June 18, 2024

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Despite broad consensus on ideas; police reforms slow to take root

[Source: Mass Police Reform]

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?
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.

UPDATE: ACLUM hosts Panel on POST and Police Accountability

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.

Data Sources

Mass Police Reform (2015)


City Level

  • [CR] Establish a true civilian review board with subpoena power and total purview over not only misconduct but also budget, tactics, policy, promotion and priorities.
  • [CO] Restore and strengthen the CO-OP with subpoena power and ability to initiate their own investigations
  • [IA] Streamline the BPD complaint process and IA process to make it effective and eliminate barriers to citizens filing complaints such as lack of forms, translation and follow up with complainants and witnesses. Investigations should be conducted with greater transparency, thoroughness, objectivity, independently and within the 90 day timetable outline by the St. Clair Commission.
  • [UF] Update BPD’s Use of Force Policy, Training and Organizational Culture with clear rules of engagement and escalation and consequences for violation of protocol
  • [BC] Require BPD to use body-worn-cameras
  • [DI] Actively work to improve the diversity of BPD at all levels especially leadership

State Level

  • [SP] Establish an Office of the Special Police Prosecutor to prosecute cases of police abuse and misconduct
  • [SC] Establish a Statewide Commission on Policing
  • [CR] Establish state-mandated Civilian Review Boards for local police
  • [DC] Require statewide data collection on police abuse and misconduct
  • [PD] Establish a state-level decertification process

Federal Level

  • [LI] Investigate local police departments
  • [PO] Help local departments develop policies to reduce complaints, use of excessive/deadly force and corruption, implicit and racial bias training, harm reduction
  • [QI] Qualified Immunity must be challenged and reversed at the National Level / Supreme Court Level.

St. Clair Commission Findings (1992)


Leadership Issues

  1. Transition To A New Police Commissioner To Lead The Boston Police Department
  2. Impose Requirement of Minimum Civil Service Rank For Command Staff

Strategic Planning

  1. The New Commissioner Should Create A Centralized Strategic Planning Unit And Work With It To Develop A Comprehensive Long Term Strategic Plan For The Entire Department
  2. Once The Strategic Plan Is Developed, Efforts Should Be Made To Communicate Effectively The New Strategy To All Levels Within the Department And To The Public 
  3. The Department Should Increase The Resources It Devotes To Research And Planning So That The Commissioner, The Command Staff, And All Boston Police Officers Have the Information Necessary To Engage In Problem-Solving In An Informed and Coordinated Manner

Community and Problem Solving

  1. The Department Should Develop A New Community Policing Strategy That Works In Partnership With The Community.

Supervision and Performance Appraisals

  1. The Department Should Reevaluate Its Allocation Of Superior Officers To Increase The Number Of Patrol Supervisors And Reduce The Span Of Control In High Crime Areas.
  2. The Department Must Increase And Improve The Supervisory Training Provided To New Sergeants.
  3. The Department Must Develop A Policy And Procedures Manual And Revised Rules And Regulations For Patrolmen And Patrol Supervisors.
  1. The Department Must Develop And Implement A Performance appraisal System For All Police Officers And Civilian Employees Which Is Consistent With The Department’s New Strategic Plan.
  2. The Performance Appraisal System Adopted Should Allow Evaluation Of Individual Officer’s Performance And Provide Feedback Both To Officers And To The Department. 
  3. The Department Should Develop And Inclement Better Methods To Hold Bureaus, Areas r Divisions And Units Accountable For Achieving Goals And Objectives Consistent With The Department’s Overall Strategy Of Community Policing.
  4. The Department Should Restore a Department-Based Budgeting Process Such That Each Unit Commander Prepares An Annual Budget Request, Is Provided An Annual Budget, And Is Held Accountable For Managing That Budget.

Training Issues 

  1. The Department Should Immediately Begin A comprehensive Review Of Its Training Needs.
  2. The Department Should Make A Commitment to A True Community Policing Program And This Philosophy Should Be Infused Into All Programs Presented At The Academy.
  3. The Department Should Revise And Expand The Existing Curriculum For Mid-Level Supervisory Training. This New Curriculum Should Include A Major Emphasis On Supervisory Skills Training, Accountability And Management Issues.
  4. The Department Must Make A Commitment To In-Service Training. Accurate Records Should Be Maintained Of Attendees And A Curriculum Which Meets Statutory Requirements And The Pressing Training Needs Of The Department’s Officers Must Be Developed And Implemented.
  5. The Facilities Of The Boston Police Academy Must Be Updated To More Adequately Serve The Training Needs Of The Department’s Officers. Particular Emphasis Should Be Placed On Increased computerization Of The Curriculum And Administration Of The Academy. 
  6. The Field Training Officer Program Should Be Placed Under The Jurisdiction Of The Training Academy And Instructors In This Program, Like All Academy Instructors, Should Be Subject To Regular Review And Evaluation Of Their Work.
  7. This Committee Has Been Impressed With The Offers Of Assistance From Faculty At Various Local Academic Institutions. The Department Should Take Advantage Of These Offers Of Assistance Particularly In The Areas Of Curriculum Development And As Presenters.
  8. The New Police Commissioner And Command Staff Should Consider The Reassignment Of The Former Academy Commander To His Previous Post As The Department Strives To Best Take Advantage Of The Strengths Available Within The Department.

Information Technology And Management Information Systems

  1. The Department Must Commit Itself to Developing and Implementing Sophisticated Management Information Technology Throughout The Department. In Order To Accommplish This:
    a) The New Commissioner Must Have An Appreciation For The Potential For Information Technology To Affect Police Department Operations And Performance.
    b) The Department Should Form A Steering Committee To Focus on Developing Management Information Systems And Identifying Emerging Information Technology That Would Benefit The Department.
  2. Police Department Information Systems Should Be Designed To Provide Measures On The Performance Of Each Unit Within The Police Department And For The Department As A Whole. These Performance Indicators Should Routinely Be Made Available To Supervisors And Administrators Within The Department, And With Proper Safeguards On Confidentially, Indicators Should Also Be Made Available To The City Council And The Public.
  3. The City And The Department Need To Devote More Consistent Funding To Information Technology Projects.

Community Appeals Board 

  1. After a comprehensive review of the Department’s handling of citizen complaints against police officers, the Committee has concluded that a limited Community Appeals Board must be created to oversee the investigation of IAD cases to ensure that they are thorough and timely and that the Department’s conclusion is consistent with the facts presented.

Recommendations for Improving the IAD Process

  1. The Department Should Establish A New Centralized Process For Investigating Citizen Complaints
  2. Once The Reorganization Of The Citizen Complaint Process Is Completed, The Department Should Develop Written Guidebooks In Several Languages That Explain The New Process And Complainants’ Rights When Dealing With The

Boston Police Department

  1. 1IAD Needs An Infusion Of Talented, Experienced Investigators And Improved Supervisory Practices To Ensure Thorough, High Quality Investigations
  2. To Attract, Reward And Protect Officers ??ho Work In The New IAD, These Officers Should Be Given Choice Of Their Next Assignment If They Request A Transfer After Working Three Or More Years In IAD.
  3. A Deadline of 90 Days Should Be Imposed For The Investigation And Resolution Of All Citizen Complaints Of Police Misconduct
  4. The New IAD Must In^rove Its Documentation And Record Keeping

Deadly Force and Non-Fatal Police Shooting Cases

  1. The New Proposed Joint Investigation Of Deadly Force Cases In Boston Utilizing Boston Police Detectives But An Independent Lab For The Analysis Of Forensic Evidence Makes Sense And Should Be implemented . 
  2. This New Joint Approach Should Be Extended To Cases Involving Non-Fatal Shootings By Boston Police Officers By Way Of Changes In The BPD’s Internal Rules And Regulations.

Massachusetts Racial and Gender Profiling Study (2004)


  1. All law enforcement agencies, as a part of good professional police practices, should establish a system to collect and monitor data on all traffic stop activity. 
  2. Following national models for traffic stop data collection, a uniform set of data elements to be collected on all stops should be identified. It is important that any new data collection system include information on officer identification and the location of the stop in the required data collection elements. Additionally a specific timetable for data collection, auditing and reporting should be established. 
  3. All local police agencies should begin or continue a conversation with members of their community about the existence of disparities in traffic stops, the goals of traffic enforcement and strategies to monitor and reduce such disparities. 
  4. Local community groups and representatives can assist departments that express a sincere willingness to work on the issue by gathering participants who could provide meaningful feedback to police agencies about the goals of traffic enforcement and the levels of disparity identified in the report.

Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel Reports (2008-2015)

[Source: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2015 Letter]

Internal Affairs and Complaint Process

  • All conclusions contained in an investigative report should be substantiated by facts obtained during the investigation.
  • There should be a more serious and concerted attempt to follow-up with witnesses or complaining parties when there is no response to notices that are sent to them. This follow-up should include a visit to the home if necessary.
  • A statement of the reason for not sustaining a complaint should be provided to the complainant in the final letter they receive from the Superintendent.
  • A study should be conducted by an independent researcher to determine the reasons numerous individuals are not exercising the right to appeal.
  • Complaint forms should be made available at locations other than a police station. Serious consideration should be given to the complaint form being translated into languages other than English. 
  • All complainants should be notified, in writing, and at 90-day intervals, of the status and progress of their investigations.
  • A uniform procedure should be implemented to insure that, during internal affairs investigative interviews, all departmental employees are notified of the department’s zero tolerance policy towards untruthfulness and of the consequences for failure to comply. 


  • Officers should be trained and instructed to avoid actions which may “escalate” encounters with citizens or create unnecessary dangers. 
  • Citizens should be made aware of the reason an officer has stopped them when that information is requested. 

Structure of CO-OP

  • It is important that investigators respond in a timely and thorough manner to questions raised and inquiries made by panel members. 
  • The Superintendent should regularly monitor the implementation of recommendations from the Panel and provide periodic updates to the Panel. 
  • If the number of cases appealed remains low, some adjustment upward in the number of random cases that are reviewed should be considered. 
  • The Panel should be able to review a limited number of sustained cases so that they can obtain a more balanced perspective of the entire operation in IAD. 
  • There should be a clear understanding of the need for transparency of data in regard to number, types and outcome of complaints. 
  • The Complaint Mediation Program that was originally envisioned and incorporated into the Mayor’s Executive order should be implemented. 
  • The Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel should have an operating budget so that basic decisions in regard to training, research, communications, public relations, and data collection can be done in a more efficient and independent manner. 

Policies & Procedures

  • The department should amend the Use of Force Policy, Rule 304, to require, explicitly, the reporting of any use of force, by any means that results in either obvious injury or a request for medical treatment.
  • The department should incorporate the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Glik v. Cunniffe into its recruit and in-service training curricula to ensure that officers respond appropriately to citizen use of cell phone cameras and similar devices to record officers in the performance of their duties.
  • The department should continue strict enforcement of Rule 327A, which governs the department’s response to allegations of domestic violence against sworn officers, and should offer additional support to affected officers such as counseling and/or an Employee Assistance Program.
  • The department should amend Special Order 97-35, which prohibits officers from issuing motor vehicle citations relating to traffic incidents in which they are involved, to specifically encompass and prohibit officers from issuing parking tickets in similar circumstances.


  • Establishment of City of Boston Community Office of Police Accountability (COPA)
  • Citizen Complaints: Filing, Intake and Screening 
  • Investigation of Citizen Complainants
  • Resolution of Complaints: We recommend that the City establish a Police Review Board and appoint at least 7 but no more than 11 “board members” 
  • Civilian Oversight
  • Use of Force Investigations

ACLUM Legislation (2019)


Working to pass legislation (S.1378/H.3454) to require data collection on racial profiling for traffic stops, and the inclusion of data collection in the “hands free driving” bill (S.2216).

NAACP Demands Update (5/31/2020)



  • A ban on the use of knee holds and chokeholds as an acceptable practice for police officers.
  • The Use of Force Continuum for any police department in the country must ensure that there are at least 6 levels of steps, with clear rules on escalation.
  • Each State’s Open Records Act must ensure officer misconduct information and disciplinary histories are not shielded from the public.
  • Recertification credentials may be denied for police officers if determined that their use of deadly force was unwarranted by federal guidelines.
  • Implementation of Citizen’s Review Boards in municipalities to hold police departments accountable and build public confidence.

The Massachusetts Elected Officials of Color Ten Point Plan (6/4/20)


Ten-Point Plan to Address Police Violence and Advance Racial Justice (PDF)


  1. Pass Congresswoman Pressley’s Resolution to condemn police brutality, racial profiling and the excessive use of force.
  2. Improve oversight and independent investigations to hold individual law enforcement officers and police departments accountable. 
  3. Department of Justice must reassert its statutory authority to investigate individual instances of racial profiling, police brutality and violence and investigate and litigate individual law enforcement officers and police departments routinely violating civil rights. 
  4. Adopt sound and unbiased law enforcement policies at all levels of government that reduce the disparate impact of police brutality, racial profiling and use of force on Black and Brown people and other historically marginalized communities. 


  1. Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST): Resolve to provide for a “Special Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training” to study and make recommendations concerning the implementation of a Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) system, H2146 Reps Holmes and Vieira; Reported favorably now with Rules Committee; Establishes a statewide POST system to certify police officers and enable de-certification for misconduct and abuse. 
  2. Civil Service Exam Review and Oversight: An Act to Reform Civil Service Exams, H2292 Rep Holmes; Currently sent to study, but could be added to Outside Section of the Budget; Establishes an Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity to establish guidelines and review for diversity plans for all state agencies, Establishes a peace officer exam advisory board to review examinations for appointment and promotion of peace officers. 
  3. Commission on Structural Racism: An Act establishing a special commission on structural racism, H1440, Holmes; Currently sent to study, but could be added to Outside Section of the Budget; Establishes a commission to study how the systemic presence of institutional racism has created a culture of structural racial inequality which has exacerbated disproportionate minority contact with the criminal justice system in Massachusetts. 
  4. Adopt clear statutory limits on police use of force, including choke-holds and other tactics known to have deadly consequences. Require independent investigation of officer-related deaths. Require data collection and reporting on race, regarding all arrests and police use of force by every department. In drafting; to be filed by Rep. Liz Miranda soon. 


  1. Declaring Racism is a Public Health Crisis and worthy of treatment, assessment and financial investment in order to eradicate negative health impacts. 
  2. Create a Civil Review Board/Commission with subpoena power to investigate allegations of law enforcement wrongdoing. 

Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (6/7/20)


  • Grant power to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to issue subpoenas to police departments as part of “pattern or practice” investigations into whether there has been a “pattern and practice” of bias or misconduct by the department
  • Provide grants to state attorneys general to “create an independent process to investigate misconduct or excessive use of force” by police forces
  • Establish a federal registry of police misconduct complaints and disciplinary actions
  • Enhance accountability for police officers who commit misconduct, including by restricting the application of the qualified immunity doctrine, and by changing the federal statute on police violation of constitutional rights to lower the standard of criminal intent from violation conducted “willfully” to a violation “knowingly or with reckless disregard”
  • Require federal uniformed police officers to have body-worn cameras
  • Require marked federal police vehicles to be equipped with dashboard cameras.
  • Require state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding to “ensure” the use of body-worn and dashboard cameras.
  • Restrict the transfer of military equipment to police (see 1033 program, militarization of police)
  • Require state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding to adopt anti-discrimination policies and training programs, including those targeted at fighting racial profiling
  • Prohibit federal police officers from using chokeholds or other carotid holds (which led to the deaths of George Floyd and Eric Garner), and require state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding to adopt the same prohibition
  • Prohibit the issuance of no-knock warrants (warrants that allow police to conduct a raid without knocking or announcing themselves) in federal drug investigations, and provide incentives to the states to enact a similar prohibition.
  • Change the threshold for the permissible use of force by federal law enforcement officers from “reasonableness” to only when “necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury.”
  • Mandate that federal officers use deadly force only as a last resort and that de-escalation be attempted, and condition federal funding to state and local law enforcement agencies on the adoption of the same policy.

About The Author

Jake is an artist / graphic and web designer.

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