William Gross: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans announced his retirement Monday morning, naming William Gross, his Superintendent-in-Chief, as his successor.

Chosen by Mayor Marty Walsh, Gross was sworn in, making him the first black man to lead the 3,000-person Boston Police Department, reported CBS Boston.

According to the Boston Globe, Evans is stepping down after four years as the city’s top cop to take over the public safety department at Boston College with a start date of August 6th.

Mayor Walsh proclaimed that “Gross is a proven leader who is trusted and respected in the community,” and deserving of the position he’s been given.

“My sincere thanks to the community for helping to raise me, guide me and mentor me,” Gross expressed during the news conference. “I’m just so overwhelmed with emotion, with pride. I’m just grateful.”

Here’s what you need to know about Boston’s newest police commissioner:

1. Gross Joined The Boston Police Department in 1983

“My first mentor was Willis D. Saunders, a Tuskegee airman who became a Boston police officer [in 1956] and rose to the rank of deputy,” Gross said in an interview with Boston 25 News.

Gross arrived in Boston in 1975 when the desegregation of busing was happening at public schools. “It wasn’t popular to want to become a policeman,” he said.

“Boston was in turmoil. My mother would say, ‘Don’t go to Southie because there are people that don’t like you.’ I’m sure the kids from South Boston were told the same thing,” said Gross to CBS Boston.

The protests of white citizens over the desegregation of schools in Boston escalated into street battles in 1974-75. Boston police officers had to be stationed inside South Boston High School, Charlestown High School and other Boston public schools to try to stop the violence during this time.

Throughout his career, Gross has been viewed as someone deeply engaged in community affairs from a street level and who shows his presence at protests over police shootings, reported the Boston Herald.

He was Chief Evans’ right-hand man for the past four years, but before that (as a patrolman) was an instructor in the police academy and served in the gang and drug control units.

Earlier this year, Gross became the first police chief from a major city to speak before the Central Intelligence Agency.

2. Gross Became The First Black Superintendent-in-Chief For The BPD in 2014

“I didn’t even know if Boston was ready for an African American chief, but I knew that Boston was moving in the direction that would distance it from racism and exclusion,” said Gross.

It was a historic moment when Chief Evans appointed Gross to position of chief in 2014. On that day, Gross became the highest-ranking African American police officer in the history of the department.

“I’m a country boy, goes to the big city at the height of busing. So many things were going on in the city,” he said. “The way we viewed the police then was they weren’t approachable. Community policing didn’t exist. And, we didn’t really have much input about how we were being policed. We didn’t believe our voice was heard.”

Gross recalled running from the police as a teenager, out of fear that he’d be misunderstood and/or mistreated, even when he hadn’t done anything wrong.

“If you want change, be the change. That’s why I became a police officer,” he said. “It shows that any kid in Boston – we were poor and we made it – will have the opportunity to be the mayor, the commissioner, or chief.”

3. Gross Was The First to Introduce The Department to Body Cameras: “Sometimes Those Being Oppressed Have to Change The Oppressors”

In his interview with Boston 25 News, Gross explained how his grandmother taught him early on how not to respond violently when called racist derogatory things. “People can change. Views can change, but sometimes those being oppressed have to teach the oppressors,” said Gross.

It was Gross who first introduced the department to body cameras back in 2014. What was supposed to be a half-hour conversation with Segun Idowu, Boston Police Camera Action Team leader, lead to a two-and-a-half hour conversation about the potential for body cameras in the department.

“He was the first person that opened his door to us in the body camera movement,” Idowu said.

Gross says he’s seen his caucasian friends mistreated in the department as well. Stopping all violence and hate was the reason he joined the department. “One homicide is too much. One senseless act of violence is too much,” he said.

Mayor Walsh told reporters that Gross’ hiring won’t “solve racism or the perception of racism in Boston,” but that it’s “one more step toward working toward a better society.”

4. Gross Lost an Officer He’d Been Mentoring in The Boston Marathon Bombing: “It Was The Toughest Day of My Career”

Gross spent a lot of time mentoring cadets and officers throughout his career. One of those officers, Dennis Simmonds, sustained injuries during a shootout with the Boston Marathon bombers.

The Marathon Bombers were on the run in Watertown when Simmonds and some other officers spotted them and engaged them in gunfire. One of the bombers was killed, the other was captured, but Simmonds received a head injury after one of the suspects “tossed an explosive device toward him,” reported BPD News.

“It was one of the toughest days of my career when I was watching him in the emergency room on that table, just hoping for one last breath,” said Gross.

Gross was one of many officers on site after two men detonated two bombs during the Boston Marathon in 2013. The explosions killed 3 civilians and injured an estimated 264 others.

Gross helped divert arriving runners while other buildings were evacuated. BPD closed a 15-block area around the blast site while searching for the suspects, who when found, ultimately took the life of his friend, Dennis Simmonds.

5. The Boston Police Department Has Long Been Criticized For “Not Having Enough People of Color” Leading Its Ranks

Half of Boston’s residents are either black, Latino or Asian. However, the leadership of the Boston police department hasn’t represented the people they’re policing well. According to WBUR, a local radio station in Boston, the BPD has nearly 400 supervisor positions and only 68 of them are filled by minorities.

“The perception out there is that you have to know people in power in order to be considered for these positions,” said Sgt. Jose Lozano, vice president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO).

Larry Ellison, president of the organization, said the group has been disappointed in the past when not invited to any of the press conferences.

Ellison is skeptical of whether or not Gross’ last couple promotions have done anything to solve Boston’s systemic race problems. “It’s too soon to tell,” he said.

“I mean, I’ve seen people appointed in the past, and there’s really been no real authority,” said Ellison. “So I can’t judge it based on just an appointment. I’d have to see what role and responsibility he has before I can evaluate whether there’s been a change.”

MAMLEO put out a statement this morning thanking Commissioner William Evans for his service and expressing delight over Mayor Walsh’s decision to appoint William Gross.

“This is a monumental moment in time. We pray that moving forward Commissioner Gross will work with our membership towards transparency in our ranks in order to deliver the best possible police services to the public,” MAMLEO wrote on its Facebook page.

“We look forward to sitting down with Commissioner Gross on ways to be partners in making the Boston Police Department the best in the nation.”