EITHER BOSTON has the best-behaved police officers in the country or residents don’t complain about treatment at the hands of police because they consider it a waste of time. The smart money is on the latter.
In 2010, residents filed just 138 complaints against the Boston Police, a force of more than 2,000 sworn officers. The police force in Portland, Ore. – roughly half the size of Boston’s – received almost three times that number of complaints for reasons ranging from rudeness to excessive use of force. In Denver, citizens filed 600 complaints against the city’s almost 1,500-member police force.
Boston police officers aren’t exactly choirboys. So what accounts for their suspiciously clean record? One answer could be the city’s longstanding resistance to a strong, independent monitor of the police. While other cities go to great lengths and costs to provide civilian oversight of the police and publicize its existence, Boston makes do with a stripped-down, three-member Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel that reviews only a small number of citizen complaints. And there’s not much urgency in its work. The board hasn’t met since November, and the terms of all its members have lapsed.