The Real Cop Behind Inspector Douglas Todd
Law enforcement is a hot topic in American news and entertainment. Whether we’re captivated by true crime podcasts or fictional primetime dramas like CSI or Law and Order, there is nary a member of the American public that cannot name a pop culture cop. Many actors donning badges on television and the silver screen have no experience in the field of law enforcement, but did you know that the actor behind Inspector Douglas Todd from the Beverly Hills Cop franchise was a former law enforcement officer?
Gilbert “Gil” Hill was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on November 5, 1931. He was raised by a single mother who moved her family to Washington, D.C., in the 1940s. After graduating from DC’s Cardozo High School in 1949, Hill wished to attend Howard University. This presented an impossible financial strain, however, so he instead joined the U.S. Air Force and soon found himself stationed at Selfridge Air Force Base outside of Detroit, Michigan. When Hill left the Air Force in 1953, he decided to remain in the Detroit area, and worked odd jobs for the next four years until his law enforcement career began.
Hill first joined the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department in 1957, but quickly became disillusioned by its rather slow pace. He left that role and joined the nearby Detroit Police Department in 1959. Ten years later, he found himself promoted to detective, and assigned to the Homicide division, where he rose to national attention for his ability to obtain confessions from the most notorious of killers. His talent was frequently sought beyond the city of Detroit: in 1979, he traveled to Atlanta where he helped to investigate the Atlanta Child Murders, which ultimately led to the conviction of Wayne Williams.
Gil Hill as Inspector Douglas Todd in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise. Image Source
In 1982, Hill was promoted to inspector-in-charge of the Homicide Division, and in 1989, he retired from the Detroit Police Department as commander. He was far from finished making his mark on the world, however, as he went on to become a city councilman in Detroit, and then president of the city council in 1997. Outside of Detroit he is best known for his short, but memorable acting career: it was Gil Hill who played Inspector Douglas Todd in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise—the boss of Eddie Murphy’s character Axel Foley. After his work in the franchise, he was offered additional acting work, but declined, stating he didn’t want to pursue acting as a career. When asked about his acting, Hill said that the only real difference between his famous character’s life and his own was that he did not curse as much in real life.
Gil Hill is fondly remembered for his service to the law enforcement community both on and off the screen. He died in Detroit on February 29, 2016 at the age of 84.
Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.