Joseph D. McNamara, the police chief whoÂ created San Jose's reputation for having one of the most progressive police departments in the country,Â has died.
Reports say he died in his sleep in his Monterey home. He was 79 and coming off of a years-long battle with cancer.
Former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery praised McNamara's contributions to the city and police department in an email.
"No one helped propel San Jose into the upper echelon of good cities and the best PD in the nation more than McNamara: community policing, recruitment and promotion of minorities and women, neighborhood involvement; a PD that looked [out for] and cared about the community. He was a Chief and person we could all learn from and our City should profit from his example,"Â McEnery wrote.
McNamara served as chief of the San Jose Police Department from 1976 until retiring in 1991. He later became a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
In 1986, theÂ Los Angeles Times noted thatÂ he was a "surprisingly well-liked cop for being a Harvard-educated gun control advocate":
McNamara's distaste for using guns has been constant through his career, even though it has contributed to his reputation as a "controversial" police chief. It led to his resignation in 1976 as Kansas City chief of police after a turbulent three-year term there, and it was a major issue in the power struggle he waged with his own officers during his first four years in San Jose. This time, however, McNamara emerged with enhanced authority, a revitalized police department and a reputation as the most progressive police chief in the United States.
Having quelled the fires in his own backyard, McNamara has since turned some of his attention to national issues. In the past year he has repeatedly appeared on network television to argue for tighter gun control laws, and in the process has become a bete noire of the National Rifle Assn., whose lawyers twice in the last eight months have threatened to sue him.
McNamara brings imposing credentials to the gun control debate. He is one of the few police chiefs in the country with a Ph.D. (a doctorate in public administration from Harvard in 1973). He is the author of three books, including a best-selling detective novel, "The First Directive," and a crime-prevention manual called "Safe and Sane." He is even an accomplished horticulturist, caring for 23 varieties of roses at his San Jose home. Cops and roses may not seem to mix, but the combination underlines what an unusually peaceable policeman McNamara is.
McNamara was raised in the Bronx, where his father was a policeman.Â But he wasn't too keen on following in his dad's footsteps at first. He wanted to be a baseball player, according to theÂ LA Times.Â But he did eventually take the police civil service test, finishing first out of 140,000 applicants. He took a job as a beat cop in Harlem, where he saw firsthand the damaging effects of racism.
"You're dealing with the results of prejudice and deprivation every day," he told the LA Times. "I developed an enormous amount of sympathy for the underdog because of those years of experience."
That awareness followed him through his career.
When McNamaraÂ took his post in San Jose in 1976, the city's police were embroiled in charges of brutality and racism. He immediately implemented affirmative action, disciplined officers for excessive use of force and racism and required them toÂ develop a civil relationship with the public.
"Generations of San Jose community members mourn the loss of Chief Joe McNamara, whose leadership and service left an indelible mark o our city's human landscape," Councilman Sam Liccardo wrote in a statement Friday. "Chief McNamara's work in rebuilding trust between officers and the neighborhoods, in diversifying the SJPD workforce and in implementing community-based policing made San Jose a safer place. Thousands of officers and residents walked a little taller as a result of Chief MaNamara's decades of leadership."