William Gross, first black Boston police commissioner, started on force as cadet

Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans will retire, clearing the way for his second-in-command to become the city’s first African-American commissioner.
Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans will retire, clearing the way for his second-in-command to become the city’s first African-American commissioner. (Mark Gartsbeyn)

Incoming Boston police Commissioner William Gross made headlines in 2014 when he became the department’s first-ever black superintendent-in-chief, the force’s second in command.

Here are a few highlights from Gross’s 33 years on the job, according to Globe archives and his LinkedIn profile:

Gross started as a cadet and joined the force as a patrolman in 1985 and cut his teeth over the next decade in the downtown, East Boston, Dorchester, South Boston, and Charlestown precincts. He had additional stints in the gang and drug control units, as well as the department’s training academy, before being promoted to sergeant in 2004.


A department spokeswoman said Monday that as a sergeant, Gross was assigned to the Mattapan, Dorchester, and Hyde Park districts.

Gross’s appointment to the top post was cheered by City Councilor Andrea Campbell.

“I applaud the Mayor for his historic appointment of William Gross, who will be the first African American person to serve in this role,” Campbell said in a statement.” I look forward to working in partnership with Commissioner Gross on issues of public safety in my district and across the City, including to increase diversity in our law enforcement ranks.”

Bishop John Borders III, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan, said Monday that he looks forward to Gross’s tenure as the city’s top cop.

“I’ve known Willy Gross now for a while,” Borders said. “I watched him move up the ranks. He’s a very engaging and sacrificial man. Very knowledgeable about community relations. I think if Boston didn’t tap him as the next police commissioner, some other urban city will.”

Borders’s comments were echoed Monday by another prominent local pastor, Rev. William E. Dickerson of Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester, who said Gross grew up near his church and remains present in the neighborhood.


Dickerson said he’s seen Gross at various community events in his role as superintendent-in-chief, talking with young people and engaging in conversations about police-community relations.

“His mother was in the local churches so he got to know a lot of seniors when he was coming up as a kid,” said Dickerson. “It will be interesting to see how he works when he has connections across the city.

Dickerson said he was “elated to witness this historic moment in Boston’s history, the appointment of a Black police commissioner, William Gross.” The pastor said “many of us in the black community want this to be more than an historic gesture but we hope that it will mark the beginning of us dealing with the racial divide which has plagued Boston for years.”

Gross became a deputy superintendent in 2008 and assumed citywide night commander duties in 2012, where he worked “closely with the community members and groups to address violence in Boston’s neighborhoods,” Gross wrote on LinkedIn.

Then came his history-making appointment as chief in 2014.

Additional praise came from community leaders and advocates Monday afternoon, following the announcement that Gross will lead the department.

“He will fall right into place as the new commissioner. I’m not shocked by the appointment at all,” said Rev. Vernard Coulter, assistant pastor of New Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Dorchester. “I hope we, as a community, see him as more than a person of color in power but as the commissioner. He has a job to do.”


Larry Ellison, a Boston police detective who heads the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, said he doesn’t think Gross will be hampered by his affable personality when he takes the reins.

“He’s a likable person and maybe people will discount him as a soft guy,” said Ellison. “He’s never been one to shy away from being firm so I think he’ll be up for the challenge.”

In May, the Boston Press Photographer’s Association honored Gross with the group’s 61st Bob Howard Good Fellowship Award, the Police Department said in a statement.

“Chief Gross was recognized for his ability to bring people together, foster understanding and restore calm, especially during particularly volatile situations, as he did during this year’s Free Speech Rally held this past summer on the Boston Common in August of 2017,” the release said. “John Tlumacki, who was covering the rally that day for the Boston Globe, was so impressed with the Chief’s ability to navigate and diffuse the anger and tensions of the assembled crowds that he later nominated him for this year’s award.”

The department also quoted Tlumacki, a veteran Globe photographer, in the May release.

“How the Chief handled himself that day was certainly deserving of recognition and nominating him for this award only seemed appropriate,” Tlumacki said in the statement. “Chief Gross represents all the best qualities we expect and hope to see in our police officers and our city is a safer, more open and friendly place because of how he approaches his role and responsibility as a police officer.”


And last August, Gross received another honor when he was sworn into the venerable Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in Boston, which police described as “the oldest active chartered military organization in the Western Hemisphere.”

More recently, Gross earned plaudits from the famed Kennedy political clan. The Police Department put out the details last month.

“On Friday, June 1, 2018, Boston Police Department Superintendent-in-Chief William Gross was honored to receive the 2018 Robert F. Kennedy Embracing the Legacy Award during a ceremony held at the John F. Kennedy Library in Dorchester,” the department said in a release. “The award is given to those who work tirelessly to carry on the legacy of Robert F. Kennedy by raising awareness and fighting against societal injustice and inequity that affect children and families. From all of us here at the BPD we say, congratulations Chief!”

Maria Cramer, Andrew Ryan, and Mike Bello of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.