In the 1950s, when Fort Lauderdale hired its first black police officers – Kermit McCoy Sr. and Richard Stebbins – black and white people were segregated, right down to law enforcement.
“Back then, a black police officer could not arrest a white citizen,” said Roy Brown, a retired Fort Lauderdale police officer and former president of the Fort Lauderdale Black Police Officer’s Association. “And to my understanding, this went on until the early ‘60s.”
Today, the police force is still seeking to fully embrace the diversity of a city that is 28.9 percent black, according to the latest population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet of the 496 Fort Lauderdale police officers, fewer than 10 percent are black, according to Nina Justice, the association president.
Still, the department’s appreciation of diversity has improved.
Franklin C. Adderley, 46, the first African-American police chief in the history of the department, was honored last weekend during a chief of police inaugural dinner celebration.
The Oct. 17 event, presented by the black police officers association, took place at Bahia Mar Beach Resort and Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale.
The association takes up charitable causes such as this Saturday’s breast cancer awareness luncheon at the Mizell Center on Sistrunk Boulevard, has donated to worthy causes such as the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, and recognizes black police officers for their outstanding achievements.
In front of a crowd of more than 300 people, members of the association joined others on Oct. 17 in openly expressing their adoration for Adderley, a 28-year veteran of the force and a Fort Lauderdale native.
Fort Lauderdale City Manager George Gretsas appointed Adderley as police chief on May 29. The position became available after former Chief Bruce Roberts submitted his resignation following tensions between himself and Gretsas.
“He knows the community, the city; his career accomplishments are numerous,” Gretsas said at the dinner, explaining his reasons for appointing Adderley. “He has received 65 department and public accommodations. So when it came down to the city’s future, I could only think of Frank.”
Gretsas said that as the city manager, he “pushed for diversity” and that the culture needs to change, “so we are rolling up our sleeves and making that happen.”
Adderley was an advocate of community policing before it became politically correct, said Kevin Allen, Adderley’s first partner. He described Adderley as a “networking genius” who quickly gained popularity among the business owners on the beach.
“He purchased a beeper and business cards, inviting them [business owners] to call him, a move that really paid off when we needed help,” Allen said.
Adderley said that at first he, as a rookie officer, felt that being on the force was about “chasing felons and fighting,” and that he spent numerous hours in a hospital lobby “filling out reports.”
But things changed, he said, when his fellow officers and coworkers took an interest in his career and developed him.
“They worked with me, showed me the importance of communication and dealing with people on a more personal level,” he said.
Few African Americans on the Fort Lauderdale police force have ever made it past the rank of captain.
“Frank was the first to become major, and then just continued up the ranks,” she said.
Major Anthony Williams, the emcee for the event, achieved the rank of major after Adderley did, said Alfred Lewers Jr., who retired from the police force as a lieutenant.
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.
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, some of which were 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.
Yet as Adderley’s career reached a high plateau, he faced challenges in his personal life.
Eleanor Leisa Adderley, 45, Adderley’s wife of 17 years, was arrested in the family’s home in Plantation on July 8 after discharging a 9-mm Beretta handgun owned by her husband.
Eleanor Adderley was charged with one count of shooting into an occupied dwelling and one count of aggravated assault after firing the gun several times in her husband’s direction during an argument in which Adderley admitted to having an affair.
Frank Adderley was not injured in the incident.
Eleanor Adderley was released from jail after her husband paid the $25,000 bond through her attorney. As a condition of her release, she is required to wear an electronic monitoring device. She must also stay away from her husband and his workplace, and must not have any contact with him. She did not attend the celebration in honor of her husband.
In a sworn affidavit in the Circuit Court of the 17th Judicial Circuit of Broward County, Adderley stated that he is willing to “participate in family counseling in order to resolve this delicate family matter,” and that he is “residing outside the family home while this matter is pending.”
The situation prompted a delay in the dinner celebration, which was originally scheduled for July 12.
But these circumstances did not deter people at the celebration from praising Adderley lavishly for his work.
One after another, high-ranking officers and city officials lauded his work, saying he clearly deserved his promotion from assistant chief.
Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Charlotte Rodstrom presented Adderley with a proclamation from the mayor and city commission designating Friday, Oct. 17, 2008 as Franklin C. Adderley Day.
“His career has really taken off,” Rodstrom said. “I’m glad to call him my friend.”
Margaret Rose, the Fort Lauderdale Police Officers Association president, presented Adderley with a ring for his service.
Lewers presented Adderley with a shadow box containing seven badges and ribbons Adderley has worn over the last 28 years.
Adderley said times were difficult when his parents first came to Fort Lauderdale: “They could not swim at the beaches, walk through certain neighborhoods, or drink from certain fountains.
“But now,” he continued, “all of their ‘cannots’ have turned into ‘cans’. Times have changed, and now I can go anywhere, including walking into city hall as the chief of police.”
Photo by Mychal McDonald. Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: The Fort Lauderdale Black Police Officer’s Association will sponsor a breast cancer awareness luncheon.
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25.
WHERE: Mizell Center, 1409 Sistrunk Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale.
CONTACT: Nina Justice, president of the Fort Lauderdale Black Police Officer’s Association, 954-294-0686 or firstname.lastname@example.org.