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lawrence harmon

Newton needs a police chief from outside system

Long before a group of Newton Police officers hit upon the brilliant idea of egging their supervisor’s home, it was clear that there was something rotten in the culture of the Newton Police Department. As a search gets underway in earnest for a new chief of the 139-officer department, Newton Mayor Setti Warren would do his constituents a big favor by hiring a new chief with no connection to the Garden City.

With its low crime rate, strong schools, handsome homes, and good transit connections, Newton ranks at or near the top of the best places to live in Massachusetts. It’s not a place where one might expect to find police officers behaving like dolts. But the wakeup call came in October when Matthew Cummings, the former Newton police chief, was terminated after a city investigation concluded that he made “boorish, disrespectful, and insulting’’ remarks to female employees, including telling his former secretary that she looked like a “whore.’’

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Another Newton officer, Captain Christopher Marzilli, was cleared last week of making offensive remarks to a pregnant Newton officer. Fifteen police employees denied or could not recall Marzilli making such remarks when asked by an outside investigator. That’s certainly possible. Or maybe the blue wall of silence runs along the Mass. Pike through Newton.

The egging incident may seem like a prank played on a supervisor. But it raises serious question about the mindset of officers who are entrusted to exercise maturity and discretion under stress. On Dec. 11, 2012, Framingham Police got a report that a home owned by a Newton Police sergeant had been egged by “teenage males.’’ But the culprits turned out to be three Newton officers — Jeffrey Boudreau, Michael Iarossi, and Declan Healy — according to the Framingham Police incident report. All are seven-year veterans of the force. No one was arrested.

An internal affairs investigation by the Newton Police determined that two more officers had been involved in the egging incident. Newton interim police chief Howard Mintz declined to identify the officers, saying only that all involved had received reprimands or suspensions.

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The refusal to publicize the names of the disciplined officers in the egging case reflects the insularity of the Newton Police. The department also has refused to identify an officer who assaulted a civilian following a police ball in 2010.

Boston Police routinely release the names of disciplined officers on the principle that it sends the message of an open partnership with the public. But the Newton department operates more like a family — literally. One of the officers in the egging incident, Jeffrey Boudreau, is surrounded by relatives on the force, including brother patrolmen Michael and Christopher Boudreau. Their father, Edward Boudreau, is a Newton Police captain. And their uncle, Alfred Boudreau, is a lieutenant. It’s common to find families with a tradition of police service. But serving simultaneously on the same department can raise legitimate issues around discipline and favoritism.

Maybe the blue wall of silence runs along the Mass. Pike through Newton.

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It’s not just family ties that are at the root of the clubbiness of the Newton Police. Many officers grew up in blue-collar sections of the city and see it as a fiefdom where they can exercise power even without the big bucks and outsized homes of many Newton residents. Outsiders are viewed with suspicion.

Former Newton Police chief Jose Cordero found that out shortly after his arrival in 2002 from the New York City Police Department. He quickly became embroiled in a controversy after telling officers to write more tickets and issue fewer warnings. The officers took Cordero to court for encroaching upon their discretion. But something more may have been bubbling beneath the surface. Cordero suspected that officers were writing tickets based on class distinctions: warnings for violators driving older vehicles in blue collar neighborhoods and tickets for the Lexus/Mercedes set in fancier parts of the city. Call it DWR — Driving While Rich.

This practice might tickle some people. But it is hardly consonant with justice or public safety.

Right now, Mayor Warren is looking at a handful of internal candidates for the chief’s job. He doesn’t rule out expanding the search to outside candidates. But he doesn’t seem especially excited by the prospect, either.

The Newton Police Department has grown musty over the years. It would benefit from the kind of sunshine that is only found by going outside.

Lawrence Harmon can be reached at harmon@globe.com.
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