Hidden History

Norfolk police chief talks history of the city's first African-American officers

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) -- Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone looks back at historic pictures from his department, showing some of the first African-American officers who started in the mid 1940s.

"Can you imagine what these officers were faced with?" said Chief Boone.

The pictures tell a story many may not know.

Boone says the first African-American officers in Norfolk were also the first in the state.

There were many things black officers couldn't do back then.

"They were confined to the African-American community, they were never told they couldn't arrest Caucasians, but one would never find a Caucasian in these communities they were patrolling," Boone said. 

Boone says they were also not allowed to ride in police cars for a long time.

Former Norfolk police officer Leon Williams started working with the department in the late 70s.

He was the first "officer friendly."

"Our job was to go into the school system from kindergarten to about third grade, and make the young people more relaxed and at ease for what the job of a police man is," said Williams.

He said he knew some of the few African-American officers that served before him, and learned from their challenges.

"One of my mentors that was already in the police department was officer Carter Wilson. I leaned on him a lot when I got into the police department for learning," Williams said. 

Both Chief Boone and former officer Williams talked about where the department once was, and just how far it's come.

"The Norfolk Police Department, we are the most diverse by way of rank and file than any other police department in Hampton Roads," Boone said. 


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