Will Police Reform Task Force Recommendations Be Accepted By the Largest Boston Police Union?
On June 12th, in response to the killing of George Floyd and the historic Black Lives Matter protests, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed the Obama Foundation’s “Mayor’s Pledge,” which prompts mayors around the country to address police violence. Walsh then took action by creating the Boston Police Reform Task Force to review the Boston Police Department’s (BPD) current policies and recommend ways to reform them. The task force consists of attorneys, community leaders, representatives from the legal field, and 2 police officers. Their focus has been on Use of Force policies, bias training, and body cameras. To gauge public opinion, they have asked Boston citizens to submit personal experiences through a google form. After drafting the initial recommendations to the city council, they continued to encourage public feedback and used it to revise the recommendations. Recently, however, the lack of representation from the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association has been the source of great controversy.
The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (BPPA) is the largest police officers’ union in the Boston area. Their mission statement is to “enforce, protect and enhance the rights and benefits of its members and to assure a better quality of life for its members and the citizens of Boston through proactive community involvement.” In 2016, the union clashed with the department over requiring members of the BPD to wear body cameras on duty. The issue was so divisive that it ended up going to court, where the police commissioner was given the authority to require officers to wear body cameras. However, the incident is indicative of the Union’s repeated resistance towards reform.
On September 30th, Boston.com reported that the Task Force did not meet with the union before revealing its draft suggestions; many officers were concerned by this lack of collaboration. At first glance, it may seem like they made their recommendations without any input from the police, but this is not the case: Boston Police Superintendent Dennis White and Sgt. Eddy Chrispin both serve on the task force. Despite this, neither White nor Chrispin are union members. While there were officers present, many remain concerned that a union which represents so many police officers was not given a voice on the task force. This is not the first time this has happened, either. Earlier this year, in July, the Massachusetts State Senate passed the “Reform, Shift + Build” Act, a law which limits qualified immunity for police officers, without consulting the BPPA. This legislation was met with extreme resistance from the union, who began running advertisements requesting Massachusetts residents to call their state reps and request a repeal of the bill. While the union has stayed relatively silent after not being represented on the Task Force, the parallels are clear.
As of October 13th, Mayor Walsh and Police Commissioner William Gross have both accepted the proposals made by the Police Reform Task Force. These include the following:
1. Create an independent Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (“OPAT”) with full investigatory and subpoena power, i.e. the ability to call witnesses and to compel the discovery of documents.
2. Formalize and expand the BPD’s commitment to diversity and inclusion through the creation of Diversity & Inclusion unit.
3. Expand the BPD’s adoption of the body-worn camera program and continue to ban the use of biometrics and facial recognition software.
4. Enhance the BPD’s Use of Force policies (Rule 303, Rule 303A, Rule 303B, Rule 304) so that they articulate clear and enforceable disciplinary code of consequences for violations and infractions and hold the BPD publicly accountable for the violation of these policies.
5. Adopt practices that maximize accountability, transparency and public access to the BPD.
Many of these policies address the issues identified when the committee started and are set to go into effect soon. Perhaps the most dramatic reform is the creation of an independent office with investigatory and subpoena power. As of now, the BPPA has not commented on the matter, and it remains unclear whether they will. The lack of recommendations about qualified immunity for officers may signal that the union is unbothered by the changes. However, the list still mentions the controversial body camera program which the BPPA took issue with when it was first introduced four years ago. Additionally, while qualified immunity is not included in these recommendations—rather, it is being discussed at the state level—the ability of OPAT to subpoena officers may upset the union. Despite that, since the BPPA declined to comment when it was initially reported that they were not included in the Boston Police Reform Task Force, there are doubts as to whether they will comment this time. Whatever the case, the tension between the two agencies continues to build.
On October 20th, President Larry Calderone of the BPPA stated that the new office was about “Jobs and Money” and expressed concerns about the use of taxpayer money to create the union:
“They want to spend millions of taxpayer dollars creating it. … It seems like it’s about jobs and money.” Calderone continued, “There’s much better ways to spend the money in the city of Boston.”
While there has still been no official union statement yet, the union is likely to adopt an anti-reformist stance in the near future. Whether this will affect the implementation of the policy is unclear, but relations between the city council, the police department, and the BPPA are heating up.