Marking the end of an era in local law enforcement, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans retired from the Boston force on July 30 to begin a new position as executive director of public safety at Boston College. Mayor Martin Walsh named a black officer, Superintendent-in-Chief William Gross, as the new commissioner of the 2,200-officer Boston Police Department.
Evans, a 59 year-old South Boston native who has been on the force since 1982, served in the commissioner’s role for the last five years, first on an interim basis when he succeeded Ed Davis in 2013. Walsh appointed him to the permanent position in January 2014.
Walsh has been a close friend and dedicated boss, Evans said, referencing multiple daily phone calls between them.
“He left me alone and I ran the department I wanted,” Evans said. “There hasn’t been a time throughout my entire career where I didn’t want to go to work.”
An avid runner, Evans said this was the time for him to make a choice that would allow him to spend more time with his family. His wife has patiently waited out his decades on the force, Evans said, smiling.
“We’ve had some really tough obstacles over the last couple years with the environment we’ve been operating in,” Evans said in commending his force, “whether it’s Occupy Boston, the Marathon bombing, Black Lives Matter, Charlottesville. And they’ve shown this city proud.”
While applauding Evans’s work in the post, city and state leaders also welcomed the new forthcoming police commissioner. Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley said of Evans in a statement: “His unassuming demeanor masks a leader who was fiercely committed to leading a department that would embody the highest standards of professionalism, integrity and innovation and it made him one of the very best partners we as prosecutors could ask for. It has been my privilege and blessing to work with Bill Evans. I’m sorry to see him go, but he leaves the Boston Police Department in very good hands with Commissioner Gross.“
The appointment of Gross, 56, has been widely praised from all quarters. A 33-year veteran of the BPD who began his career as a patrolman in Dorchester and Mattapan, Gross is very popular with rank and file cops and civilians alike.
“Willie is a really good policeman who never took himself too seriously. He didn’t get all locked up in the badge,” recalls Robert Dunford, a former Boston police commander who retired in 2012 after serving in the same role that Gross presently holds: Superintendent-in-Chief. “He could just talk to people and get them to immediately talk to him. He understood that people wanted to see him as a person.”
Horace Small, who leads the Union of Minority Neighborhoods and can be a tough critic of city government, and police in particular, says that Gross’s appointment caused him to “drop his coffee” with delight. A fan of outgoing Commissioner Billy Evans, Small says that the choice of Gross to be the next in command is a “home run” by Mayor Walsh.
“Willie Gross is a profoundly decent human being and the antithesis of the stereotypical heartless, cruel police officer that’s in currency in society today,” said Gross. “I think his policy will be an open door, because he understands the needs of black Boston and poor people. That’s not to suggest that magically enlightenment will take place, but I do expect that what Willie will do is make community leaders more accessible to the captains and the precincts. He will make it possible to have some real dialogue.”
William ‘Billy’ Evans is one of five brothers (a sixth brother, Joey, was killed at age 11 by a hit-and-run driver in Southie in 1968) who lost their mother to ovarian cancer in their childhood. Their dad died of a heart attack at age 53 in 1974. BillyEvans and his brothers— Paul (who also served as Boston’s police commissioner), James, Thomas, and John — were honored by the Boston Irish Reporter at its annual Irish Honors luncheon in 2015.
In a profile written for the awards event, Jack Thomas wrote: “The Evans family survived those heartaches by drawing on familiar resources, their faith in Gate of Heaven Parish, their neighbors in South Boston, their confidence in America, their loyalty to one another, and their adherence to the best of Irish values. Today, the five surviving Evans brothers count among their achievements the service of three of them who served in combat during the Vietnam War (Paul, James, and John, who won two bronze stars), two who joined the Boston Fire Department (Deputy Chief James and District Chief John), and two who became police commissioners of Boston (Paul, 1994-2003, and, currently, William). All five brothers scoff at the notion of living anywhere but South Boston.”
Billy Evans’ brother Tom observed that his dad would be proud of how the Evans boys have conducted themselves in life.
“He always told us that we should look out for one another, and I think if he could see us today, it’s not the titles and the successes that would make him proud, but it’s the fact that we’re still together,” said Tom Evans. “That meant more to him than any honor or achievement. If my father could see us all together now, what would make him proud is that we’re still doing what he taught us to do. We’re still taking care of one another.”