Cop Commish Ben Ward dies at hospital in Flushing

Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like TimesLedger on Facebook.

Benjamin Ward, the city’s first black police commissioner and longtime Beechhurst resident, died Monday in the hospital at the age of 75.

Ward, who suffered from chronic asthma, was found unconscious in his Cryder House apartment on Powell’s Cove Boulevard Friday and rushed to New York Hospital Queens in Flushing.

“The cause of death is still undetermined,” said Cynthia Miska, a spokeswoman for NYHQ.

Ward was remembered as an influential figure in Queens and throughout the city.

“Ben Ward wrote history when he became the city’s first black police commissioner,” said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, the first black person to hold a boroughwide office in Queens. “He was an outstanding public servant who made a difference in the daily lives of all New Yorkers.”

In a statement, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Ward “served our city with dignity and dedication and he will be sorely missed.”

Carla Rogers, who lived with her husband across the hall from Ward’s family in Cryder House for several years, remembered both his health problems and his personality.

“He had asthma quite often, and he really had a battle with it,” she said. “He was a very nice man and a lovely neighbor.”

Ward was born in the Weeksville section of Brooklyn, one of 11 children.

Ward’s father died when Ward was a teenager, and his mother supported her children by working as a cleaning woman.

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Ward joined the New York Police Department in 1951. He started off as a traffic officer and faced discrimination as the only black member of his Brooklyn precinct, where he was not given a locker and rarely allowed to ride in police cars.

After working his way up the ranks in the NYPD, Ward became New York state’s commissioner for correctional services in 1975. Three years later, he took charge of the city Housing Authority police. The following year Ward became the city corrections commissioner, which made him the city’s highest-ranked black official.

At the end of 1983, Mayor Edward Koch appointed Ward as the first black commissioner of the city’s police.

“It’s not going to make me succeed, but it’s not going to make me fail either,” Ward said of his race in his first day as police commissioner.

Ward, who retired in 1989, served the city during a time of escalating crime rates led by the crack epidemic.

He also led the city’s police in times of racial unrest. During Ward’s term, Bernard Goetz, who is white, shot four black teenagers in a city subway. Michael Griffith, a 23-year-old black man, was hit and killed by a car after being chased in Howard Beach by a group of white teenagers wielding baseball bats.

In a television interview Tuesday, Koch praised Ward for his handling of the job during his administration.

“He was a man of extraordinary courage, not afraid of anything or anybody,” Koch said.

Ward is survived by his wife, Olivia, his daughters, Jacquelyn, Margie and Mary, and his sons, Gregory and Benjamin, Jr.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like TimesLedger on Facebook.

Reader feedback

Paul from Brooklyn says:
Ben, I am sure did a good job, and deserves credit for his hard work, and success. However, wrongly the target of racism as an up and coming policeman, and he stood his ground. He is courageous, but how does a man deal with this? Does he have anger towards others in the present, when it was those in his past as a police officer,who did not treat him right. Is there unresolved issues that are resolved on the backs on officers who are not amongst the minority. Why not? Do you think that minorityofficers were treated the as the infractions committed by white officers; what were the dispositions? As far as discipline is concerned. I would like to see the files of the officers compared, minority to white officers. I hope not but lets check the record. Nobody's perfiect
Dec. 29, 2012, 10:34 am

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

Community News Group

Don’t miss out!

Stay in touch with the stories people are talking about in your neighborhood:

Optional: Help us tailor our newsletters to you!