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OPINION

Time and again, the Boston Police Department has proved it can’t be trusted to police itself

The department needs transparency and accountability. But that won’t happen in a vacuum. It requires hands-on leadership.

Smoke rises around Boston police on May 31, 2020, as they use pepper spray during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Smoke rises around Boston police on May 31, 2020, as they use pepper spray during a Black Lives Matter protest.JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

If Boston is going to change, it needs a police department that leads the nation in transparency and accountability. But it also needs leadership that insists on it.

As the Globe recently reported, for more than two decades, the Boston Police Department protected Patrick M. Rose Sr., a former president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association who has been charged with molesting children, allowing him to continue to serve in their ranks and even engage with children.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey has committed to release BPD’s internal affairs file on Rose, records which are expected to be released by the end of Tuesday. But the need for transparency and accountability — and to put an end to coverups and cronyism — goes well beyond the Rose case.

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Time and again, the BPD has proved that it cannot be trusted to police itself. Whether it’s refusing to release information on officers who may have participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection on the US Capitol or answer why Officer Clifton McHale is back on paid duty while an investigation into his excessive use of force on protesters last summer remains open, the BPD often seems to act as if it is accountable to no one.

Last year, I spearheaded the creation of an independent civilian review board to investigate and provide accountability for police misconduct. As a result, the city now has an Office of Police Accountability and Transparency to provide consistent, independent oversight over our police department.

But as we were reminded last month when the BPD failed to show up for a City Council hearing on police reform, transparency and accountability don’t happen in a vacuum. They require hands-on leadership.

At a time when the city is spending more than $400 million on the police department, including over $70 million in overtime, city leaders should be insisting on a substantial reduction to the police budget. We should be courageous about making changes to union contracts that permit abuses such as overtime. And we should reallocate those funds to key priorities in the community that address root causes of violence and crime.

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Last year, I was among a group of elected leaders — including then-Council President Janey — calling for a 10 percent cut and reallocation of funding from the police budget, the second-largest budget expense in the city, behind only Boston Public Schools. The budget she released last week retreats from that commitment. Transforming our approach to public safety requires a sizable and sustainable reduction to police overtime. I have proposed to reallocate at least $50 million from the police budget with strategies to actualize those savings, starting with shifting existing personnel out of specialized units and back to the districts, rather than adding new officers.

Ensuring equal access to justice, eradicating persistent racial disparities in policing, and reducing violence and crime is important to all Bostonians, but it’s personal to me. My life has been impacted by incarceration: My father was incarcerated throughout my childhood, and my twin brother, Andre, died under mysterious circumstances at age 29 in prison awaiting transfer for his trial. These experiences have fueled my career in public service to break cycles of poverty, trauma, criminalization, and generational inequity — not just for my family, but for families in every neighborhood in the city.

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Some may wonder whether reallocating resources and pushing for transparency and accountability would create a divide between the city’s elected leadership and its police force. The answer is no. Residents I’ve spoken with — including many officers — believe that a transparent, diverse, just, and accountable department is essential to public safety and will shift the culture inside the police department. These efforts won’t drive us further apart; they will bring us all closer together.

We can’t be afraid of making tough choices. That’s how we arrived at this moment. When it comes to the police department and public safety, Boston needs to turn the page.

Andrea J. Campbell is a Boston City councilor and a candidate for mayor.