NECN INVESTIGATES: Policing the Police

A panel charged with making sure allegations of misconduct against Boston Police officers are properly handled says the entire system needs to be overhauled

When a Boston Police officer shot and killed a suspect in the city's Dorchester neighborhood in February, the city and state quickly released surveillance video and police audio to quell any accusation of excessive force.

But that level of transparency is not being instituted system-wide, according to the panel charged with making sure allegations of misconduct against Boston Police officers are properly handled.

In fact, the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel, or CO-OP, says the entire system should be overhauled.

In a report to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh obtained by necn, the CO-OP said the number of misconduct complaints the panel reviews falls woefully short of national standards and the community doesn't have enough of a voice in the process.

The three CO-OP members, who are appointed by the mayor, review cases from two avenues:

The first is eligible appeals from people who didn't think their complaint was properly handled by BPD.

The second is a random audit of initial complaints lodged against the department.

Currently, that random audit is of just 10 percent of cases lodged against Boston Police officers. The CO-OP says that number should be doubled to 20 percent, and when the allegation involves serious misconduct or use of force like in recent police involved shootings, the panel wants to be automatically involved in the review.

But according to the report, to date, zero cases have been referred to the CO-OP under this provision.

"I think in some cases we're leading the nation in what we're doing, but we still have to see what the recommendations come back with," Walsh said.

The mayor said he has not read the report yet - a review he called for - but points out that the number of citizen complaints lodged in 2014 against Boston Police officers is down nearly 25 percent from the year before. And he said the city is working to improve policies and practice.

The CO-OP believes the lower number of complaints lodged against police "is hardly indicative of citizen satisfaction. In fact, it can mean quite the opposite,"

Of the cases it reviewed In 2014, nearly half of the Boston Police Department's initial internal investigations took more than 2 years to complete - some taking up to 4 years.

The panel is recommending that the city establish a Boston Community Office of Police Accountability. It would be staffed by civilians, located off-site from the police department and would have the authority to take in citizen complaints. The complaints would still be forwarded to Boston Police for investigation and the police commissioner would still have final authority.

Pastor Arthur Gerald, the head of the Twelfth Baptist Church and a member of the Black Ministerial Alliance, said that though he has not read the report, this is a reccomendation he supports.

"We are the recipients or the victims of what happens at the table," he said. "So if we have to deal with the fallout, we might as well have a seat at the table."

Walsh would not commit to adopting any of the panel's recommendations, but said the police department is looking to increase transparency by implementing body cameras.

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans was not available in time for this report.

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