Joseph McNamara, the iconic former police chief who helped usher San Jose and its police force into an era of national prominence in public safety, died of cancer at 79, the San Jose Mercury News reports. McNamara was a fixture in police academia, and at the time of his death was a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “Joe was a rare person: a man who not only served as a revered police chief, but who had uncommon insights,” the institution said.
McNamara was San Jose chief from 1976 until his retirement in 1991. He earlier served as chief in Kansas City. He began his career as a Harlem beat cop for the New York Police Department. “He really laid the groundwork for turning an average police department struggling with community issues into one of the most progressive agencies in the country,” said former San Jose chief Rob Davis, who led the department from 2004 to 2010. Indeed, when McNamara came to San Jose, the department’s reputation was that of a brutish force, particularly in its dealing with minority communities. He is credited with making sweeping changes to professionalize the department.