scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Dennis White’s likely departure gives Acting Mayor Kim Janey an opening

Dennis WhiteSuffolk Superior Court

Sometime soon — possibly as early as Monday — the curtain is going to fall on the drama that has engulfed Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White.

There’s never been much doubt how Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s review of White’s situation is going to play out. After all, Janey has never disputed that she was on the verge of naming a successor weeks ago, before White’s legal action put everything on hold.

But now that two courts have affirmed her right to replace him, every indication is that White will be removed this week.

It’s been a saga without any obvious precedent. White was named commissioner upon the sudden retirement of Willie Gross earlier this year. And then things immediately blew up, after the Globe unearthed a domestic violence complaint — and Internal Affairs investigation — dating back to 1999. The complaint involved violence against his wife at the time, who was and remains a Boston police officer.

Then-Mayor Marty Walsh placed White on leave and named an independent investigator. The report of that investigator, Tamsin Kaplan, revealed a previous complaint about White involving violence against a woman, and his departure has been more than likely since then.


Through his attorney, White has consistently maintained that he did nothing wrong, and has released a string of supportive video affidavits attesting to his character.

But his ex-wife, Sybil Mason, strongly defended her claims of abuse in an interview with the Globe’s Stephanie Ebbert.

“I was a prisoner in my own house,” was Mason’s description of her marital life, and the emotional and physical abuse that she says accompanied it.

Maybe — as some of White’s supporters maintain — it’s unusual for a career to come undone over allegations that date back more than 20 years. It certainly seems true that different witnesses, including family members, have sharply different recollections of those years of White’s life.


But the bottom line is that he has no legal right to be police commissioner. The allegations are easily serious enough, and credible enough, to render him incapable of leading this department.

That, in itself, is grounds to remove White. His credibility can’t recover from this.

White’s legal action did have one positive outcome: It forced Janey to slow down. Rather than anointing a new commissioner — which would have repeated the mistake that started this whole tumultuous episode — she’s had a chance to rethink that strategy.

That’s all for the best.

In the best-case scenario, Superintendent -in-chief Greg Long, the current acting commissioner, would simply remain in place through the November election. At which point the winner of the mayoral election, whoever that is, could appoint a search committee and find the next commissioner.

But Long, by all accounts, is itching to leave the post. Meaning there will be a second interim commissioner.

Janey had originally planned to promote Superintendent Nora Baston to the post. That could still happen. But I’m hearing now that Baston is a “strong contender” but no longer a lock for the job. Janey is considering other candidates as well.

Janey plans to forge ahead with a committee she announced recently to look at policing. The mandate of that committee has been ever-shifting: First, it was a search committee, but it has been downgraded to a group that will garner community input on what the city needs in its next commissioner.


Part of my objection to a new “examine the police” commission has been that another august group did exactly that, just last year. But City Hall insiders say the new group will have a different focus.

I guess we’ll see what that means.

As a city councilor, Janey was an outspoken supporter of major police reform. With the White mess behind her, she can think about what that might really look like and who would be the right person to lead it.

Without question, Janey was handed a mess in the form of the Dennis White saga. But it could open the possibility of real reform in the department, if Janey seizes the opportunity.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @Adrian_Walker.