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Boston Police, City Hall Leaders Are No Shows At Council Hearing On Rollout Of Police Reforms

No one from the Boston Police Department or mayor's office showed up at a city council hearing Tuesday to update the public on the implementation of police reform measures that were signed into law two months ago.

Among the measures: the creation of a new police watchdog office, the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (OPAT). It was signed into law by Mayor Marty Walsh in January and is supposed to be up and running in July.

There are also state reforms now in place that make sweeping changes, including requiring police officers to be certified and strengthening use-of-force policies.

City Councilor and mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell said she was disappointed and frustrated that nobody from the police department or mayor's office was there to answer questions.

"There is a big difference between commitments and action," she said. "These last and latest police reforms should be an opportunity for the city to do things differently, since we know that the city has not effectively delivered on its commitments to police reform in the past."

Nick Martin, a Walsh spokesperson, said no one was able to testify Tuesday, but that "implementing and operationalizing the recommendations from our Police Reform Task Force continues to be a top priority for the Walsh administration."

In lieu of appearing, Boston police Superintendent Jeffrey Walcott sent a five-page letter Monday to Campbell spelling out anticipated changes and challenges. The department will have to report more information to the new statewide commission overseeing police, increase training and boost staffing in its bureau of professional standards, he said.

Walcott said the department is already making changes in how it plans response to mass gatherings, like protests, as required by the new state law. And the department is working to launch a data dashboard with firearms discharges, field interrogation stops, rate of homicides solved and other statistics.

"The BPD is committed to these reforms and to proactive community engagement to rebuild relationships with the community that have been strained due to COVID," Walcott wrote.

Twelve of the 13 councilors signed onto the order requesting the hearing, and it was filed on Jan. 29. Several said they were troubled by the lack of department attendance.

The department is without a permanent commissioner currently, after William Gross abruptly retired. Walsh's pick to replace him, Dennis White, was put on leave just days following his appointment after a 1999 domestic violence allegation was reported.

Walsh is also on his way out, as he's expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate as President Biden's labor secretary any day now.

The hearing also was to have focused on reports that at least one Boston police officer may have attended the U.S. Capitol riot in January. Campbell said after the hearing that she will subpoena Boston police for information about any investigation into officers who may have participated in the attack at the Capitol.

A Boston police spokesman has previously said the department is investigating tweets by an officer, but declined further comment. Walcott's letter did not say anything specifically about the investigation.

Though no official representative from the department attended, two police officers spoke: Larry Calderone, head of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, the department's largest union, and David Hernandez, of the Latino Law Enforcement Group of Boston.

Calderone, who had previously complained about a lack of union involvement in the police reform task force process, said he appreciated the invitation to speak and answer questions.

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"You need to have police officers involved in those conversations, involved in the decision-making process," he said. "It cannot be non-police officers that are going to [be] determining training or certification or de-certification by themselves because they have no experience in that arena."

OPAT will include a civilian review board and an internal affairs oversight panel that will investigate citizen complaints against police and examine the department's internal investigations.

The watchdog office will have subpoena power to compel witnesses and documents as part of its investigations.

Other city reforms include formalizing and expanding the department's commitment to diversity and inclusion; expanding the body-worn camera program to increase transparency and accountability; creating clear and enforceable discipline for violating use of force policies, and holding the department accountable for violations; and maximizing transparency, accountability and public access to police records and data.

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Ally Jarmanning Twitter Senior Reporter
Ally is a senior reporter focused on criminal justice and police accountability.

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