frank-adderley_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE –  Frank Adderley became Fort Lauderdale’s police chief on Thursday, marking the first time in the city’s 97-year history that an African American has held the position.

City Manager George Gretsas announced the promotion of Adderley, who was an assistant police chief, to lead the more than 480-member department.

“This is to inform you that today I will announce assistant Chief Frank Adderley's promotion to Chief of Police,” Gretsas wrote in an internal email sent to commissioners Thursday, hours before the official announcement.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said Adderley, 46, who grew up in the Sistrunk Boulevard area. “I’m a Fort Lauderdale native and been here my entire life, and I feel that I will be able to work with the community.”

The position became available just one day after former Police Chief Bruce Roberts announced his resignation on Wednesday. Roberts cited conflicts between himself and Gretsas over management of the department.

“This is my last day, but technically I’m on the clock until 5 p.m. today,” Roberts told the South Florida Times as he was leaving city hall on Thursday. “The ink on my resignation papers is still wet.’

Adderley is well respected in the department and is a highly decorated veteran of 28 years.

News of Adderley’s promotion met with positive responses from members of the community and city officials.

“I’m pleased with the manager’s selection and I’m hopeful that management and labor can sit down and move the city forward,” Mayor Jim Naugle said. “I’m very fond of Chief Roberts
and the city manager, but I think a lot of Frank and trust he will be able to move the city forward.”

During a 2007 interview  with the South Florida Times, Adderley said he became interested in law enforcement at a young age, and never strayed from that vision.

“When I went home and told my parents I wanted to be a police officer, they were reluctant, I think because of the danger and the relationship issues between blacks in the area and the police,” he said at the time.

Adderley joined the force in 1980 and excelled in his assignments, which have included patrols on Fort Lauderdale’s beach areas, work in the internal affairs division, in narcotics, and in undercover work.

He has also spent an extensive amount of time fighting crime in the city’s northwest Sistrunk corridor, where he grew up and went to school.

Among the commendations in his personnel file are more than 64 letters from members of the community and elected officials, all praising his work.

Over the years, Fort Lauderdale has had its share of race-related issues, including lawsuits over disparate hiring and promotional opportunities for blacks within the department.

Then there are the dozens of discrimination complaints and several lawsuits, one of which was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Observers say work conditions may never be perfect, but they have changed, and Adderley’s assent to the top of the department is the evidence.

“I really believe that he has the leadership to move the city of Fort Lauderdale police department forward,’’ said Germaine Smith-Baugh, president and CEO of the Urban League of Broward County.

Citing recent, tense contract negotiations between the city and the police union, Smith-Baugh said of the department, “They’re challenged, to say the least, in terms of morale. Somebody coming from the rank and file is actually a good thing.’’

Mathes Guice, a former first vice president of the Fort Lauderdale branch of the NAACP, agreed.

“I think it’s fantastic, particularly in Fort Lauderdale, with its history of problems with race relations,” Guice said, adding that the NAACP waged years of legal and social battles with the city over its policing practices in black neighborhoods.

“It’s great because I can remember those times when if a black person was arrested by Fort Lauderdale officers, it meant an automatic beating,” he said.

Guice said some of that was due to indifference, and the fact that no blacks held key positions in the department.

“This has been long in coming,’’ Guice said. “Wow, this is great.”

Adderley said that as a product of northwest Fort Lauderdale, he can help to improve relations between police and the black community.

“I feel that my appointment will make things better.” he said.

Photo: Frank Adderley