JERSEY CITY, NJ - Walter Adams, who served as the first and only African American Jersey City police chief, died on September 11. Adams was 85.
Adams, who had previously served as Jersey City’s Public Safety Director, was appointed chief in 1988 at age 55, and came amid a tragedy after his predecessor, John Fritz, died at his desk from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The career law enforcement official also took the reins at a challenging time when the 900-man police force was being criticized for reported racism in the ranks and racial indifference towards Asian Indians and Hispanics.
Several police officers at the time had been charged with drug trafficking and extortion, prompting the city to seek intervention from the U.S. Marshall’s office to deal with the allegations of racism in the department.
Adams – along with then Council President Glenn Cunningham – supported the probe with the aim of restoring the department’s reputation. “We are cleaning our own house,” Adams said, when five cops were charged in the drug case in late 1988.
Furthering his credibility as a fighter against police corruption, Adams had previously overseen an investigation involving some cops accused of scalping Bruce Springsteen tickets. He also helped calm community concerns over the sudden appearance of Guardian Angels, a militant neighborhood watch group that had started to patrol streets of Jersey City.
He was the Founder of IMPAC, a black officers civic association, which once filed a discrimination suit against the city over a graduation class of 50 new cadets that had included no one of color.
While even the harshest critics at the time said only good things about him, Adams’ appointment was controversial, not because he was African American -- – but because as a lieutenant he passed over several deputy chiefs, with then mayor Anthony Cucci said the move was not political and that Adams had proven very capable as the public safety director.
“We know that Chief Adams made history, and in doing so undoubtedly inspired a generation of young men and women to become the proud police officers they are today,” Carmine Disbrow, President of the JCPOBA said. “However, it’s not the color of his skin that made him great and honorable, it’s his integrity, strong values, and love for all he served that we should strive to emulate.”
The head of superior officers at the time called Adam’s “a good director,” and someone committed to moving the department forward.” Adams at one point was only one of four black superior officers in the department, and had been a 15-year veteran of the department’s police crime unit.
Councilman Richard Boggiano, a retired member of the Jersey City Police Department credited Adams for always taking his job seriously and listening to those that worked under him.
“He was good chief,” Boggiano said. “He came up through the ranks. He was a cop’s cop and stand up guy.”
Editor's Note: The publisher of TAPinto Jersey City also serves as a communications consultant for the JCPOBA
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