Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Thursday that he has drafted an ordinance to create an independent police watchdog office, the first major step in a series of reforms laid out last month by a city task force.
The ordinance, which will be introduced to the City Council next week, would create in Boston a first-of-its-kind Office of Police Accountability and Transparency that would monitor police and community relations, review police policies, and push accountability and transparency within the Boston Police Department.
The office will be overseen by three commissioners and a lawyer serving as executive director. The group will have subpoena power to investigate police affairs.
“Our goal is to achieve historic change in Boston and create a national model for breaking down systemic racism across all aspects of our city,” Walsh said in a statement released in advance of an afternoon news conference.
Speaking at the news conference outside City Hall, Walsh said the recommendations he is acting on represent community voices that are advocating for change.
“This is what our communities, speaking through the task force, have called for, and this is what we are committed to here in the city,” said Walsh.
Tanisha Sullivan, head of the NAACP in Boston and a task force member who served on a subcommittee examining an office of accountability, thanked Walsh for “respecting the integrity of the recommendations, with an understanding that they were informed by Boston residents, as well as the best practices and structures that have been implemented across the country.”
“They truly do speak to what is possible when we lean into the challenge, determined to make change,” said Sullivan.
Walsh also signed an executive order to reconfigure an Internal Affairs Oversight Panel, which would have more authority to monitor internal affairs investigations. The panel would replace a former Community Ombudsman and Oversight Panel, which had the authority to investigate only a fraction of internal affairs cases.
In addition, the mayor announced the creation of a new Civilian Review Board that would have the authority to monitor “any issues determined by the body,” including use-of-force policies and community concerns. That board would have nine members comprised of community members nominated by the city council and the mayor’s office.
Walsh appointed an 11-member task force in June, in response to protests that had taken hold in Boston and nationwide amid a movement for racial justice and greater police accountability. He did so while declaring racism a public health emergency in the city and pledging to reallocate $12 million of the police department’s overtime budget to other programs, including social services.
The mayor charged the task force with reviewing Boston police’s use-of-force policies, implicit bias training, the body-worn camera program, and the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel, also known as CO-OP.
Last month, Walsh embraced the task force recommendations and announced he planned to implement the changes within 180 days. In October, he pushed for the state’s civil service system that governs the department’s hirings to include a preference for prospective officers who graduated from the city’s high schools in an attempt to further diversify Boston’s force.
“I take these recommendations very seriously,” said Walsh on Thursday.
How best to achieve police reform has prompted a robust discussion in city politics in recent months, a discourse that included a contentious $3.61 billion operating budget vote taken by the City Council over the summer, when some members of the body said that Walsh’s $12 million police OT reallocation did not go far enough to achieve systemic change. The operating budget ultimately passed.
On Thursday, City Councilor Michelle Wu, a Walsh critic who is running for mayor, said that she looked forward to reviewing the proposal that would create an independent watchdog office, and indicated she would “press for details on how the Mayor plans to fund not only this new office, but important public safety efforts that have been starved of the budget needed to make change.”
“We need to completely overhaul how we think about public safety and public health,” she said in a statement.
According to Walsh’s office, the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency would “provide intake services, research, and administrative support to the Civilian Review Board and the Internal Affairs Oversight Panel.” Such a structure would “create a single point of public access to a new standard in police accountability and community oversight.”
Andrea Campbell, a city councilor and mayoral candidate, remained skeptical. She said Thursday that the mayor’s “move to establish two separate boards with different rules, authority, and appointing structures undermines the goal of ensuring true civilian oversight that is independent and accessible to the public.” Campbell favored a city council proposal she said “would create one board with the independence and authority to review and investigate all cases — internal affairs, citizen complaints of police misconduct, and complaints filed by officers or BPD personnel.”
Walsh has yet to announce whether he plans to seek a third term.
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia. Danny McDonald can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.