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Remembering the late Willie Williams, Philly’s first black police commissioner

Williams was known for improving community relations with police.

Willie Williams

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Willie Williams, the first African-African to lead the police departments in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, has died in Atlanta at the age of 72.

Williams, appointed by then-Mayor Wilson Goode, became Philadelphia’s police commissioner in June 1988. He served in that position for four years until he was appointed as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

On Wednesday, Police Commissioner Richard Ross said he was mourning the loss of one of his heroes.

"Commissioner Williams was an absolute inspiration for me. As a young police officer, 27 years ago, I had the benefit of meeting him through his son, who was my partner," said Ross.

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"I instantly knew, because of his success, that my dreams of being a police commissioner – which were largely influenced by him – that if I worked hard, that things would fall into place for me."

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Ross said that Willie Williams, Jr. is now a lieutenant in the Philadelphia Police Department.

"[Williams] broke barriers for a lot of people," Ross went on to say.

"Without the likes of Willie Williams, there may not have been a Chuck Ramsey. Willie Williams, in the 1990s, went on to L.A. to be one of the biggest names in policing. In the late 2000s, he was certainly one of the vanguards in terms of being a community-policing minded police professional, and did a lot for a lot of people, irrespective of race and gender."

According to published reports, Williams' appointment in Los Angeles followed the resignation of Chief Daryl Gates after the 1992 L.A. riots. He worked to improve the image of the LAPD after the violent arrest of motorist Rodney King.

"I am deeply saddened to learn of Willie Williams' passing," said Mayor Jim Kenney.

"He served this city with greatness, improving community-police relations and breaking down barriers as Philadelphia's first African-American commissioner. It was a privilege to know him and his family, who continue to carry on his legacy of service. My thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones."

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City Council President Darrell Clarke said the city owes a debt of gratitude to Williams for being a pioneer for all of law enforcement on a national scale.

"There is now a national consensus that law enforcement must be responsive to and inclusive of historically underrepresented and victimized communities," he said.

"Williams understood the importance of building a police force that reflects the diversity of our communities, not just to improve relations, but to encourage young people of all backgrounds to aspire to careers in law enforcement."

Jason Nuckolls contributed to this report.

In 1997, Williams left the LAPD and later became a security director at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, according to published reports.

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