By Walt Hunter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Standing close to six-feet, three-inches tall, former Philadelphia First Deputy Police Commissioner James Clark was a big man in many ways, his friends and colleagues say.
He rose to the second highest post in the department, the first African American ever to attain the post of First Deputy Commissioner.
But Clark, who died Thursday, shortly after his 69th birthday, also loomed large in the eyes of those he commanded. Recognized as an aggressive, no-nonsense cop, his heart, friends say, was always with the community he dedicated his life to serving.
Praising Clark’s style of leadership, Ronald Oliver, then president of the Guardian Civic League, Philadelphia’s minority police organization, said in a 1989 Philadelphia Inquirer article, “He’s a hands-on guy. He was a person who had no problem going out to speak to community groups, which is important for commanders today. At one time commanders were aloof. Jimmy Clark was not that kind of guy. Jimmy is a very aggressive and sensitive commander.”
Clark’s rare mix of strength and sensitivity propelled his advancement through the department, moving up through the ranks, and helping smash barricades facing African Americans, women and other minorities when he first joined the department in 1964. He was promoted to corporal in 1971, sergeant in 1973 and lieutenant in 1978.
Advancing to Captain in 1985, Clark’s commands included Detective Headquarters, the North Central and Northwest Divisions. Promoted to inspector in February, 1989, he served as executive secretary to Willie Williams, the city’s first African American Police Commissioner.
Clark received many awards from the department and community for his service. His courage made headlines in 1975, when, as he was getting his haircut, off-duty, a gunman pointed a weapon in his face, demanding money. He calmly dropped his wallet on the floor, quietly pulling his weapon from under the barber’s apron, opening firing, killing the robber.
His role as First Deputy was a special assignment, giving him direct responsibility for being a department “watchdog”, pushing ethical standards and uncovering misconduct.
Retiring after 28 years in 1992, Clark never rested, taking on a huge new law enforcement challenge as the Police Chief of Chester, Delaware County. At the time, the city, plagued by crime and poverty, had slashed its budget, cutting 15 officers from the force. Clark vowed to tackle drug crime, bringing citizens into the fight with him. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time, “My first priority will certainly be protection of the citizens, making sure there will be patrol people on the streets to respond to and assist the citizens of Chester.”
Perhaps Clark’s greatest law-enforcement legacy: the service of his two sons. James Jr., who now commands the prestigious Homicide Unit, where he has led detectives during a time of unprecedented violence, achieving a record clearance rate of more than 80 percent of murders solved by arrest. Clark’s son, Chris, has served for a decade with the Pennsylvania State Police achieving the rank of corporal.
Services for the former First Deputy Commissioner will be at St. Simon’s Church at 22d and Reed Streets In South Philadelphia Thursday. Viewing is set from 9 to 10 a.m. with a service at 10 a.m.
In 1992, just prior to his promotion to the department’s second highest post, Clark, typically, was out in the community, attending a graduation ceremony for 80 Town Watch members in North Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, reporting on his appearance that night, stated, ”he is a towering man, at least six-foot-three, and the night’s hosts hailed him as a “giant in his own right.”
A big man, who set big goals, and brought big changes to the department he loved and served.
A perfect fit for former First Deputy Commissioner James Clark.