Saturday, August 12, 2006

Steaming Cops Facing Review

The Boston Globe did its job today. As much as we snort at the timorous coverage and boosterism of our stolid daily, it comes through from time to time. This one was in snagging the report on police operations that our mayor has squelched since before April.

We figure that this horse is out of the barn and headed to the lush pasture of public view. Coupled with Team Unity attention in City Council, Boston will finally see some form of civilian review board. Miarabile dictu!

So, what do you suppose was so powerful in this report that made Da Mare Menino tuck it under his brooding butt while he nested on it? The answer is the long overdue call for civilian oversight on the nation's oldest police force.

It is way past time to cull the wheat from the chaff. Police are no better at self-monitoring than physicians or accountants. Of course, the biggest difference is that they carry the force of law and can kill someone or send him into a hell of courts and prisons, occasionally wrongly.

Menino is famous for puckering up to the various police unions. They are powerful in many ways and other mayors have knelt before them.

The departing police commissioner, Kathleen O'Toole (beloved of Da Mare) set an independent panel to work following the death of Victoria Snelgrove at the hands of our police. Northeastern University Associate Dean Jack McDevitt (the criminologist, not the science fiction writer) headed the group.

Its conclusions call for some pretty benign stuff:
  • an ombusdman
  • a police-civilian review board
Yet these are so radical to a force that stonewalls the public, has many documented cases of abuse, and has a poor record of monitoring and punishing its own. That cliché of wanting to pluck the few bad apples out of the barrel does not work here...yet.

The Globe reports that it filed a public-records access request four months ago. The city denied that request, claiming as the cops do, that this is only a draft. Then, stupidly, rather than discuss the contents and keep the press and public informed, it hummed and pretended this was not the report we sought. Move along.

In the meanwhile, Council Felix Arroyo called for a review board and we have seen gangs of drug dealing cops among other assaults on the public trust. It's time.

With a purloined copy of the report in hand, the Globe seems to have driven the city to discuss what to do next. Police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll had an unusually lame, "we do consider this a draft format and therefore not a public record." She also revealed the party line on this, citing tht Internal Affairs last year supported 34% of 212 civilian complaints. However, that is up from 8% in 2001. We think that the effort is too little and way too late to trust.

Boston Corporation Counsel Wiliam F. Sinnott implied the city would propose an "internal review" plan, apparently to counter McDevitt's call for substance.

As the Globe puts it:

McDevitt argues in the report that Boston police must establish accountability and transparency about their internal operations or their efforts to combat surging violence will be undercut. (He) writes that the department faces "low trust and confidence in the investigation process, particularly among certain groups with historically poor police relationships."

Related steps include the ombudsman, picked with community input and with "access to all investigative files, tapes, transcripts, and witness statements." He or she would also be able to look at Internal Affairs findings and ask for further investigation as needed.

The panel also wants to streamline the process for filing complaints against officers. In short, what has worked in so many other U.S. cities.

There's nothing new here, except that Boston officials have always been afraid to police our police.

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1 comment:

Bob Neer said...

Boston officials, perhaps, but now always all officials. Calvin Coolidge rode a tough line against the BPD straight to the White House.