By The Boston Police Reform Task Force
The inequitable policing of people of color has been a persistent issue throughout this country’s history. Beginning with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, a public consciousness began to form. While initial awareness gave rise to some level of police reform, the necessary systemic changes were never fully implemented. With each subsequent incident of excessive force perpetuated upon unarmed black men and women, the injustice was thrust back into the spotlight, reigniting calls for reform that too often fell upon deaf ears. The tragic and gruesome death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, following the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in her bed by a police officer on March 13, 2020, however, resonated in a way no prior incidents have. People across the country took to the streets in protest in record numbers. This time, the movement sustained longer than a news cycle and calls for reform moved beyond talk, as cities and states across the country began taking more consequential action.
In response to concerns and cries for justice, Mayor Martin J. Walsh convened the Boston Police Reform Task Force (the “Task Force”) to examine key policy areas of the Boston Police Department (“BPD”), determine the changes that were needed to combat systemic racism, and deliver recommendations to address those areas. To our knowledge, never before has a Mayor so publicly called for and repeatedly expressed his commitment to implementing such reform. To achieve this goal, the Mayor assembled a Task Force comprised of varied voices from neighborhoods across the city, representing a broad range of backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets. All Task Force members came to this work with a full understanding of the gravity of the moment and that positive change could enhance the safety of our community members and improve their relationship with the BPD. Members of the Task Force brought their talents and perspectives to the table and worked tirelessly over the course of several months. In addition to reviewing scholarly research and data, we interviewed local and national experts, spoke directly with community members impacted by inequitable policing, and convened five community hearings to obtain input from the people of Boston. We have listened. We have learned. We have challenged one another. And we have offered what we believe are bold, robust recommendations that can set a foundation for forward thinking policing that is racially equitable, transparent, accountable and builds public trust.
The Task Force undertook its charge of examining the aspects of the BPD and its operations identified by the Mayor with three overarching goals: advancing racial equity; increasing accountability; and building community trust. These objectives are interconnected and, we believe, evident in the recommendations offered by this body.
Advancement of racial equity includes examination of the policies and institutions guiding BPD operations and culture both internally and externally. People of color within our community must be treated fairly by the police and not disproportionately subjected to field interrogations and observations, arrested, or otherwise impacted by biases either implicit or explicit. To that end, we examined the various BPD policies aimed at equitable policing, sought to improve the training provided to uniformed officers and civilian employees, and introduced measures to ensure greater accountability in instances where rights are violated. Further, we proposed organizational changes to ensure law enforcement reflects the communities it serves at all levels through recruitment, hiring, retention, and promotion.
Our efforts to increase accountability included overhauling the institutions tasked with examining allegations of police misconduct by forming the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (OPAT). Armed with sufficient resources, capable leadership, and investigatory and subpoena power, OPAT will ensure the fairness of BPD adjudications of civilian complaints, provide transparency into the process, and ensure all such matters are timely addressed. Further, OPAT will address the disparate treatment of officers within the BPD and provide insight into policies and procedures that perpetuate discrimination. Additionally, accountability and transparency will be enhanced by recommended improvements to the body-worn camera program ensuring that all interactions between BPD and the community are recorded, and providing broader access to any such footage by both the public and any individuals directly impacted. Further, the Task Force’s objectives were advanced both through amendments to the use of force policy to ensure adequate discipline for any violations, and by promoting aggregation and dissemination of all relevant data pertaining to BPD operations.
Building community trust in the BPD begins with fostering positive interactions amongst officers and community members by eliminating biases, promoting de-escalation, and improving communication. Further, community members must have confidence that allegations of officer misconduct will be thoroughly investigated and impartially assessed, with those found to have violated police policy held accountable. We believe that the proposed changes set forth by the Task Force, if instituted in a timely fashion and appropriately administered, will have the collective impact of increasing community trust in the BPD.
The recommendations are intended to substantially diminish, if not eliminate, the wariness with which communities of color have long looked at police departments and those that work within that system. The BPD must look like the communities that it serves, reflect the values of the people in its neighborhoods, and provide services without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, financial status or age. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and decades of distrust will take a long time to repair. Our hope is that this guidance can be a step towards eliminating the fear that many now have of how their encounters with the police may play out. Additionally, we hope that it will help to build institutions that promote community faith that their concerns and complaints will be properly vetted in a timely manner and that officers will be punished appropriately when they have failed the public trust invested in them.
The Task Force took on the challenge presented by Mayor Walsh with the loftiest of ideals, expectations, motivations, and investments. It is our hope that this work will provide an ongoing platform for conversation, assessment and development of what police agencies should be doing to dynamically affect the change that the public, more especially black and brown people, have historically called for. These recommendations are by no means the end or a blueprint for guaranteed success. Rather they are the next step in a never-ending process of evaluation and change. The BPD prides itself on being the “First in the Nation.” To maintain this status, the BPD must always be ready to embrace change and confront challenges that inevitably occur in our society to carry out their mission to serve and protect.
Task Force Members: Chair, Wayne Budd, Senior Counsel, Goodwin LLP & Former U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts; Reverend Jeffrey Brown, Associate Pastor, Historic Twelfth Baptist Church, Roxbury; Allison S. Cartwright, Attorney in Charge, Roxbury Defender’s Office; Eddy Chrispin, Boston Police Department, Sergeant & President of MAMLEO; Jamarhl Crawford, Boston Resident; Joseph D. Feaster, Jr., Chairman of the Board, Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts; Javier Flores, Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP; Darrin Howell, President, DRIVE Boston Community Resources Inc. & 1199SEIU; Marie St. Fleur, Former MA State Representative, Boston; Tanisha M. Sullivan, Esq. President, NAACP Boston Branch; Superintendent Dennis White, Chief of Staff, Boston Police Department