I walk with a middle aged women past the doors, entering the area where Boston Police Department Commissioner William Gross’ office is. I hear a boom of male laughter come from the office as he opens the door. He smiles, looks at me and says, “Kam-me-la!” trying to imitate my father’s Haitian accent. I smile at the humor in his voice as he says it. We embrace for a few seconds and then we walked into his office.
In 2018, William Gross made history by becoming the first person of color to lead the Boston Police Department. With over 30 years of police experience, it has been a long and interesting journey for him.
Gross was born on February 1, 1964 in Hillsboro, Maryland. He was raised on a pig farm in a two-story farmhouse by a single mother. He also lived with his older and younger sister, and they all grew up in poverty. Because he never met his dad, Gross says he was raised by the community. His main influences growing up were his mom, and football coaches—Harry and Dennis Wilson—who were like his father and uncle figures. “People saw a vision for me, as a young man, with their leadership and guidance, that I probably couldn’t see for myself,” he said.
At the age of 11, Gross left the farm and moved to Boston. Getting familiar with the city was challenging for Gross, who moved from a small town to a big city with different ethnicities, accents and people in general. He attended Boston Public Schools during the desegregation process, which caused riots and violence on both sides.
After graduating high school, Gross entered the Boston Police Cadet Program. According to the city’s website, Gross spent many years as a patrol officer for the gang unit and drug control unit. He also served as an academy instructor. Gross climbed the ladder, achieving the rank of sergeant, sergeant detective and deputy superintendent among other titles. In August of 2018, Gross became the Boston Police Department’s first African American commissioner.
“The weight that it holds is tremendous, because all eyes are on you,” said Gross. “There are still prejudiced people out there who want to see me fail. I didn’t get this job on my own. I’m very humble,” he said.
Gross first became interested in law enforcement as a kid when he had to manually change the channels on the TV to his grandmother’s liking. The shows usually had something to do with law enforcement. “Whether it was westerners— like a sheriff, or marshal—or shows that deal with detectives and big city police. I was programmed,” he said. “Because I loved the little shows.”
Gross has faced many challenges during his career, but a great one for him has been “not having someone see the vision that you have for a great city.”
Gross explained, “Often [we] are not on the same page…so sometimes you have to have the patience to show them that no one’s going to forget them.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, we took pictures with swords that decorated his office, something I never thought I’d be doing. It was cool, and so was he. He walked me out of his office and I respectfully said bye to everyone, thanked him, and left with new things to think about.