Reform Overview
Target: City of Boston / Boston Police Department

The Boston Police Department has long history of troubled community relations, especially in communities of color. Incidents of officer misconduct and the investigations that follow can be lengthy and often result in no justice for the vicitms or their family. In some cases, officers who have been involved in a numerous controversial incidents have been awarded by the BPD rather than disciplined. Learn More. This only widens the gulf of trust that exists between the BPD and community. The reforms listed below are the result of a series of community forums enetitled ‘Black and Blue: The Relationship Between the BPD and Communities of Color’ held in Roxbury October 2014 and April 2015.

Reform Goals

  • Restore good faith of community in BPD, repair disconnect and increase public trust.
  • Establish and maintain “Police Legitimacy” using the practice of “Procedural Justice”
  • Transform BPD’s organization and culture as it relates to deadly force, excessive force and police brutality
  • Update BPD’s Use of Force Policy to meet or exceed current national standards
  • Require De-escalation training for officers and include an evaluation component.
  • Improve Police Accountability
  • Improve Diversity

Proposed Reforms

  1. ✓ Achieved Establish a true civilian review board
  2. ✓ Achieved Restore and strengthen the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel (CO-OP)
  3. ✓ Achieved Streamline the BPD complaint process and Internal Affairs invetigatory process
  4. ✓ Achieved Update BPD’s Use of Force Policy, Training and Organizational Culture
  5. ✓ Achieved Require BPD to use body-worn-cameras
  6. ✓ Achieved Actively work to improve the diversity of BPD at all levels
  7. In Progress Implementation of Boston Police Task Force Recommendations

1. Establish a True Civilian Review Board

Update December 2022 ✓ Achieved

After decades of work Boston has implemented true civilian oversight as part of the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency under the recommendation of the Boston Police Task Force which were delivered October 2020. These reforms are currently being implemented and it is essential we remain engaged if they are to be effective and meaningful.

City of Boston Office of Police Accountability and Transparency Official Website

For years citizens and organizations have demanded a civilian review board. When public political pressure was at its height former Mayor Menino initiated the CO-OP (Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel) in efforts to appease the public and stave off public criticism. BOSTON NEEDS AN ACTUAL CIVILIAN REVIEW BOARD. This board should be made of 8-12 members of the general public from all walks of life reflecting the diversity of Boston and not appointed by the Mayor. Members should be nominated and/or apply and once chosen should be provided basic training in BPD standard operational procedures, the Internal Affairs process and BPD regulations as it pertains to conduct, excessive force and deadly force.

Note: For a listing of civilian review boards across the country as of 2007 see Roster of U.S. Civilian Oversight Agencies

From “Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual” ACLU Report | December 1, 1997 | section 4; goal 1

Civilian review works, if only because it’s at least a vast improvement over the police policing themselves. Nearly all existing civilian review systems:

  • reduce public reluctance to file complaints
  • reduce procedural barriers to filing complaints
  • enhance the likelihood that statistical reporting on complaints will be more complete
  • enhance the likelihood of an independent review of abuse allegations
  • foster confidence in complainants that they will get their “day in court” through the hearing process
  • increase scrutiny of police policies that lead to citizen complaints
  • increase opportunities for other reform efforts.

Why Is Civilian Review Important?

Civilian review establishes the principle of police accountability. Strong evidence exists to show that a complaint review system encourages citizens to act on their grievances. Even a weak civilian review process is far better than none at all.

A civilian review agency can be an important source of information about police misconduct. A civilian agency is more likely to compile and publish data on patterns of misconduct, especially on officers with chronic problems, than is a police internal affairs agency.

Civilian review can alert police administrators to the steps they must take to curb abuse in their departments. Many well-intentioned police officials have failed to act decisively against police brutality because internal investigations didn’t provide them with the facts.

Ten Principles For An Effective Civilian Review Board

  1. Independence. The power to conduct hearings, subpoena witnesses and report findings and recommendations to the public.
  2. Investigatory Power. The authority to independently investigate incidents and issue findings on complaints.
  3. Mandatory Police Cooperation. Complete access to police witnesses and documents through legal mandate or subpoena power.
  4. Adequate Funding. Should not be a lower budget priority than police internal affairs systems.
  5. Hearings. Essential for solving credibility questions and enhancing public confidence in process.
  6. Reflect Community Diversity. Board and staff should be broadly representative of the community it serves.
  7. Policy Recommendations. Civilian oversight can spot problem policies and provide a forum for developing reforms.
  8. Statistical Analysis. Public statistical reports can detail trends in allegations, and early warning systems can identify officers who are subjects of unusually numerous complaints.
  9. Separate Offices. Should be housed away from police headquarters to maintain independence and credibility with public.
  10. Disciplinary Role. Board findings should be considered in determining appropriate disciplinary action. The existence of a civilian review agency, a reform in itself, can help ensure that other needed reforms are implemented. A police department can formulate model policies aimed at deterring and punishing misconduct, but those policies will be meaningless unless a system is in place to guarantee that the policies are aggressively enforced.

Case Study: Tucson, Arizona

In Tucson, Arizona, a Citizens’ Police Advisory Review Board (CPARB) was incorporated into the city’s municipal code in July 1990. Composed of both civilian and police representatives, it has the authority to initiate investigations of controversial incidents or questionable policies, and other oversight functions.

Note: Tucson also has an Independent Police Auditor established as an external source to audit citizen complaint investigations

(Created by the Tucson Code, Sec. 10A-86)

Functions of the Tucson, Arizona CPARB

  1. Consult with the governing body from time to time as may be required by the Mayor and [City] Council.
  2. Assist the police in achieving a greater understanding of the nature and causes of complex community problems in the area of human relations, with special emphasis on the advancement and improvement of relations between police and community minority groups.
  3. Study, examine and recommend methods, approaches and techniques to encourage and develop an active citizen-police partnership in the prevention of crime.
  4. Promote cooperative citizen-police programs and approaches to the solutions of community crime problems, emphasizing the principal that the administration of justice is a responsibility which requires total community involvement.
  5. Recommend procedures, programs and/or legislation to enhance cooperation among citizens of the community and police.
  6. Strive to strengthen and ensure throughout the community the application of the principle of equal protection under the law for all persons.
  7. Consult and cooperate with federal, state, city and other public agencies, commissions and committees on matters within the committee’s charge.
  8. The committee may ask for and shall receive from the Police Department, a review of action taken by the Department in incidents which create community concern or controversy.
  9. The committee shall have the authority, should it so desire, to use a specific incident as a vehicle for the examination of police policies, procedures and priorities.
  10. At the discretion and express direction of the Mayor and Council, assume and undertake such other tasks or duties as will facilitate the accomplishment of these goals and objectives.

Additional Resources


  • The City of Boston and Boston Police Department are currently taking no action to address this issue.

2. Restore and strengthen the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel (CO-OP)

Update December 2022 ✓ Achieved

Via the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency under the recommendation of the Boston Police Task Force the CO-OP has been upgraded to the IAOP which has investigative subpoena powers.

City of Boston Office of Police Accountability and Transparency Official Website

The CO-OP was established by Mayor Menino by executive order in 2007.

The panel is an independent group made up of three civilians appointed by the Mayor. The panel members have experience in law and criminal justice. The current members are:

We advocate to begin the process to grant the CO-OP:

  • Subpoena powers
  • The ability to initiate its own investigations and launch a citywide awareness campaign to alert the public to its mission and existence

The community needs both a Civilian Review Board and the CO-OP to work together in tandem on issues of police misconduct.


Additional Resources


3. Streamline the BPD Complaint Process and Internal Affairs Investigatory Process

Update December 2022 ✓ Achieved

The complaint process has been strengthened and made more accessible via Office of Police Accountability and Transparency under the recommendation of the Boston Police Task Force.

City of Boston Office of Police Accountability and Transparency Official Website

While an investigation can be triggered by filling out a BPD Internal Affairs Complaint Form, the process is cumbersome and burdonsom for the citzen. Additionally investigations are lengthy at best and often unresolved. The process needs to be streamlined and optimized.

Additional Resources


  • The BPD Currently has no plans to alter its Complaint or IA Investigation process.

4.Update BPD’s Use of Force Policy, Training and Organizational Culture

Update December 2022 ✓ Achieved

While true cultural transformation takes time we have made great strides with the recommendation of the Boston Police Task Force. Now it is a matter of how these recommendations are implemented.

Boston Police Task Force Final Recommendations

The BPD should establish an annual requirement for officers at the rank of Sergeant and below to undergo a minimum number of hours of de-escalation training and formalize assessments of de-escalation tactics in Advanced Officer Skills Training (AOST) and Reality-Based Training (RBT). BPD should also devote a significant portion of its defensive tactics training to de-escalation.

The ACLU reccomends training improvements in Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual.

  • You should aim for a first-rate police academy curriculum. The curriculum should be near the high end of the current scale — 800 hours or more. It should include a mix of classroom and supervised field training.
  • It should include training in violence reduction techniques. In addition to being given weapons and taught how to use them, police recruits should also learn special skills — especially communications skills — to help them defuse and avert situations that might lead to the necessary use of force.
  • It should include community sensitivity training. Training recruits to handle issues of special significance in particular communities can lead to a reduction in community-police tensions.

Additional Resources


  • The BPD Currently has no plans to alter its training.

5. Require BPD to Use Body-Worn-Cameras

Update December 2022 ✓ Achieved

Calls for a continuation of the pilot program of Body-Worn Cameras has been in place since June 2019. The Boston Police Task Force has further supported the expansion of this program.

BPD Body Camera Program

The ACLU of Massachusetts believes that body-worn cameras—along with police-civilian receipts, better training, and better data—can be an important step towards greater oversight and accountability of police officers.

We urge cities and towns across Massachusetts to adopt body-worn camera programs that follow three core principles: accountability, privacy, and transparency.

Additional Resources


  • The BPD has started a 6-month pilot program with 100 officers. Learn more

6. Actively Work to Improve the Diversity of BPD at All Levels

Update December 2022 ✓ Achieved

This is part of sweeping recommendations made by the Boston Police Task Force and included hiring, promotion and career development practices such as preference for graduates from the Boston Common Compact system of schools, changes to the Civil Service Exam and more.

Boston Police Task Force Final Recommendations

The Massachusetts Association of Afro-American Police (MAAAP) was founded in Boston, by Black Police Officers from the Boston and Metropolitan District Commission Police Departments in 1968 and now goes under Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO). Their mission is to actively work with the Boston Police Department and other Law Enforcement Agencies to improve the recruitment, hiring, and career advancement of minority candidates and officers interested in or already working in the field of Law Enforcement.

Goals and Objectives

  • To secure all legal rights and affirmative action goals and privileges for minorities.
  • Endeavor to improve law enforcement relationships with the communities at large.
  • Evaluation of policies and programs within the criminal justice system and their effect upon the communities at large.
  • To establish the free and rapid flow of pertinent information or promotional and educational opportunities which are available to all members and the community.
  • To elevate, protect and work for the good and welfare of the membership and community at large.
  • To encourage and aid in the enlistment of minorities into the law enforcement/criminal justice profession.
  • To encourage the closer association of law enforcement officers in Boston and surrounding cities and towns; to promote peaceful community relations.
  • To provide a fraternal bond between law enforcement officers from different states, cities or municipalities.
  • To help improve the general welfare of its members, morally, spiritually, culturally and educationally; and to strive to serve in a more courteous, efficient, intelligent and professional manner.

Additional Resources


  • MAMLEO has been working on these issues since 1968.

How You Can Help

Contact the Mayor, your City Councilor and the BPD in support of these reforms.

7. Implementation of OPAT and Boston Police Task Force Recommendations

In Progress

Now that the Boston Police Task Force Final Recommendations have been issues and adopted they must be implemented. Please review the recommendations to find out how you can support this.