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An investigation into police hiring practices spurs action

In response to WBUR's recent investigation into police chief hiring practices, both U.S. senators from Massachusetts criticized mandates that prevent outsiders from being hired.

The investigation "No outsiders need apply," which was produced in partnership with ProPublica, revealed why in Revere—a diverse city of more than 53,000—the top cop role went to an officer who was accused of bullying and sexual harassment. David Callahan also failed to garner a recommendation from an outside consulting firm after a vigorous assessment.

WBUR discovered that in numerous Massachusetts municipalities the chief of police role doesn't necessarily go to the best qualified candidate. Towns, including Revere and Waltham, mandate the top cop role go to an internal candidate, even if there are issues present in the department. Revere and Waltham have the most restrictive mandates. But there are 60 other towns, including Worcester, Lowell and Quincy, that limit hiring by appointing their top cop based solely on civil service exam scores. Cities can specifically request a statewide search, but they rarely do.

Revere Police Chief David Callahan, in his office at Revere Police Headquarters. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Revere Police Chief, David Callahan, in his office at Revere Police Headquarters. Credit: Robin Lubbock/WBUR.

Since WBUR published this investigation, U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins has said that requiring police chiefs to be hired from within their departments is "problematic" and "ridiculous." Such rules may limit the diversity of the candidate pool, she said, and violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The no-outsiders law could constitute discrimination if there were no officers of color inside the department who had sufficient rank or experience to be eligible for chief, or if the ordinance prevented a qualified external candidate of color from applying.

Patrick Bryant, a labor attorney representing the Revere Police Patrol Officers Association, speaks while his client Youness Elalam, left, listens at his arbitration hearing inside Revere City Hall. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Patrick Bryant, a labor attorney representing the Revere Police Patrol Officers Association, speaks while his client, Youness Elalam, left, listens at his arbitration hearing inside Revere City Hall. Credit: Jesse Costa/WBUR.

To find out if your city or town's police chief role is subject to Civil Service, visit
mass.gov/orgs/civil-service.

In the case of Revere, current mayor Brian Arrigo—whose job includes appointing the chief of police—tried and failed to sway the city council to amend the internal hiring rule. When the role became available in 2017, an in-depth outside assessment of the four top candidates concluded that none were qualified for the role. "The fact of the matter is we are currently constraining ourselves to a limited pool of candidates when selecting someone for one of the most important jobs in the city of Revere," Arrigo told the council. His goal, he said, was to choose from the best candidates anywhere "in the name of public safety."

While Arrigo now says that he is satisfied with Callahan, his eventual pick, the selection from an underwhelming pool of candidates illustrates the predicament of Revere and other municipalities that are constrained by regulations from hiring outsiders.

After the WBUR/ProPublica investigation, Revere City Councilor Dan Rizzo proposed an examination of the allegations against Callahan and what the mayor knew about them. The council voted to speak with the mayor in private.

According to Massachusetts records, there have been 32 civil service appointments for police chiefs within the last five years. All have been internal promotions, and none of the municipalities considered outside candidates. This problem isn't unique to Massachusetts. Internal hiring mandates affect multiple other states including New Jersey and California.

With police departments facing demands for reform nationwide, some experts say one way to address problems such as toxic cultures, racial discrimination, poor training or use of excessive force is to bring in an outsider—a substantial shift from current practices.

U.S. Attorney Rollins said, "If there were an ordinance that somebody told me directly precluded a city or a town from hiring qualified members of law enforcement that have language capacity, that are representative of certain communities, I'd want to work as hard as I could to remove that hurdle."

For the full story, visit wbur.org.

ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom whose mission is to "expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing."

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