Eliminating Boston police’s gang and bicycle units? No more school resource officers in the district?
In a mayoral race where police reform promises to be front and center, City Councilor Andrea Campbell is considering these measures as she pushes for a fundamental rethink of how public safety works in the city. Specifically, Campbell wants to slash the city’s police department budget by about $50 million and reroute that money toward public health, economic justice, and youth development.
Campbell, one of three councilors running for mayor, a steadfast police reform advocate whose district encompasses Dorchester and Mattapan, announced Wednesday she supports exploring nixing the four-hour overtime minimum requirement for officers and doing away with the department’s gang and bicycle units to “add capacity to our busiest districts,” among other measures that may be met with resistance from police unions and department leadership. She also says she would eliminate the school district’s 125 school resource officers and repurpose those funds to invest in more mental health specialists.
“As mayor, I will ensure our Boston Police Department is the most transparent and accountable in the nation,” she said in a statement to the Globe.
Campbell’s policy rollout is the latest chapter in what has been a broad debate in Boston politics for months now in the wake of high-profile killings of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Police reform promises to continue to be a top issue in this year’s rapidly developing mayoral contest.
Campbell’s council colleague and fellow mayoral candidate Michelle Wu, as part of her campaign, has emphasized the need to demilitarize the police. She has touted legislation she authored that banned the use of facial recognition software in the city, a practice that can be inaccurate and racially discriminatory, her proposal to divert nonviolent 911 calls away from police, and her push for data on Boston officers’ use of military-style weapons.
Some reform is already underway. Earlier this year, Mayor Martin J. Walsh signed an ordinance creating an independent city watchdog that will have the authority to investigate officer misconduct. Whoever wins this fall’s mayoral election will likely oversee the early days of that agency. Additionally, Walsh has advocated for changes to the state’s civil service exam to include a preference for Boston high school graduates in an effort to further diversify the city’s police force.
Walsh recently vetoed a council measure that would restrict the use of chemical substances like tear gas and projectiles such as rubber bullets in crowd-control situations in Boston. At the time, the mayor said that initiative included “considerable questions as to the practicality and potential consequences of many of the proposals contained in the ordinance.” The proposal was filed by councilors in the aftermath of the violence that erupted last May 31, when police clashed with civilians after a peaceful march protesting police brutality and systemic racism.
In response to the mayor’s veto, Campbell and Councilor Ricardo Arroyo have again filed legislation to restrict the use of such crowd-control methods in the city, and the matter is slated to be discussed at Wednesday’s council meeting.
Campbell’s pledge this week to cut at least 10 percent of the Boston police budget and reinvest that money elsewhere goes much further than Walsh’s reduction last summer, when the mayor reallocated about $12 million from the department’s overtime to social services. For some, that move did not go far enough to address systemic inequities in the city. Wu and Campbell were among the handful of councilors to vote against Walsh’s operating budget for those reasons. Their council colleague and fellow mayoral candidate, Annissa Essaibi George, voted in favor of that operating budget.
Recently, Essaibi George has said the next elected mayor will have to put reforms like the new watchdog entity, which would field and review complaints from the public about officers and would have subpoena power to investigate police affairs, “into practice in a meaningful way,” and has also spoken of the importance of supporting police officers “who go to work every single day to protect” Boston residents. Last year, Essaibi George, who is known for advocacy around mental health issues, pushed to add 15 social workers to a team that helps police respond to calls involving people with mental health problems, and other difficult situations.
“We know that so many of our residents don’t need a police response, they need a mental health response,” she said last September.
Walsh is expected to become the nation’s next labor secretary in coming days, a development that has opened up this year’s mayor’s race. In addition to the trio of city councilors, state Representative Jon Santiago has announced he intends to seek the seat, and Dorchester resident Dana Depelteau has also filed campaign paperwork with the state to run for mayor. Additionally, John Barros, the city’s economic development chief, is stepping down from his City Hall post, in a move some political observers see as inching ever closer to a bid for mayor.
City Council President Kim Janey will become acting mayor once Walsh departs City Hall. She has yet to say whether she intends to run for a full mayoral term.