fb-pixel Skip to main content
OPINION

More stonewalling from the Boston police

Two months after the BPD said it was investigating whether an officer participated in the Capitol insurrection, there are still no answers.

Boston police officers stand near the State House on Jan. 17 as a precaution against demonstrations following the attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Things were supposed to change at the Boston Police Department. Bostonians took to the streets last summer to demand it. More transparency. More accountability. But instead, when issues about the police arise, we get the same old routine — obfuscate, delay, deny.

The latest case in point: Two months ago, the Globe reported that the Boston Police Department was investigating whether an officer within its ranks participated in the Jan. 6 deadly insurrection at the US Capitol. The report also said the department was investigating social media posts in which the officer allegedly threatened then-vice president Mike Pence.

Advertisement



It’s been two months and Bostonians still don’t know the results of the investigation. The lack of information reflects a broader pattern of foot dragging and stonewalling, and of police protecting their own.

Last summer, police reform suddenly had momentum — at long last. Tragically, it took the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May for cities across the country to examine police misconduct and ways in which existing structures, like police unions and contracts, obscure accountability and transparency, and thus erode public trust.

Boston got on board. In January, Mayor Marty Walsh signed a law establishing a new, independent agency — the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency — tasked with investigating complaints against police officers. Led by three commissioners, the new oversight office would have subpoena power to look into police affairs. A spokesperson for Walsh said the city is hoping to announce the new office’s executive director, who will serve as one of the commissioners, within the next month.

“Now is the time to act with urgency to dismantle systemic racism across our city,” Walsh said in a statement at the time. “The Office of Police Accountability and Transparency will support lasting, generational change by rooting out impropriety and ensuring the type of enhanced oversight that leads to greater community trust.”

Advertisement



Maybe generational change will come, but basic information about an internal investigation should be a straightforward matter. It brings to mind the story of the Boston detective who, after being involved in two drunk driving incidents, faced no consequences and went on to retire with his pension. How? Thanks to the “blue wall of silence,” or the way cops protect their own.

Clearly, more oversight is in order. Boston city councilor and mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell and councilor Julia Mejia have been pushing the department to reveal details on its investigation of the officer possibly involved in the insurrection.

A Boston Police spokesman would say only that it is an open investigation. “I think there are certain pieces of [the probe] that they could keep internal,” said Campbell, whose subsequent subpoena of additional information was rebuffed by BPD. “But the public and taxpayers absolutely deserve to know if there is an officer or more than one officer being investigated for participating in the insurrection and if that officer or officers are on paid or unpaid leave.”

It’s important that the police department releases details “in the spirit of the recent historic legislation we just passed for that system to be set up in order to ensure greater transparency and accountability in our Police Department,” Campbell said.

Advertisement



In addition to the foot-dragging, there’s an alarming leadership vacuum in the department. There is no permanent police commissioner, since Walsh put Dennis White on leave in early February after a past allegation of domestic abuse resurfaced. The mayor had just appointed White to the post after William Gross abruptly retired. Meanwhile, Walsh has pretty much checked out on his mayoral duties as he awaits Senate confirmation to become the next US Labor secretary (a vote to confirm him is expected to come Monday).

Regardless, the Boston Police owes Bostonians clear answers. Other police chiefs across the country are investigating those within their ranks who attended the pro-Trump rally that preceded the storming of the US Capitol. “There is zero room, not only in society, but more so in professions of public trust and service, for people to have extremist views, regardless of ideology,” Art Acevedo, the then-Houston police chief and president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, told The New York Times. Why can’t BPD send the same message by being transparent about its investigation?

“I don’t think there ever was a desire to implement these reforms,” said Campbell. “I didn’t need to see George Floyd get killed … to know that our department needed some reform. It was all political. . . [Walsh] had to do what was necessary because the politics of the moment demanded it.”

Moments fade. Systemic reform means we would already have received answers about the investigation.

Advertisement




Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at marcela.garcia@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.