Wu seeks funding for Boston police unit she pledged to dismantle

Criminal justice advocates are criticizing Boston Mayor Michelle Wu for pushing for millions of dollars in extra funding for the intelligence-gathering arm of the Boston Police Department.

The move is an about-face for Wu, who campaigned on dismantling the Boston Regional Intelligence Center's controversial gang database and abolishing the center in its entirety.

"It's really I think absurd at this point that Mayor Wu is not only not following through on her promises, but is actually doing the opposite," said Fatema Ahmad, executive director of the Muslim Justice League, a Boston-based civil liberties group.

Wu last week asked the city council to accept three $850,000 state grants to fund the intelligence center's "anti-terrorism, anti-crime, anti-gang and emergency response." The council's progressive wing blocked the grants in a 7-5 vote.

Wu this week re-filed for those grants and added a fourth, totaling $3.4 million.

"We hope councilors will take the time to engage in the legislative process and learn more about the operational needs that these funds would help address before rejecting them," Wu's spokesman, Ricardo Patrón, said in a statement.

Council President Ed Flynn on Wednesday referred the grants to the committee on public safety and criminal justice for further discussion.

Criminal justice and civil liberties advocates say they're confused by Wu's advocacy for the funding.

"So much for (Mayor Wu) campaigning on 'dismantling the discriminatory gang database,'" the criminal justice reform group CourtWatchMA posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. "The lies."

Wu often criticized the intelligence center and its gang database while campaigning for mayor, and even voted against one of these very same grants as a city councilor.

But Patrón said the landscape around police accountability has shifted significantly in the past two years. The department has a new police chief, there's a new Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, and a new surveillance oversight ordinance, which Wu helped author.

That ordinance was not in effect during the 2021 mayoral campaign.

The Boston Regional Intelligence Center was formed in 2005 to reduce crime and prevent terrorism by sharing intelligence with local, state, and federal law enforcement partners.

But activists have criticized the center for years for disproportionately surveilling minority communities, particularly men of color and Muslims.

The center also maintains a gang database. Law enforcement officers add people to the database based on a point system, which factors in indicators of affiliation like clothing and contact with "known gang associates."

In 2018, a WBUR investigation found that information from the gang database was being used to deport youth without legal immigration status.

And last year, a federal appeals court ruled Boston police had wrongly identified a Salvadoran national as a member of the criminal gang MS-13, blaming the database's "erratic point system built on unsubstantiated inferences.”

Patrón, the mayor's spokesman, pointed to recent reforms to the database, like removing people deemed "inactive" and directing juveniles on the list towards services. He said police last year removed over 1,800 inactive names from the gang database. The list now includes 1,850 individuals.

Ahmad, of the Muslim Justice League, said she will continue to oppose the grants. As for the recent changes to the gang database, she said, "They shouldn't comfort the mayor."

This article was originally published on September 20, 2023.


Headshot of Walter Wuthmann

Walter Wuthmann General Assignment Reporter
Walter Wuthmann is a general assignment reporter for WBUR.



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