The Boston Police Reform Task Force, which was convened by Mayor Walsh in mid June, told reporters about their process following the end of community listening sessions, as well as discussed the initial recommendations they came up with.
Chairman Wayne Budd explained that the Task Force was ‘charged with reviewing the Boston Police Department’s (BPD) policies,” and “provide a wide range of perspectives” on several areas of reform, such as the body camera program, reviewing the department’s use of force policies, diversity and inclusion practices within the department, and data collection and transparency, among other things.
“Over the last three months, the Task Force explored additional topics including civil service and the like,” Budd said, and held two phases of listening sessions to get feedback from the community. He said that the final listening session last week garnered more than 120 participants, including stakeholders, residents, advocates, and others, with an additional 73 submitting written comment.
Budd explained that the Task Force members “came from a wide variety of backgrounds” where everyone took the work seriously and “worked countless hours without monetary compensation.”
Budd provided an overview of initial recommendations of the Task Force, including the creation of an independent Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (OPAT) that would have subpoena power and include a Civilian Review Board as well as an Internal Affairs Oversight Panel. Other recommendations include the formalization and expansion of the BPD’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, the expansion of the use of body cameras to increase transparency and accountability and “maintain the ban on biometrics and facial recognition software,” according to a slide.
Additionally, the Task Force recommends the enhancement of the BPD’s use of force policies “so that they articulate clear and enforceable disciplinary consequences for violations and hold BPD publicly accountable to minimize the risk of use of force violation,” and the adoption of data and record practices “that maximize accountability, transparency and public access to BPD records and data.”
The OPAT will consist of three commissioners that hold subpoena power and would make a final determination should there be dissension from the Internal Affairs Oversight Panel or the Civilian Review Board.
Under the commissioners will be an Executive Director with admin staff underneath them, the Internal Affairs Oversight Panel consisting of five members, and the Civilian Review Board, consisting of seven to 11 members.
Tanisha Sullivan, President of the NAACP Boston Branch, said that “this office is no different from how appointments are currently made by the city,” as the mayor is the only person with the appropriate power to make these kinds of appointments, referring to the OPAT.
She said the City Council will be given an opportunity to make recommendations to the mayor, but the ultimate decision is made by the mayor.
“From a nomination standpoint, what we are recommending is that the seats are filled from a pool of nominations that come from” places like civil rights organizations and neighborhood organizations, Sullivan said.
Budd and other members said that there were no direct discussions or meetings with the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, though some members of the union spoke at listening sessions, Budd said.
Joseph Feaster, Jr., Task Force member and the Chairman of the Board at the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, said that the mayor will be involved in the bargaining process with members of the association.
“We’re not talking about addressing the good police officers, because we know there are many,” Feaster said. “We are talking about the police officers that are breaking the rules.”
Rev. Jeffrey Brown, Task Force member and and Associate Pastor at the Historic Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, said that “we are asking that all uniformed officers wear body cameras,” and there are also currently issues with access to footage.
He said that currently not all officers wear the cameras right now, and this expansion is recommended to ensure that the cameras are “widely worn.”
He said that “we feel this recommendation is probably most widely embraced by our group,” as there was much discussion around the “value of body cameras,” he said.
The group was asked about the recent LEAD Database list released by District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ office, in which the names of officers with “questionable” credibility were made publicly available.
Task Force member and Boston Police Sergeant Eddy Chrispin said he “welcomes” this list “as a form of transparency,” but he said that many of the officers listed are retired, and some have been for more than a decade.
Sullivan added that this list did not impact or influence the Task Force’s deliberations, since the list was not released until last Friday evening.
“The list is only the tip of the iceberg,” said attorney and Task Force member Allison Cartwright. “We would certainly hope that in time and in a short amount of time that it get expanded…so the public has the information on which officers and personnel are violating policies and even civil rights,” she said, adding that she “applauds” DA Rollins for getting the ball rolling with a transparent list.
Task Force member and Partner at Dinsmore & Shohl LLP Javier Flores said that the Task Force was “given access to significant amounts of data,” and examined models being implemented by police forces across the country. He also said that a goal of the Task Force is to encourage “community trust within the operation of the police department.”
Superintendent Dennis White, Task Force member and Chief of Staff for the BPD, said that “overall, I believe that most of the officers believe that change is coming,” though “there are going to be some that are going to resist change,” he said.
“There was rigorous debate among the Task Force members,” Sullivan said. “I want to be clear that this was not an easy process. When it came time to really drill down on these recommendations, they really do reflect weeks long of diligent review of documents, analysis, and again, debate.”
Brown said that there was a “refreshing openness on the part of the mayor,” adding that he “didn’t interfere on our deliberations.” He continued, “at the end, we truly have a document that is representative of this diversity.”
Task Force member and former MA State REp. Marie St. Fleur said that “…we have a duty to make certain that we move this issue forward in a way that builds equity and changes the culture of police departments across the country,” citing the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and many others whose lives were taken.
“We understand that we are not indicting all police officers in this city,” she said. “We did not leave anything on the table—we took it all seriously.”
The initial recommendations report from the Task Force is published in six languages at boston.gov/policereform, and the final report is expected to be released soon, Budd said.