Mass. police misconduct database is released, but excludes many complaints

A long-awaited database of complaints against police officers in Massachusetts was published Tuesday, a year after its deadline, but there's a lot of information that's not being released to the public.

The data includes 3,400 disciplinary records involving 2,100 officers accused of misconduct, ranging from not properly responding to an incident to being convicted of a crime. The data was released by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, known as POST — a police oversight board created in 2020 as part of a criminal justice reform law passed after a police officer killed George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Springfield Police headquarters. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Springfield Police headquarters. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Over the past 10 years, the agencies with the most complaints are among the largest: the Massachusetts State Police, with 493 disciplinary reports; the Springfield police, with 417; and the Boston police, with 373.

University police units also have large numbers of officers in the database, many with multiple incidents on their records and misconduct leading to warnings, reprimands and some suspensions. Harvard University has 30 officers listed; MIT has 26.

The commission said it plans to examine any patterns of complaints within particular law enforcement agencies and decide whether to take action.

“There are approximately 20,000 police officers in the commonwealth and the database contains records for about 2,100,” said Enrique Zuniga, the commission's executive director. “The majority of officers are doing their work in the professional way that is expected of them.”

Zuniga called the release of the data “a major milestone in our mission” and an effort at transparency to hold police accountable.

The database includes officers’ names and the law enforcement agencies for which each officer worked, as well as summaries and dates of allegations and the discipline imposed. Zuniga said the database will be updated regularly and will include officers who resigned or retired to avoid disciplinary action.

Complaints against officers deemed “not sustained,” “unfounded,” or from which they were “exonerated” are not included. Nor are complaints for “minor matters” — such as discourtesy, tardiness or equipment violations.

Ongoing investigations are not included, and former officers who resigned “in good standing” also won’t be listed. The commission redacted additional records that fall under the criminal offender record information statute, or CORI.

Of the 440 law enforcement agencies the commission oversees, 167 reported having no sustainable complaints against officers. Zuniga said the commission confirmed those departments had no complaints.

In addition to publishing and updating the complaint database, POST is also responsible for certifying and decertifying officers. Police departments are required to notify the commission about any complaints they receive about officer misconduct.

“The commission is tasked with looking at trends, looking at individual cases, looking for repeated egregious misconduct and the commission can impose its own suspensions or support certification,” Zuniga said. “This is a matter that ties very much into the certification process" which takes three years.

The data comes more than a year after it was first promised, and two years after POST began its work.

Jeff Raymond, an independent journalist from central Massachusetts, said the commission's data is incomplete. He's compiling his own dataset of police complaints, based on records he's received from 270 of the state’s 351 cities and towns. He said his data, published on his website MassTransparency, includes everything police departments sent to POST.

“I think POST is not meeting its legislative statutory mandate by giving a watered down version of this," Raymond said. He also complained that the commission’s release is “not a very user friendly site at all. They promised us a database and they gave us a PDF spreadsheet.”

Raymond said he is meeting with Zuniga this week to review some of the discrepancies between the POST database and the information he has collected.

State Sen. William Brownsberger, one of the lead negotiators for the 2020 police reform bill, pushed back against the idea that POST is falling short. He said he’s not concerned about “minor offenses” or unsustained complaints being left off the database.

“Those should not put a blemish on a police officer's record if they've been investigated" and determined to be wrong, he said.

Brownsberger also said he’s taking a long view of POST and isn’t concerned about the lateness of the release.

This article was originally published on August 22, 2023.


Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.


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



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