Dennis A. White pledged to reform the Boston Police Department as he was sworn in as its 43rd commissioner Monday, saying it would be his “duty and honor” to see that a slate of proposed changes are adopted.
White, 59, is the second Black man to lead the nation’s oldest police force, succeeding William Gross, who made history as the city’s first Black commissioner. Gross resigned last week, saying he had always planned to step down when Mayor Martin Walsh left office. Walsh has been nominated by President Biden to lead the US Department of Labor.
White, who served as Gross’s chief of staff, was a member of a police reform task force created by Walsh that recommended that officers be held more accountable for using excessive force and the creation of a new independent review board with subpoena powers, among other proposals.
“It will be my duty and honor as Boston Police commissioner to see that all the recommendations under my direction are implemented,” White said at a ceremony at Fanueil Hall. “I know this will not be easy, but I am confident that the Boston Police Department will get the job done.”
White, who joined the department 32 years ago, said that law enforcement across the country is struggling to maintain strong ties to communities of color after the deaths of Black men at the hands of police, especially the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
That issue comes as the nation fights through the coronavirus pandemic, its threat to the health of police and other first responders, and its impact on the city’s economy, residents, and public schools. Vaccinations started at Fenway Park Monday and are set to start at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury Tuesday after a storm-related delay.
“To the residents of Boston, many relationships between the police and the communities they serve have been strained due to the COVID pandemic and the national reckoning on racial justice,” White said. “As commissioner, the Boston Police Department will continue to prioritize community engagement to build trust and relationships with our citizens and community. “
“We will get through this together,” he added. “But we will have to make changes. In doing so, I am proud to represent the department on the mayor’s task force for police reform.”
White shared some personal milestones and talked about his childhood in Dorchester’s Four Corners neighborhood, where neighbors knew each other and parents kept a watchful eye on all children.
“Instilled in me as a child was respect for others. Disrespect was not an option,” he said. “If any parent in the neighborhood saw us misbehaving, you knew it was only a matter of time before your parents knew. To my village families please know that I accept this honor on behalf of you.”
White also shared a touching story about his mother, Beverly, who was on oxygen and used a wheelchair when he was promoted to deputy superintendent in 2014. She had developed lung cancer, which took her life later that year.
“When I kneeled to her, she pinned my badge on me, kissed me, and whispered in my ear ‘God can take me now,’ “ he said. She later told him she had dreamed he would meet former president Barack Obama and become police commissioner.
“In March of 2015, I had the honor of meeting and taking a picture with President Obama. So today, Feb. 1, 2021, Beverly’s dream came true for a favorite child,” he said. “Yes, I was her favorite. She told me so while smiling and laughing with my siblings.”
Walsh called White a “seasoned and well-respected veteran” with extensive experience in both investigative and patrol positions.
Walsh said he expects White will ensure that the department maintains its “reputation as a leader in community policing and advance the department’s commitment to accountability and transparency.”
White thanked Gross for his support during their parallel careers in the police department.
“Commissioner Gross, my brother, thank you for your continued support and trust,” he said. “You never wavered in your commitment to the well-being of the men and women of the department.”