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Trailblazer in Blue

City honors Alexandria's first African-American police officer.

When Al Beverly joined the Alexandria Police Department in 1965, the entire force was white. Racial tensions were palpable, and Beverly was assigned to the community relations team. Police Chief Russell Hawes thought that he could work toward solving some of the racial divide in the city.

"Working with the community relations team was the most challenging part of my career," said Beverly, who now lives in King George County. "It was always a challenge."

At a special ceremony last week, the Alexandria Police Department honored Beverly's service to the city. Former colleagues, city dignitaries, friends and family gathered at the Masonic Temple to honor the city's first African-American police officer.

"There were many challenges confronting Alexandria and this individual," said Mayor Bill Euille, the city's first African-American mayor. After presenting Beverly with a proclamation declaring "Al Beverly Day," Euille reminded the former police officer of his legacy. "I want you to know that we still have a community relations team, and that's a credit to you."

Charles Samara, the current chief of police, congratulated Beverly and lauded his service to the community.

"This is like a historical lesson in many ways because this was one of the most turbulent times for the civil rights movement," Samara said. "Even though he didn't want to make history, that's exactly what he did."

Deputy Police Chief Earl Cook also praised Beverly's service.

"He led the way to a modern police force," Cook said. "I stand here today as a testament to that."

Gwen Robbins, Alexandria's first female African-American Police officer, served with Beverly in the 1970s and 1980s. She remembered him as a composed yet steady force.

"Al had a very calm demeanor — until it was time to crank it up, so to speak," Robbins said. "He was a very well respected officer."

BEVERYLY ACCEPTED the celebration with humility and a sense of humor. He regaled the audience at the Masonic Temple with stories about his early days on the force — how he had been pepper sprayed by white officers who didn't know he was on the force, how he helped control an unruly crowd when H. Rap Brown visited Alexandria, how the bylaws of the Police Association had to be changed to allow an African-American man to join.

"I could go on and on with stories," he said.

When one of his stories involving a homicide included graphic violence, some of the audience became uncomfortable. As his story progressed, members of the audience shot worried glances to each other. City Councilwoman Joyce Woodson buried her head in Vice Mayor Del Pepper's shoulder.

"I could go on and on," Beverly said again with a laugh.

State Sen. Patsy Ticer waved her hand in the air, exclaiming "No, no."

Beverly, a talented storyteller, quickly changed the subject and talked instead about his colleagues on the Alexandria Police Department, describing them as a committed and progressive team of professionals. He concluded his remarks by thanking his mother, who he said had been a source of inspiration.

"We have a tremendous amount of diversity in this city," said Ticer after the ceremony. "What this celebration shows is that Alexandria is really proud of its forward-looking history."