police reform

Measuring Progress On Police Reforms in Boston

Many cities in Massachusetts pushed to change policing last year. But the NBC10 Boston Investigators found some measures they adopted months ago are still being put into practice.

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It’s been nearly a year since demonstrators in Boston took to the streets calling for an end to racism and violence in policing.

But after those demonstrations, how much has changed?

The NBC10 Boston Investigators put that question to officials in three Massachusetts communities, asking how they've implemented plans for police reform that surfaced in the wake of last summer's events.

In Boston, former Mayor Marty Walsh adopted a series of recommendations from a police reform task force in October 2020.

The city marked a milestone enacting these measures in January with the creation of a new Office of Police Accountability and Transparency.

Charged with overseeing the work of law enforcement, OPAT will eventually support a new civilian review board and separate panel to monitor police internal affairs matters. Together, the three will have the power to subpoena information from Boston police.

The department told NBC10 Boston it also expanded its curriculum on impartial policing last year, and in the coming weeks, it will train officers on how to intervene when they see misconduct, using a program called Active Bystandership in Law Enforcement, designed through a collaboration between Georgetown University Law Center, the Sheppard Mullin Law Firm, and the New Orleans Police Department.

The mayor also signed a ban on the use of facial recognition software last year, and he signed off on plans to establish a hiring preference for students who graduated from Boston schools, sending the proposal to state lawmakers for approval.

While city leaders say those and other achievements to date are significant, others believe progress on key reforms has been too slow.

Longtime activist Jamarhl Crawford served on the task force that wrote Boston's plan. He says the city has unfinished work, especially around providing access to police records. It's common for Boston police to ignore the state law that requires them to release files to the public, he said.

In a high-profile example, the department refused for months to disclose the internal affairs file of an officer now accused of sexually abusing children.

Mayor Kim Janey, who replaced Walsh last month, finally released a portion last week under public pressure.

"The BPD is notorious for being reluctant to give up information," Crawford said, "and when they do, it's like molasses in the winter."

The NBC10 Boston Investigators recently assessed the city's progress on 32 items contained in the police reform package adopted last year. We found while many recommendations are in progress, fewer than a quarter of them are complete.

Among other things, those remaining recommendations call for BPD to create a new public records unit, establish a timeline to respond to requests and publish information about officer misconduct online.

Walsh, who left Boston to be U.S. labor secretary in March, did not respond to a request we made through his staff last week for comment about progress on those goals.

Janey, the current mayor, was not available to discuss the subject.

Boston police also said the superintendent wasn't available to talk on camera.

In a statement, they said BPD "will continue to work on police reform, de-conflicting state legislation with task force recommendations, while also listening to the community regarding their priorities."

Boston police told us they're working to address remaining points and will roll out a series of new interactive dashboards with key metrics on the department as early as May.

Some other work is on hold while the state crafts new guidelines on use of force and other topics for local police, according to BPD.

In Worcester, the City Council will debate police reforms recommended by the city manager in the coming weeks as part of the annual budget process. But one significant change is already planned: The city will reassign police officers stationed inside city schools by the end of this year.

In Cambridge, a task force was assembled in January to study how the city can tap social workers and other community resources more often instead of police. Co-chairperson Marc McGovern said the group will offer a recommendation by May, but it will likely only be the start of a broader community dialogue.

"What we've realized is that this is incredibly complicated," said McGovern, a longtime city councilor. "It's not as simple as just moving a service from the police department to a new department, or just moving money from one place to another."

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