Despite apparent broad consensus among key stakeholders on proposals that have been public for in some cases decades, there is a lack of substantive movement on most fronts in terms of police reform here in Massachusetts.
With the current resurgence of interest around police accountability in the wake of the tragic killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor among so many countless others, a number of proposals and solutions have begun to circulate from many Organizations, Lawmakers and other key stakeholders. This info graphic seeks to show where there is overlap and consensus and identify the solutions that have the most support.
At the City Level, the solutions with the most support from our survey of policy proposals include a Civilian Review Board and Stronger CO-OP Board to oversee police misconduct which has been suggested since the St. Clair Commission Report released in 1992. There is still no civilian review in Boston and the CO-OP (Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel), a group of mayorally appointed experts who review and issue recommendations on Internal Affairs cases once they have been closed, remains un-empowered, undermanned and, since 2017 somewhat inactive despite promises from the Walsh administration to strengthen and expand the CO-OP dating back to 2017 and their own repeated recommendations on how the CO-Op should be strengthened.
The IAD process for investigating reports of police misconduct and civilian complaints was, again, as far back as 1992, found to be too slow, too complicated, with too many barriers to launch and complete a competent and effective investigation. Since then little has changed and IAD has failed to live up to the recommendation of a “90 day deadline for the investigation and resolution of all citizen complaints of police misconduct” which has been reiterated by the CO-OP from 2008-2015. Currently the BPD IA backlog means often complaints go unresolved for years. The CO-OP also recommended making the complaint forms available in multiple languages and in more places yet in 2020 the online complaint form is still wrapped in with the officer commendation form, collects very little information and offers no assurances of a commitment to justice, professionalism and accountability. The only other guidance from the BPD on how to file a complaint comes from their FAQ:
Q: How do I file a complaint against a Boston Police officer or Department employee?BPD FAQ
A: You may contact Internal Affairs at (617) 343-4320 or fill out an Internal Affairs Complaint Information Form. You may also contact or visit any district station to speak with a supervisor.
To our knowledge the only way to get a physical form is to go to a police station and the forms do not exist in multiple languages.
The other major city level area with broad agreement was in identifying the need for better deescalation, implicit bias and use of force training with specific and measurable rules of engagement. The BPD has responded saying it is going to update its use of force policies to comport with calls for reform made by protesters in Boston and across the country with the “8 can wait”. How consistently these standards will be implemented and enforced remains to be seen.
There have also been widespread calls in recent protests to “de-fund” or “dismantle” the police and reallocate these resources to other public services. While the Walsh administration has proposed to slashing the BPD overtime budget and redirecting it to other public services, how this will be carried out is something to watch out for.
At the State Level, Data Collection and Decertification or POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) rise to the top of our list with many proponents and to varying degrees. What the data should be used for and how to translate it into effective policy remains the subject of discussion but in a profession notoriously opaque and a group adherent to a culture of silence we can all agree there is a tremendous need for more information and transparency. On the subject of Decertifcation there seems to be a growing momentum. Since being introduced to Massachusetts in 2016, the idea for Police Decertification or POST took legislative form first in 2019 in H2146 by Rep. Holmes and Vieira which “Resolve[d] to provide for a “Special Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to study and make recommendations concerning the implementation of a statewide Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) system that certifies police officers and enable de-certification for misconduct and abuse. As of 6/10/20 Governor Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo separately announce[d] they are readying legislation on Police Decertification / POST but how soon these will become law remains to be seen.
On the Federal Level efforts focus on standardizing policies and tactics; the banning potentially deadly moves and practices like choke-holds and no-knock warrants have broad support. While efforts like these are included in potentially national legislation it is unclear how likely they are to pass both houses. The Department of Justice under Donald Trump has largely rolled back changes made under the Obama Administration responding to the Ferguson movement that emerged after the killing of 18 year old Michael Brown and “pulled back” on bringing civil rights violations cases against police departments. This signals a climate of push-back and “pull back” under the current leadership from the duties the DOJ traditionally is expected to uphold, to step in when local law enforcement is compromised. This throws into question how effective their efforts will be in investigating and informing the practices BPD and other local law enforcement agencies, something many agree is needed and some have pushed for since 2015.
The other major area of concern at the national or Federal Level is in the hands of the supreme court with Qualified Immunity, which essentially “permits law enforcement and other government officials to violate people’s constitutional rights with virtual impunity” under cover of the law. This was brought to the supreme court in 2018 but it is not clear when or if the court nor congress will take it up.
This is a critical time and while we are seeing some movement and progress on common sense issues that have sat idle for years we must not lose focus or be placated. Time and again our elected officials, law makers and policy makers, those with the power to hold our public servants accountable, have failed to cross the finish line and deliver meaningful reform to the people of Boston and beyond. We know what must be done. There is an abundance of energy that has gone into surfacing solutions for professionalism and integrity in policing. Now is the perfect time to bring them to the forefront and implement them lest we be distracted by the same kind of window dressing delays and platitudes that have maintained the status quo which continues to plague us now.