Former Boston Police Chief Robert DiGrazia speaks with another officer during his tenure with the department (Boston Police Department)
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Robert diGrazia, a Boston police icon with Lynn ties, has died

Robert J. diGrazia, who served as Boston's Police Commissioner during a turbulent time in the city's history, died Thursday at 90.

The top cop led the Boston Police Department during the 1970s as the city was under a controversial federal ruling to desegregate its schools.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Garrity ordered African American students be bused to predominantly white schools and white students to black schools to integrate Boston's segregated schools. The beginning of forced busing was met with massive protests, particularly in South Boston and Charlestown, the city's predominantly Irish-Catholic neighborhoods, where buses carrying African American children were struck with eggs, bricks, and bottles while police in combat gear fought the angry white mobs.

"Bob was the guy on the ground during busing and would not tolerate violence against school children and didn't care if powerful people opposed busing," said former Boston City Councilor Lawrence DiCara who was on the council during diGrazia's tenure. "He and Mayor Kevin White, to their credit, believed their primary job was to ensure the safety of school children."

His son, Robert P. diGrazia, lives in Lynn, where he raised a family including his daughter, Daily Item reporter Bella, 22, and Tyler, a 28-year-old nursing student.

The busing controversy took a toll on the family, his son said.

"Those were tumultuous times and lots of people in Southie and Charlestown were unhappy with my father because he was carrying out the law," he said. "But he wanted to make sure no one got hurt, especially the kids."

DiCara recalled diGrazia was an outsider and perhaps the first police commissioner who was not Irish.

"He was hired to shake things up," he said. "He hired black cops and routinely visited minority neighborhoods, something that had never been done before. Some people thought he was great, and a whole lot of guys in uniform didn't."

San Francisco native who retired to Florida, diGrazia was police superintendent in St. Louis County, Mo. when he was tapped by White to be commissioner. He served from 1972 until his resignation in 1977 to become police chief in Montgomery County, Maryland.

In a tweet, the Boston Police Department wrote: "On behalf of Commissioner Evans and the men and women of the BPD, we offer our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of former Commissioner Robert J. diGrazia."

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