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Benjamin Ward (August 10, 1926 - June 10, 2002) was the first black New York City Police Commissioner. Ward was one of 11 children and was born in the Weeksville section of Brooklyn, New York.


Military and Police experience

Drafted into the Army after graduating Brooklyn Automotive Trades High School in 1944, he served as an Military Policeman (MP) and a criminal investigator with the Army in Europe for two years.

Ward entered the NYPD on June 1, 1951 as a patrolman, becoming the first black officer assigned to Brooklyn's 80th Precinct, where he faced resentment from both white residents and white fellow cops. He wasn't assigned a locker at the precinct, forcing him to dress at home and ride the subway to work in his uniform for three years.

During the next 15 years in uniform, he rose through the ranks to Lieutenant, serving in the Patrol Division, Juvenile Aide Division, Detective Division, and Legal Bureau. His rise was aided, in part, by his after-work studies at Brooklyn College and Brooklyn Law School that earned him undergraduate and law degrees—invariably with top honors.

He eventually served as special legal counsel to Police Commissioner Howard R. Leary. Ben left the uniformed ranks to become executive director of NYPD's Civilian Complaint Review Board in 1966.

Two years later he was named a Deputy Police Commissioner, serving as chief hearing officer in all departmental disciplinary matters.

Later he became Deputy Commissioner of Community Affairs with responsibilities for the Youth Aid Division and the Auxiliary Forces Section.

Ward's involvement with the cover-up at Harlem Mosque #7

On April 14, 1972, Patrolman Philip Cardillo and Vito Navarra responded to a "10-13" call at 102 East 116th Street in Harlem, which was a Nation of Islam mosque where Malcolm X used to preach. Upon arriving inside, they were ambushed by 15 to 20 men, one of whom, according to the ballistics report, shot Cardillo at point blank range. Most of the police were forced out of the mosque and locked out, leaving a dying Cardillo and officers Victor Padilla and Ivan Negron locked from within.

Police eventually managed to break down the door and witnessed a man named Louis 17X Dupree standing over Cardillo with a gun in hand. Before Dupree could be taken into custody, however, Louis Farrakhan and Charles Rangel arrived at the scene, threatening a riot if Dupree was not released. Just as the police forensics unit was about to seal off the crime scene, they were ordered out of the mosque by the police brass. Outside a mob had overrun the street and overturned a police cruiser, shouting, "I hope you die you pigs. I hope you drop dead." (Cannato pp.485–486)

One of the officials who hampered the ballistics investigation was Benjamin Ward. Ward had ordered all white police officers away from the scene, acquiescing to the demands of Farrakhan and Rangel. (Cannato p.487) He released the 16 suspects, an action for which he was later criticized by a grand jury.[1] He also apologized to the minister, Louis Farrakhan, for violating an agreement that the police would not enter the mosque.[1]

Career in New York City and State Government

Mayor John V. Lindsay designated Ward as Traffic Commissioner in 1973. Under his leadership, uniformed traffic controllers from his agency took on street duties, thereby freeing hundreds of police officers from traffic direction posts. The following year he headed up what is now known as the Criminal Justice Agency that performs a bail risk evaluations.

In 1975, Governor Hugh L. Carey named him New York State Department of Correctional Services Commissioner, heading one of the nation's largest prisons systems, with 20,000 inmates, 20,000 parolees and 12,000 employees. He was the first African American to hold that position.

Three years later, Mayor Edward I. Koch named him to the first of three posts in his administration: Chief of the New York City Housing Authority Police. It was the fifth largest police department in the state, providing protection to 600,000 in the HA's 254 developments.

On August 13, 1979, he was designated to run the New York City Correction Department, heading the largest municipal detention system in the world. He served as commissioner until December 31, 1983, when he accepted an appointment by Koch as New York City Police Commissioner.

Ward was sworn in by Mayor Koch as the city’s 34th Police Commissioner on January 5, 1984. He was the first African American to hold that position. Ward oversaw the nation's largest police department during the rise of the crack cocaine epidemic and a sharp increase in crime and murder. Ward's tenure also coincided with a period of gentrification culminating in the Tompkins Square Park Police Riot of 1988.

It was also a period of racial unrest, marked by the shooting of four black men by white subway gunman Bernhard Goetz, the police shooting of an elderly black woman, the death of a black man chased by a white gang onto a highway, and the fatal beating of a black youth by a white mob.

Life after retirement

Ward retired as NYC Police Commissioner on October 22, 1989. After his retirement, he remained active, teaching and serving on various boards until failing health forced him to curtail such endeavors.

He served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, an Adjunct Professor of Corrections at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and an adjunct professor of the Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.


Benjamin Ward died on June 10, 2002 at the age of 75. He was survived by his wife, the former Olivia Irene Tucker, a retired public school principal; three daughters, Jacquelyn Ward, Margie Ward-Lewis and Mary Ward; two sons, Benjamin Jr. and Gregory; nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

See also


Benjamin Ward, New York's first Black police commissioner, dies - Obituary - July 8, 2002


Further reading

  • Cannato, Vincent J. "The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York". New York: Basic Books, 2001. 703 pages. (ISBN 0465008437)
  • Jurgensen, Randy, and Robert Cea. "Circle of Six: The True Story of New York's Most Notorious Cop-Killer And the Cop Who Risked Everything to Catch Him". New York: Disinformation Co.; London: Virgin [distributor], 2006. 256 pages. (ISBN 1932857397)
Preceded by
Commissioner, New York City Department of Transportation
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Commissioner, New York State Department of Correctional Services
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Commissioner, New York City Housing Authority Police Department
Succeeded by
Preceded by
William Ciuros
Commissioner, New York City Department of Correction
Succeeded by
Peter Seitchik
Preceded by
Robert J. McGuire
NYPD Commissioner
Succeeded by
Richard J. Condon


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