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EDITORIAL

Ending the code of silence for Boston police

The case of Patrick Rose should be a never-again moment for BPD. Officers of the law must be held accountable for breaking it.

Patrick Rose covers his face during his arraignment in August 2020.
Patrick Rose covers his face during his arraignment in August 2020.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

For more than two decades, the Boston Police Department kept the secret of officer Patrick M. Rose Sr.

Buried deep in its internal files was the criminal complaint of a sexual assault on a 12-year-old child, a complaint later dropped when the boy, under pressure from Rose, recanted. Buried, too, was the internal affairs report that “sustained” the charges. That finding came down in 1996, yet Rose remained on the force until his retirement in 2018, rising during those years to be president of the patrolmen’s union.

Today Rose stands charged with molesting five more children since that initial accusation, including the daughter of that original 1995 accuser.

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But it’s the Boston Police Department that through its silence stands complicit. It’s every police official who knew and said nothing, who read that internal affairs report and did nothing, who kept the secret allowing a credibly accused pedophile to remain in law enforcement who shares responsibility for the pain that followed.

In fact, despite the “sustained” charges by internal affairs, a Globe review of department records found Rose continued to have contact with vulnerable children, including being dispatched to pick up a 14-year-old girl tearfully reporting her own rape from a pay phone in 1999. He also testified as the arresting officer in a 2006 child sexual assault case.

And still the brothers in blue said nothing.

Sadly the department has a long history of burying accusations of misconduct within the ranks — a habit reflected in, and fueled by, union contracts that make it difficult to punish wrongdoing even when the department tries. What is astonishing, however, about this particular case is the lengths to which the department and the now departed Walsh administration went to keep those files under wraps after criminal charges were brought against Rose last August. (Rose is currently being held on $200,000 bail on 33 counts of sexual abuse of six victims ages 7 to 16.)

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At a time when thousands of people were marching in the streets demanding justice and police accountability, that internal affairs report remained locked away.

Before departing to become the Biden administration’s secretary of labor, then-mayor Marty Walsh refused to release the files even in the face of a ruling from the state’s supervisor of public records. The administration insisted it was impossible to redact the file in a way that would shield the victim as required by state law.

Excuses are easy, governing is hard — as acting Mayor Kim Janey found out this week when confronted with mounting cries, some from fellow city councilors and rivals in the ongoing mayoral race, to release the records. By late Monday she issued a statement saying she has asked the city’s law department to review the internal affairs file, redact information to protect the identity of alleged victims “so that the file can be released to the public.” She said Tuesday she expected that to happen by the end of this week.

Janey added: “It is baffling that officer Rose was allowed to remain on the force for over two decades and ultimately led the patrolmen’s union.”

Baffling indeed, which points to the need for an outside investigation into exactly how it did happen. Janey has tasked the newly named executive director of Boston’s Office of Police Accountability and Transparency with leading that investigation.

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She should also use this case to fight against protections for police officers who abuse people or break the law in the next police union contract negotiations, striking out any provisions that support the culture of impunity that Boston police have enjoyed for too long.

Of course, the Rose case isn’t the only police matter crying out for a dose of transparency.

The controversy surrounding Police Commissioner Dennis White and 1999 allegations of domestic violence lodged by his then-wife — allegations that when finally disclosed caused him to be put on administrative leave — remains an open case. That outside investigation is expected to be completed later this month.

There’s also the as yet unresolved matter of whether a Boston police officer was present during the Jan. 6 riots at the US Capitol. Police officials were a no-show at a Council hearing called last month at which that was a likely topic.

Greater police transparency is, of course, what is promised by both the statewide police reform law due to be implemented July 1 and the city’s own effort at civilian oversight through the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency.

The state bill, which sets up a commission that could “decertify” police found guilty of misconduct, takes on-duty sexual offenses so seriously that it includes special provisions for punishing police who sexually abuse anyone in their “custody or control,” shifting the legal burden of proof and deeming the victim “incapable of consent.”

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But all disciplinary records would be made available to the new state commission — and no one should get a pass for off-duty offenses either.

Boston, too, can and should be entering a new era of transparency with the launch of its oversight board. But boards, however well intentioned, need the support of the political power structure — especially the next mayor — and the public. And the details of the police union contracts can constrain or expand what the oversight board is able to accomplish, something Janey and the next mayor cannot afford to ignore.

The case of Patrick Rose ought to be one of those never-again moments — a shameful example of the betrayal of the public’s trust by a code of silence that has no place in modern policing.

The time for keeping secrets is over. The time for a fundamental change in the culture of the Boston Police Department, a time when officers who break the law or public trust are held accountable, has begun.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.