BOSTON POLICE commissioner Edward Davis, like many of his peers nationwide, stands accused by police unions of inconsistency when disciplining officers, leading to calls for additional guidelines. Given the range of potential abuses of a police officer’s position, and the subjective nature of any personnel action, some flexibility is warranted. More guidelines may be helpful — but not if they tie Davis’s hands in a one-size-fits-all roster of punishments.
Recent history suggests it’s easier for police commissioners to lower the crime rate than design a proportional discipline system. Employee discontent and the threat of liability lurk around every corner. No department has the perfect discipline system. But some, such as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, have done a better job than Boston in focusing on the need to retrain, rather than simply punish, officers who engage in unprofessional conduct.