked under Evans when he was captain at District 4, which covers the South End, the Back Bay, Fenway, and parts of Roxbury.
“Everybody wants to work for him,” Parolin said. “With him, there are no favorites.”
Parolin recalled how when there was the slightest uptick in break-ins in the South End, Evans would flood the streets with undercover officers. At the Pine Street Inn, the neighborhood homeless shelter, Evans assigned officers to patrol nearby streets at dawn to curb drug use and public drinking.
A marathoner known for waking up at 4 a.m. for long runs, he would often use his jog to check in at the shelter.
At “5 o’clock in the morning, everyone knew you better be there because Evans is running through,” Parolin said.
Evans is the father of three children, a 23-year-old daughter named Carolyn and two sons, 20-year-old Will and 15-year-old John.
He and his wife, Terry, who have been married 25 years, raised their children in South Boston, where Evans grew up the youngest of six brothers.
His early years were marked by tragedy. His mother died of cancer when he was 3. An older brother, Joe, died when he
was only 11 years old, struck
by a car in a hit-and-run accident.
Evans’s father died of a heart attack when Evans was 14, leaving his four older brothers to watch over him, “the Mouse,” as his father liked to call him.
Evans, who is thin and slight, poked fun at his size after he was sworn in. In the crowd of 200 officers, religious leaders, family members, and friends sat Davis, who at 6 foot 6, towered over most people in the room, including Evans, who publicly thanked his predecessor for his years of service.
“I always say it and I hope he doesn’t mind, but I’m half the man he is,” Evans joked.