Walsh, Gross pledge to implement police reforms

New watchdog office, diversity staff among recommendations

BOSTON MAYOR MARTIN WALSH and Police Commissioner William Gross said on Tuesday they intend to implement all of the recommendations of a police reform task force, including the creation of a watchdog office with subpoena power to oversee complaints against officers.

The task force called for the creation of an independent Office of Police Accountability and Transparency to replace the city’s 13-year-old community oversight panel, known as the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel. The new office will have expanded powers, including the ability to call witnesses and to compel the discovery of documents in investigations against officers.

Other task force recommendations include expansion of the body camera program, greater enforcement of use of force policies, the creation of a diversity and inclusion unit within the department, improved data collection and public access to police misconduct records, and continuation of the existing ban on use of facial recognition software.

“These are bold steps,” said Walsh, who endorsed each of the recommendations at a press conference at City Hall. “We must commit now to transformational, systemic change.”

Gross also said he accepted the recommendations. “I think it would be fair to the community and the police,” he said. “The discussions about systemic racism, injustices, inequality – these discussions have to be had because as law enforcement we serve the people, it’s not the other way around.”

The task force was launched on June 12 in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis and the nationwide protests that followed, including in Boston.

Task force member Tanisha Sullivan of the Boston NAACP said that advocacy after the death of Floyd served to “push us farther than we thought possible even a year ago.”

Walsh said that he will work within the task force’s 180-day timeline, and has already directed his office to create job postings for the director of the new accountability and transparency office. “I will use every tool at my disposal to make this a reality,” he said.

Walsh said the office, which is intended to be completely independent of the police department, will likely begin with two staffers. He said the police department will also add new staff, including a chief diversity officer and a diversity recruitment officer, who will report directly to Gross. Walsh said a full cost breakdown for implementing the recommendations should be available soon.

Walsh also said he intends to file a home-rule petition seeking state approval to change civil service rules to give preference to hiring police officer candidates who graduated from Boston public schools.

The police body camera body program currently covers many officers on regular duty, but the current official policy does not require police officers working overtime to wear them. Under the reform, the camera would be worn by all uniformed officers, including those on overtime.

The task force also recommended that individuals who show up in the footage or their next of kin be given access to the footage, along with the broader public through public records requests. The amount of time footage would be saved by the department would be expanded; footage not flagged by supervisors would be retained for six months while footage being used in investigations would be kept for three years.

The task force also recommended that use of force data, including weapons discharges, be reported to the appropriate state and federal agencies in a timely manner and be made available to the public via a yearly annual report or online dashboard. The task force also recommended arrest-related deaths become public information.

To address existing cases involving excessive force and wrongful death, Gross agreed the department will work to resolve all those cases and release all data and records related to them.

The Boston Patrolman’s Association, the largest of the four police unions, was not part of the task force and will need to give its support for some of the policies to move forward. Union officials could not be reached for comment.

Former US Attorney Wayne Budd, who led the task force, said some are going to think these steps go too far while others will say they don’t go far enough.

In its report, the task force said it was offering its “recommendations not as an exhaustive list of police reform recommendations, but as a portfolio of recommendations that, if implemented, can serve as a foundation upon which additional work can be done.”

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

The 11-person task force included a wide variety of advocates and law enforcement officials, including Boston Police Department Superintendent Dennis White; Darrin Howell, a political coordinator for 1199SEIU, Rev. Jeffrey Brown of 12th Baptist Church of Roxbury; resident and advocate Jamarhl Crawford ; and other community leaders.

The group had four public listening sessions, and a fifth after releasing a preliminary draft of their ideas.