A leading organization of minority law enforcement officers vowed Wednesday to “vigorously oppose” any Boston mayoral candidate planning to keep Edward F. Davis as Boston police commissioner — creating a dilemma for candidates who have previously lauded Davis, one of the city’s most popular figures.
Just over a month ago, mayoral candidates praised Davis’s leadership for his handling of the Marathon bombings, with half of the candidates promising to keep Davis should they ascend to mayor. But as allegations resurface about a pervasive lack of diversity and unequal standards of justice within the department, those same candidates now find themselves in the crosshairs of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement, known by the acronym MAMLEO.
Some mayoral candidates whose positions on Davis were previously quite clear have become more guarded in answering this question: Would Davis stay, or would he go? Others continue to be unwilling to give a “yes” or “no” answer, saying it would be premature to make staffing decisions before taking office.
“At this point, I’m not removing my confidence in him,” said Bill Walczak, a mayoral candidate who is cofounder of the Codman Square Health Center.
Still, he added: “Considering what MAMLEO has said, I would like to have a conversation with Davis to see if he is committed to having diverse and reflective senior leadership. If he is not committed to that, then I have a different opinion of him.”
Walczak answered “yes” when a recent Globe Survey asked, “Would you keep Ed Davis on as Boston police commissioner?” Five candidates answered “yes” and six declined to respond. Only one candidate, Charles L. Clemons Jr., a former police officer, answered “no.”
“I stand with my brothers and sisters in the law enforcement community both on principle and as a matter of established fact regarding my mayoral platform,” Clemons said in a statement issued after the officers group’s vote of no-confidence in Davis. “I have said since the early days of my campaign that I would remove the current police commissioner.”
Two other mayoral candidates, Councilor Rob Consalvo and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, were equally adamant in their continued support for Davis.
“I came out saying I would support Commissioner Davis if he wants to stay and I have not reconsidered my position,” Consalvo said.
In an interview Wednesday night, Davis acknowledged that the police force needs to be more diverse and said he is doing what he can to address the problem. But he said he is hamstrung by a civil service exam administered by the state. The commissioner said his commitment to diversity is demonstrated by the ranking officers of color he has promoted to his top leadership team.
“I agree completely that there is a pervasive lack of diversity in the civil service ranks in the Boston Police Department,” Davis said. “It’s frustrating to be the one who is blamed for all the ills of this system that has been in place for 25 years.”
At a crowded news conference Wednesday at the minority officers’ Dorchester headquarters, association president Larry Ellison slammed Davis for his demotion of Detective Jerome Hall-Brewster. Davis publicly criticized the black detective for failing to follow up on a 2012 case involving the man now charged in the killing of 24-year-old Amy Lord.
“Commissioner Davis’s actions in front of a crowd in South Boston have only made things worse in communities that already have a somewhat strained relationship when it comes to race,” Ellison said. “The message is clear: Separate and unequal.”
As evidence of that, Ellison pointed to the promotion of five white officers to the rank of supervisor last week, while nine candidates of color who scored the same on the civil service exam did not initially receive promotions.
‘The message is clear: Separate and unequal.’ —Larry Ellison, president Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement
Davis said race was not a factor in Hall-Brewster’s demotion because he was unaware the detective was black at the time of the decision.
The local NAACP chapter co-signed the officers group’s complaints, though not its call to oust Davis. The civil rights organization said the commissioner had previously promised to involve it in recruitment, retention, disciplinary policies, and cadet diversity training.
“I’m standing here to tell you today that the commissioner has not delivered on those promises,” said Michael Curry, president of the NAACP’s Boston branch.
Ten mayoral candidates contacted by the Globe on Wednesday stressed the importance of having a police force reflective of a city in which African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians constitute a majority.
Councilor Michael P. Ross, chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, sat next to officers association members Wednesday. The mayoral candidate, who helped organize the event, supports the group’s grievances, but not necessarily the call to remove Davis.
“It’s not acceptable that we do not have a single senior female superintendent. It’s not acceptable that we do not have a single district captain who is a person of color,” he told the crowd. “This needs to change and, when I’m mayor, it will change.”
In an interview afterward, Ross said he maintains his position of not “making personnel decisions” before he’s elected mayor. (He was one of the six candidates who declined to answer whether he would retain Davis when asked earlier by the Globe.) By taking the podium after Ellison lambasted Davis, Ross said, he was not making a subtle statement in favor of Davis’s ouster. The only statement he made Wednesday, he said, was on the need for a more diverse police force.
Ross’s council colleague and fellow mayoral hopeful Charles C. Yancey said the issues are systemic and transcend one man. Yancey said he has been fighting for more diversity in the police ranks and for more attention to violent crime in communities of color for the 30 years he has been in office.
“How can we have a city of Boston that’s 53 percent people of color and not have one person of color heading up any of the 11 police districts in the city of Boston?” Yancey asked, speaking over applause. “It’s not acceptable.”
Yancey was asked, if he became mayor, would Davis keep his job? “I would conduct a nationwide search,” the 15-term councilor said, “and if the incumbent cares to apply, I would consider his application.”Wesley Lowery can be reached at Wesley.Lowery@globe.com.