For Boston's Next Mayor, Boston Police Will Be A Tough Fix

Download Audio
Boston Police District B-2 station in Roxbury. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston Police District B-2 station in Roxbury. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Traducido en español por El Planeta Media.

One of the biggest issues facing the next mayor of Boston is how to fix the problems at the police department.

Boston's police department is in disarray. The police commissioner was fired over domestic violence allegations. More than a dozen police officers have been charged with overtime fraud. The former head of the police union is accused of molesting children. And the department has long faced criticism over whether it does enough to solve shootings in the poorer parts of the city.

"I hope, whatever your religious or non-religious station might be, that you have something like prayer because you're going to need a little bit of a miracle," said the Rev. Ray Hammond, pastor of Bethel AME Church and a member of BMA Ten Point, an anti-violence organization.

Mayors do have powers beyond prayer. They can choose the commissioner and set the budget, Hammond said. And then, there’s the bully pulpit.

"I think they can set a tone," he said. "They can put in place policies that put folks on notice that corruption will not be tolerated."

Most of the candidates think there should be a national search for the next police commissioner — something that hasn’t happened since 2006 under Mayor Menino. And most support cutting police overtime and using the money to expand social services. The six major candidates also have a variety of other proposals, covering everything from body cameras to police discipline.

But Hammond said overhauling the department won’t be quick or easy.

"It's a little bit of a briar patch," he said. "Making change is hard. It can eat up a lot of your political capital and you may not have a lot to show for it because it's a long haul change."

"I hope ... that you have something like prayer because you're going to need a little bit of a miracle."

Rev. Ray Hammond

Some Bostonians wonder what kind of difference a new mayor will make.

Browsing books at a Juneteenth book fair in Grove Hall with her toddler son, Jahzara Pierre doesn’t give the department very high marks.

"A D for effort," she said. "2021, we're still having to deal with a lot of B.S. that's just not humane and warranted in our community."

The mom from Hyde Park isn’t comfortable calling the police when she sees someone in distress — because she worries about what the police might do.

And Pierre feels the problems with police are so entrenched, that it’ll be difficult for the next mayor to fix them.

"Honestly, I'm not that hopeful," she said. "If they put a commissioner in who's really all about making those changes, will he make, he or she, make a dent? Possibly. If one person can do it, go for it, but it's going to take a lot."

Some local activists say past mayors haven’t done enough.

Jamarhl Crawford was part of the latest attempt at reform: a task force set up by former Mayor Marty Walsh last year. That group recommended a new civilian oversight board and a host of other reforms. Those changes have been slow going.

"This is like getting people out of a cult. Deprogramming," Crawford said. "And people have to have the political will to get that done, and that's just to get the ball moving because it's still not going to be done overnight."

Boston isn’t the first city to face these kinds of problems. Chuck Wexler is executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum and has worked with other troubled police departments around the country.

Wexler said some other cities — in much worse shape than Boston — have been able to fix things over time. And he’s confident Boston can do the same.

"You've got some internal issues there that have to be dealt with," he said. "And there may be some larger issues in terms of internal affairs and in terms of accountability. But certainly they're fixable."

The most important decision the mayor faces, he said, is who will become the next police commissioner.

"That is your key player in how that police department is run," Wexler said.

Many Bostonians wonder how much longer they’ll have to wait to see changes that make a difference in their lives.

Standing in the grassy lot at the book fair, Pierre runs her hands through her almost 3-year-old son’s hair. She wonders how he might think of the police when he’s older.

"It's not going to happen within a year or two," she said. "It's going to take a long time. And I'm hoping by his generation he'll notice a difference compared to what we are dealing with now and then what the future generation will have to deal with.”

Those running for mayor, though, hope to surprise people like her.

Six major candidates are competing to become the next mayor of Boston. Here's some of what they say they'll do as mayor to improve the Boston Police Department:

John Barros

  • Disclose all sexual assault investigations into Boston police officers.
  • Strengthen use of force policies.
  • Create working groups with Boston neighborhoods to help prevent violence.

Andrea Campbell

  • Reallocate at least 10% of the Boston police budget, or $50 million.
  • Remove police from schools and shift to a restorative justice model.
  • Expand the use of police body cameras.

Annissa Essaibi George

  • Divert calls about parking to the from the police department to the transportation department.
  • Release body camera footage within 24 hours of an incident.
  • Have police officers undergo annual performance reviews.

Kim Janey

  • As acting mayor, proposes a budget that would cut overtime by a third.
  • Expand the police force by 30 officers.
  • Strengthen the existing domestic violence policy.

Jon Santiago

  • Create mobile crisis intervention team that will provide an alternative response to non-violent 911 calls.
  • Calls for independent investigation into the Rose case.
  • Identify gun violence hot spots and use data to guide police deployment.

Michelle Wu

  • Divert 911 calls for homelessness, substance use or mental health crises to an outreach team.
  • Eliminate binding arbitration for some offenses.
  • Establish and enforce a discipline matrix to reduce bias in decisions.

This segment aired on June 29, 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