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Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Tuesday that he will accept and adopt all the final recommendations made by the Boston Police Reform Task Force he convened this summer, including creating a new office with subpoena power that will provide oversight and investigate the police department.
Walsh said he would use "every tool at his disposal" to implement the changes.
“This time we must and we will sustain the urgency and turn it into transformational systemic change," he said at a press conference Tuesday.
In addition to the creation of the independent Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, other recommendations include: creating a new diversity and inclusion unit at the department, changing the hiring rules to give preference to graduates of Boston high schools, expanding the body camera program to all uniformed officers and creating an online dashboard detailing department data, including use of force and deaths in custody.
Like the initial recommendations released last month, the final reforms don't explicitly address calls to "defund" the police. The report does say all of the reforms should not lead to an increased BPD budget.
But the task force notes that the city should "critically analyze the capabilities and the expertise of the BPD and determine where responsibilities can be shifted." And they added a line in the final recommendations about the need to deploy services that don't include police officers in some cases.
"Specifically, the City should identify, strengthen, and expand services that appropriately serve and support the BPD in shifting responsibility in responding to instances involving persons experiencing homelessness, substance use, mental health, crises or other social vulnerabilities," the report says.
Police Commissioner William Gross said he accepted the recommendations and would work to change policies to fit them.
"We are not resting on our laurels," he said. "We need to strive. We need to go forward and we need to work together in the implementation of these changes and reforms and recommendations."
Walsh spoke directly to police officers at the press conference, telling them they shouldn't be afraid of the new independent oversight office.
"There's no reason for you to have to come in front of this board if you do your job the way that 99.9% of our police officers do their job in Boston," he said.
The task force, made up of police officers, clergy, community leaders and attorneys, said all of the recommendations should be implemented within six months. The timeline notes the "jurisdiction" for all of the reforms. Most fall on the city, but others will need to be changed at the state level.
Walsh said that he would be filing state legislation to amend the civil service rules to prioritize local hiring and advancing sworn and civilian officers of color.
Other recommendations will require "potential bargaining," the recommendations note, including expanding the body camera program and creating a list of "zero-tolerance" offenses eligible for immediate termination and the creation of a problem officer list.
The task force did not meet with the city's largest union, the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, while developing its recommendations, though two police officers, a superintendent and sergeant, served on the panel.
The union did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
Notably, the city has run into roadblocks implementing other reforms. More than a year into the city's body camera program, officers still aren't wearing the cameras on overtime shifts. That's despite assurances from Walsh's office last fall that they soon would. Now, his office says they need to negotiate wearing cameras on overtime with the police union.
Rev. Jeffrey Brown, who served on the task force, said the body camera expansion recommendations were most widely embraced by the task force.
"The body cameras embody the community’s cry for transparency and accountability," Brown said. "Because it changes the game and so it’s no longer just a report that comes from a police officer but you also have camera footage in order to judge the merit of a particular situation."
Former city councilor Charles Yancey spent more than three decades pushing unsuccessfully for a police oversight board. He called the proposed office a "baby step" toward what he envisioned.
He said he's worried that the board won't be truly independent from the police department or city hall, since all of the appointees are made by the mayor. He also said the system proposed would create real challenges to leadership if the police unions refuse to cooperate.
"It should not be up to the police department to determine whether or not they'll be held accountable," Yancey said.
The ACLU of Massachusetts, which has repeatedly sued the Boston police for access to public records, said they commended Walsh and the task force for taking these steps to hold police accountable. But they noted that it likely won't be easy to put the changes in place.
"It remains to be seen whether the policies will be implemented over likely objections from police unions, and how much it will inflate the police department’s already enormous budget," Executive Director Carol Rose said in a statement. "Policymakers' work has only just begun; the mayor must enact and enforce these recommendations, and the state legislature must pass legislation to reform policing across Massachusetts.”
Earlier this summer, Walsh declared racism a public health crisis, and reallocated 20% of the police overtime budget — $12 million, or 3% of the overall budget — to other areas.
Police Commissioner William Gross announced updated use of force policies in June to meet the "8 Can't Wait" reforms that ranged from banning most chokeholds to reminding officers of their duty to intervene.
Walsh said Boston has the best police department in the country, but he also noted that after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, he heard from community members and his own staff about their own experiences with racism.
"What I realized was, doing better than before just isn’t enough," he said. "Doing better than other cities just isn’t enough. We need to change the system that we inherited.”
This segment aired on October 14, 2020.
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