Beyond sealing the fate of Boston’s hastily appointed police commissioner, an investigator’s scathing report on the case provides ample proof that the Blue Wall of Silence — silence that has protected corrupt cops, abusive cops, and at least one accused child molester — remains alive and well at Boston Police Department headquarters.
And that cries out for a culture change starting at the top — with a new and properly vetted permanent commissioner appointed by the next mayor and an administration at City Hall that won’t roll over and play dead as the next police union contract is negotiated.
The report, released Friday, is revealing about the history of Dennis White, who was named commissioner by then-Mayor Marty Walsh even as Walsh awaited his confirmation as US labor secretary. White was suspended days later after the Globe revealed earlier allegations of domestic abuse. But perhaps even more important, the report, by outside attorney Tamsin Kaplan, sheds a good deal of light in some rather dark corners at BPD and on the extent to which some fellow officers will go to protect their own.
Caught in the middle of this mess is Acting Mayor Kim Janey — now in the midst of trying to fire White in the face of his demands for due process. A court hearing on White’s bid to halt his firing is scheduled for Thursday.
The long-hidden details of two domestic violence cases, including the multiple efforts by White’s then-wife, also a police officer, to get the attention of and justice from her fellow officers, would alone cast doubt on White’s fitness to lead the department. But Kaplan also uncovered efforts to retaliate against members of the department’s domestic violence unit, including the transfer of one officer out of the unit. One witness told Kaplan that members of the unit have “been through hell and back” because of retaliation over the White case.
An internal affairs finding over the 1999 incidents was later changed from “sustained” to “filed,” thus providing no impediment to White rising within the ranks.
White would do the city and his department a tremendous favor simply by acknowledging that his history has caught up with him at last instead of bargaining over what will be the terms of his inevitable departure.
But even White’s exit can’t begin to set things right — not when Kaplan notes that she had attempted to speak to 21 witnesses, including 12 current or retired members of the BPD, and ended up speaking to only seven. One retired member of the force told her he had received at least five phone calls directing him not to talk.
As recently as April 6, the city’s new corporation counsel introduced Kaplan to Acting Commissioner Gregory Long via e-mail, requesting that Long facilitate interviews with current and former members of the BPD.
“After conferring with the acting mayor’s chief of staff, Superintendent Long declined to provide assistance,” Kaplan wrote.
And that makes Long’s continued service as interim commissioner unacceptable.
While thanking Long for his service at her news conference last Friday, Janey did not, as expected, name a replacement as interim successor, but her choice is widely believed to be Superintendent Nora Baston.
As soon as the legal hurdles are cleared with respect to White — and the public is assured that Baston has been well-vetted — Janey ought to move swiftly on that front.
The report also remains a blot on Marty Walsh’s record and that of his now-departed corporation counsel — and longtime right hand — Eugene O’Flaherty, who, according to Kaplan, had attempted to cut her investigation short after a mere 10 days on the job. That order was rescinded about a week later.
Kaplan also notes in her report that at no time did the administration communicate to White “a requirement that the commissioner cooperate.” His cooperation turned out to be minimal.
Those items point to the importance of leadership at City Hall and a willingness not just to talk tough but also to get tough.
What Boston doesn’t need right now is yet another committee to “set the stage for the future of the Boston Police Department” as Janey announced. The Budd Commission, in a report submitted last year, did a darned good job of that while pointing out the pitfalls of what couldn’t be accomplished without changes to the BPD’s union contracts.
Changes to that blue wall of silence will take even longer to bring about — but transparency about internal affairs investigations and the work of the new Office of Police Accountability and Transparency will certainly mark a beginning of that change.
The next election nears, and voters shouldn’t accept platitudes and half-answers from mayoral candidates about how they intend to break down that wall, how they intend to make real change in a department badly in need of it. What they need to hear is how precisely the next mayor will take on the Boston police unions and BPD’s toxic culture.
This was always going to be a change election — but the report on Dennis White proves that change must now come to the BPD.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.