Commissioner Willie Gross returned to Charlestown on Friday, Sept. 21 – the neighborhood where he first served as
a police officer in the early 1980s, and talked about the wonder of a ‘Hee-Haw’-watching kid who came to Boston from a Maryland pig farm and rose to become the City’s top law enforcement officer.
Gross has ridden a wave of popularity for some years in the Town and all over Boston as the second in command under former Commissioner William Evans, but since taking the reins last month as Commissioner, he has become even more popular.
Much of that has to do with his easy demeanor, ready to joke around and listen to people, while at the same time being all about the seriousness of law enforcement in a major city.
On Friday, he said he was glad to return to Charlestown where his career started, and it reminded him of the incredible journey he has taken in his life.
“I’m proud to be standing here, number one, in Charlestown where I started my career as a police officer – an 18-year-old kid who made it all the way to police commissioner,” he said. “I made it because so many other people paved the way. I came to Boston when I was 12 after being born on a Maryland pig farm. The first thing I learned was not to say ‘Hot Dog!’ The second thing I learned was not to ask when ‘Hee Haw’ came on up here…You’re going to see me a lot. I’m not a desk cop. I’m a good, old street cop and I love my job.”
Welcomed by Capt. Kenneth Fong, Commissioner Gross visited the Charlestown Police Station last Friday with a group of key stakeholders from organizations and constituencies that play a role in leading the Town. The Coffee with a Cop event kicked off the new commissioner’s relationship with the Town, and it was one that he was very excited about.
He commented on the diversity of the room, and how much things have changed in that vein in Charlestown since he came here for his first assignment.
“In 1983 I was a police cadet and got a 99 on the exam and then hit the streets at the age of 21,” he said. “It was on Sept. 13, 1985, and I had the good fortune to be assigned to Charlestown. On day one of my career, I was here in A-7. My first patrol was in Charlestown. I always remember it being a very strong community. Today, no matter what color you are and where you came from, you want the same things in life…It’s the quality of life we’re talking about.”
He recalled that in Charlestown two summers ago, the annual Peace Walk with the police brought out way more residents than any neighborhood. He said while others saw 20 or 30 people, Charlestown had 100.
“It’s good to be back here where I started,” he said.
Gross didn’t talk too much about policy, but he stressed that community policing would continue in the Town. He said it’s taken time to refine Boston’s way of community policing, but it’s something he is going to hang his hat upon.
“We have so many community leaders that look out for us all,” he said. “We have so many people here looking out for each other. Working together is valued and expected. Gone are the days when you had to worry about giving input and getting a ticket. It was like that in the `40s, `50s, and `60s. You didn’t tell the police what to do. Now we work with you. Now we work for you.”