CommonWealth Magazine, September 2021
The Boston Police Department is currently facing a paradox. On the one hand, many in the police department view the agency as a national model for future policing. On the other hand, many in the community believe the department is in need of reform because of outdated policing strategies that lack accountability and transparency like so many other major police departments across the country. This paradox will continue to be a major barrier to reform unless we take a close look at what’s working and what’s not working in the police department.
Currently, the Boston Police Department is facing a series of challenges involving police legitimacy that may be among the most daunting in the organization’s history. First, the department’s latest police commissioner was fired by Acting Mayor Kim Janey following allegations of intimate partner violence. Second, the former head of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association was arrested for sexually assaulting children after previous allegations were covered up by members of the department. Third, police officers claiming that they worked overtime at the evidence warehouse were recently arrested and charged for participating in an overtime fraud scheme. Finally, the disproportionate number of people of color found in the police department’s gang assessment database has drawn concern among residents demanding more transparency in the identification, selection, and removal of individuals in the database.
This is all coming to the surface at a time when the national conversation following the Black Lives Matter movement is re-imagining the role of police in our communities today. It is clear that police reform is necessary. Based on interviews with a number of current and former police officials, below is a list of essential reforms that can help to transform the Boston Police Department.