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With Boston’s new police commissioner on leave, city leaders ask why vetting didn’t bring out domestic abuse allegation

Dennis A. White was sworn in as police commissioner Monday.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

City councilors and advocates raised pointed questions Thursday about the vetting process Mayor Martin J. Walsh used to pick the new police commissioner, Dennis White, after a domestic abuse allegation against White surfaced two days after his promotion.

Councilor Ed Flynn was among those who called for an independent investigation, advocating that a “full accounting of the facts and the vetting process be presented to the public in a transparent manner.”

“All allegations of domestic violence and threatening behavior are extremely serious,” he said.

Walsh said Wednesday night that the city was placing White, a veteran of the Boston Police Department, on leave and launching an investigation after a Globe reporter asked about the 1999 domestic violence allegation.

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The announcement came two days after White was sworn in as the city’s 43rd police commissioner. White, 59, replaced William Gross, who abruptly retired as commissioner last Friday.

In a statement Wednesday night, Walsh said he had appointed Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long to serve as acting commissioner while the city hires an outside lawyer “to conduct a full and impartial investigation” into allegations that White pushed and threatened to shoot his then-wife, who was also a Boston police officer.

A judge issued a restraining order on May 5, 1999, that forced White to vacate his home, stay away from his wife and children, and surrender his weapon. At the time, White denied the allegations in court filings.

Walsh, who has been nominated to be US secretary of labor, was in Washington on Thursday, fielding questions from senators at his confirmation hearing, while local leaders raised concerns about the new police commissioner back home.

Toni Troop, a spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., a coalition against sexual and domestic violence, said the situation raises questions about the vetting process, adding that a position like police commissioner deserves “mindful scrutiny.” She said she hoped the Police Department would see an opportunity to “reflect internally about how it handles allegations of sexual and domestic violence by employees.”

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”Historically, we know there’s been a code of silence within the police for domestic or sexual violence or other behaviors, and that’s often a barrier for survivors to come forward in the first place,” Troop said.

Councilor Andrea Campbell, who is among those running for mayor, thought the situation was “bigger than the administration’s failure to properly vet a candidate to lead our Police department.”

“The systemic lack of accountability for wrongdoing and transparency in BPD is a trend,” she said in a statement.

Walsh spokesman Nick Martin acknowledged in an e-mail Thursday that the vetting of White “admittedly should have been more thorough.”

The Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, a founder of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, a faith-based anti-violence organization, agreed.

”I recognize the reality,” he said Thursday. “Commissioner White has been a friend, and is a friend. These developments are very unfortunate. I think the Walsh administration should have done their due diligence so we wouldn’t have this state of affairs.”

In a statement, councilor and mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George said: “Every possible incident of domestic violence is a big deal. There are no exceptions. We deserve to know that the leaders we trust to keep our community safe can live up to the highest possible standard in their own lives.”

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Michelle Wu, another city councilor who is running for mayor, called for an investigation and urged the city’s next commissioner “to lead a complete overhaul of the culture and lack of transparency at BPD.”

Council President Kim Janey, who will become acting mayor once Walsh leaves City Hall, said in a statement: “I take any allegation of this nature very seriously. I fully support an independent investigation, and I defer any further comment until it is completed.”

Several people who served with White on a police reform task force that the mayor appointed last year had praised his appointment, and on Thursday called for due process in the investigation.

Joseph D. Feaster, a lawyer and community advocate who served on the panel, acknowledged that better vetting process should have been done, and he agreed that any domestic violence would be a disqualifying factor for a police commissioner. But he questioned whether the allegations against White, from 21 years ago and which never led to a criminal prosecution or a restraining order violation, rose to that level.

“I think there was a rush to judgement here for a whole host of reasons, and I don’t think that’s correct,” Feaster said.

Milton J. Valencia, Emily Sweeney, Andrew Ryan, and Dugan Arnett of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.