Plagued By Turmoil, Boston Police Department On 'Standby' As Investigations Play Out

Download Audio
Boston Police Headquarters. (Joe Difazio/WBUR file)
Boston Police headquarters. (Joe Difazio/WBUR file)

Traducido en español por El Planeta Media.

The last time the Boston Police Department faced this kind of intense scrutiny was in the early 1990s.

Then Mayor Ray Flynn launched the St. Clair Commission to investigate the agency. The commission found a shoddy internal investigations system and recommended the police chief be fired. (He wasn’t.)

Thirty years later, the police are under the microscope again. It's been more than two months since the department had a permanent leader. Commissioner Dennis White was placed on leave after revelations that he had been accused of domestic violence years ago.

And over the weekend, the Boston Globe reported that the department continued to employ a police officer and union leader, Patrick Rose, for decades after he was accused of molesting a 12-year-old. He has since been charged with molesting other children over the years.

"There is a crisis in confidence, and in the public trust, that the community needs to have in its police department," said Tom Nolan, a former Boston police lieutenant who is now a sociology professor at Emmanuel College.

What the police department is doing is nothing unusual, Nolan said.

"Culturally, the police organization exists to avoid scrutiny from what the police see as interlopers, people from the outside who don't understand their world," he said.

What’s different now is the political climate. Since the killing of George Floyd by officers in Minneapolis last summer, police departments have faced enormous pressure to change.

“Now what we're seeing is just an increasing level of strident criticism on the part of the public," Nolan said. "The drumbeat has been steadily increasing in the last couple of years in ways that it had not historically."

Boston is undertaking a host of reforms to improve the accountability of the police department. They include a brand new office to investigate police misconduct.

But the reforms aren’t yet in place. And it’s not clear who will be in charge of implementing them.

Superintendent Gregory Long is leading the department while White is on leave. Acting Mayor Kim Janey said she’ll make a decision about whether to keep White in the job after the investigation into his past is finished later this month. And Janey herself has to beat out five other major candidates to win a full term in the fall.

That all creates uncertainty about the future of the department.

"A lot of folks are kind of on standby," said Dan Linskey, a former Boston police superintendent and now head of the local office of security firm Kroll. "What are we doing? What's our mission? How do you want us to get there?"

Linskey says officers are still responding to 911 calls and investigating crimes. But the cultural changes — like creating more transparency — can’t move forward in the meantime.

“That's a bigger conversation and it's bigger than the Boston Police Department," Linskey said. "And it's tough to have that conversation while you're waiting for personnel to change."

On top of the recent turmoil — the city has long struggled to reduce violence and solve shootings in poorer neighborhoods. On Saturday, a 73-year-old great grandmother, Delois Brown, was shot and killed as she sat on her Dorchester porch.

Boston police have yet to announce any arrests. Over the last decade, only about a third of the murders in the city have been solved, according to data compiled by the Murder Accountability Project. The rate is even worse for Black victims.

Those in the community are anxiously waiting to see what happens next with the department, said Emmett Folgert, a Dorchester community activist.

"Any time there's a transition of power in the police department we get nervous," he said.

Right now is a critical time, he said, heading into summer when violent crime typically rises. Community groups need support from the police department as they plan events and activities for kids in the neighborhood.

"The crime rate hasn't gone down, the crime rate has gone up," he said. "Shootings aren't down. The shootings are up. The homicides are up. So, we need to work together."

For now Folgert, and the rest of Boston, are waiting to see what’s next. And how new leadership might move the department and the city forward.

This segment aired on April 13, 2021.


Headshot of Ally Jarmanning

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



More from WBUR

Listen Live