When the Boston Police Department decided to hire a consultant to review the its internal affairs division — the arm that handles wrongdoing within the department — they turned to a former officer who had been the subject of his own high-profile internal affairs review in Los Angeles. And they did so without soliciting bids, raising further questions about the decision.
Boston police hired Michael Berkow in May and agreed to pay him $25,000 to help streamline the internal affairs complaint process. His work for the department is now completed.
Though Berkow was dropped from a million-dollar lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department, he acknowledged that he had a three-year affair with a subordinate while he was that department’s deputy chief of internal affairs.
“The department was aware of his past and we felt he was the best person to come in and make the improvements that [Commissioner Edward F. Davis] likes,” Boston police spokeswoman Cheryl Fiandaca said of Berkow’s hire.
In 2006, an LAPD officer accused Berkow of retaliating against her after she alleged that he had an affair with a subordinate and that Berkow created a hostile work environment. The complaining officer was demoted from sergeant to detective, and a jury later awarded her $1 million in 2007 as compensation for lost wages.
That incident did not prevent Berkow from becoming police chief in Savannah, Ga. He later became one of the principals at Strategic Policy Partnership, a West Tisbury consulting firm. He left that job last month to be Coast Guard investigative service director.
Berkow “has an incredibly impressive resume. … He was hired for his expertise and his experience and his ability to improve and bring best practices, meeting national standards, to the department’s internal affairs division,” Fiandaca said.
Berkow did not return phone messages left for him at the Coast Guard. His lawyer in the 2006 lawsuit, John Sheller, said Berkow had nothing to do with the officer’s demotion and had helped the department emerge from federal oversight following corruption scandals in the 1990s.
“Berkow was very successful in addressing [internal affairs] concerns in the LAPD,” said Robert Wasserman, chairman of Strategic Policy Partnership. “He is a national expert on [internal affairs] issues and has been cleared for security clearances a number of times since LA.”
Fiandaca said no bidding process was used to hire Berkow, but department officials and city attorneys agreed to give him the contract.
It is the kind of hire that can raise questions from the public, said Jonathan Jacobs, director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Ethics at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“It is important to avoid giving grounds for any criticism that the consultant may have been hired on a basis other than the relevant expertise, and important to avoid supplying any reason for someone to suspect that the consultant may have a dubious record of integrity,” Jacobs said.
Berkow’s work for the Boston police wrapped up last month, Fiandaca said.
She said most of his recommendations have been put into place, including a process that sends minor complaints — such as an officer accused of being rude during a traffic stop — to the district level, where a captain reviews the case and decides on any punishment.
Department rules have long allowed a commanding officer to investigate complaints and decide punishment, but Fiandaca said the practice was to send every complaint to internal affairs. The unit can take months, if not years, to complete investigations, leaving accused officers in limbo.
Serious accusations, such as excessive force or corruption, will still be handled by internal affairs.
“It streamlines the process so the system doesn’t get clogged up with issues that are thought of as minor and, secondly, it lets the supervisor of the person whose conduct is being called into question weigh in,” Fiandaca said.
There has been resistance to the changes. The Boston Police Superior Officers Federation sent a letter last month to Superintendent Frank Mancini, the head of internal affairs, complaining that changes affecting the workload of captains should have been made as part of collective bargaining.
“If you go forward with the . . . changes and you fail to provide the union with notice and an opportunity to bargain in accordance with the law, be assured that protracted litigation will ensue,” the union’s attorney, Leah Barrault, wrote in the Oct. 16 letter.
There could be other legal problems, said Thomas Nolan, a lecturer at Tufts University and former Boston Police lieutenant.
A lawyer representing someone with a sexual harassment complaint against Boston police could use Berkow’s hiring to paint the department as insensitive to those kinds of cases, he said.
“If I want to convince a jury, all I have to do is bring in this guy’s record and say this is who they saw fit as the best person to hire as a consultant to advise them on matters in internal affairs,” Nolan said. “The department puts itself in a position of vulnerability because, truth be known, there is no shortage of experts in this area who are available for consulting contracts.”
In a brief phone interview from her California home, the officer who sued Berkow, Ya-May Christle, said she is still trying to regain her rank as sergeant.
“I can’t speak for the people in Boston,” she said, “but I just hope they thought this one through.”