Larry Calderone spent much of the last quarter century on the Boston Police Department fighting crime.
More recently, he’s been fighting perceptions, the chief one being that the police officers he represents are kicking and screaming as others try to reform policing.
If Calderone, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, sounds a bit defensive, that’s because he is. He feels the officers he represents are being demonized and denied input into the new practices that are going to affect their lives as much as the public they are sworn to protect.
“Our union is being vilified. We are not the obstacles or obstructionists we are being portrayed as,” Calderone said. “We agree that reforms need to be made, but we should be part of the conversation and we have been frozen out.”
Since a police officer in Minneapolis murdered George Floyd last May, the demand for reform has been inexorable.
At the state level, a package that would, among other things, ban chokeholds and standardize police oversight and certification, has stalled on Beacon Hill.
In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh’s Boston Police Reform Task Force produced a series of recommendations for reform that are about to be implemented. The task force did not include a BPPA member.
Calderone says the union doesn’t object to many of the recommendations, but doesn’t know enough about the specifics of some items to say one way or the other.
For instance, the mayor’s ordinance to create an independent police watchdog office, which will have the subpoena powers that the current and toothless community ombudsman’s office lacks.
“Until the union is brought into the conversation, I can’t render a fully informed opinion,” Calderone said. “But it looks like a money grab, creating a huge, new bureaucracy and a bunch of jobs controlled by whoever is in political power.”
The BPPA, sometimes its own worst enemy, has made strides to improve its reputation, especially with minorities. Calderone has tried to tone down the rhetoric in the union’s newsletter, Pax Centurion, which regularly published offensive, bigoted material.
“It’s not as angry as before,” he said.
Eddy Chrispin, a Boston police sergeant, and president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, said the relationships between the BPPA and groups representing minority officers have “exponentially improved.”
“Larry invited us to the table, and also the Latino and Cape Verdean officers groups,” Chrispin said. “The climate before was very closed.”
Chrispin was a member of the mayor’s task force as the head of MAMELO, but found himself doing “a lot of advocacy for officers in general” during some of the more contentious meetings.
“There were some people who were open minded, some who came in with an agenda and weren’t going to budge,” he said. “We agreed on the major things.”
One point Chrispin agrees with Calderone on is the need to “end the negative, venomous” anti-police rhetoric.
“No group should be lumped together” for the criminal actions of others, including police, Chrispin said. He says efforts to increase the percentage of minority officers could be hampered by gratuitous attacks on police officers for the criminal behavior of some. Who wants to be a cop these days?
Calderone grew up in a diverse Hyde Square in Jamaica Plain, and agrees the department needs to better reflect the city’s diversity. Earlier this year, he invited Representative Carlos Gonzalez and the Black and Latino legislative caucus that Gonzalez leads to the union’s headquarters in Dorchester, a first.
Gonzalez said he appreciated Calderone’s outreach.
“If we’re going to have real reform, we have to include the police in that discussion,” he said.
One of Calderone’s biggest concerns is this: When it comes to the demands for greater accountability of police officers, who on these new panels will judge their actions?
“We believe we should be treated like all other panels for certification,” he said. “Doctors and lawyers are overseen by experts in their field. You wouldn’t decertify a lawyer or doctor by a panel made up of community activists.”
Calderone said communication can’t be a one-way street.
“When we sat down with the Black and Latino caucus, we came to agreements,” Calderone said. “We’ll talk to anybody. But we shouldn’t be frozen out.”
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.