Boston Mayor Michelle Wu kicked off the search for a new police commissioner Thursday, unveiling a slate of diverse search committee members who will take the lead in finding candidates for the post.
Justice Geraldine Hines, a retired member of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, will serve as chair of the committee. The Police Department, the nation’s oldest police force, has effectively lacked a permanent leader for almost a year.
Other members of the panel include former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis; Bishop William E. Dickerson II, senior pastor at the Greater Love Tabernacle Church; Abrigal Forrester, the executive director of Teen Empowerment, which works with low-income youth advocates for change in their communities; and Jasmine Gonzales Rose, a law professor and deputy director of research and policy at Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research.
During a City Hall news conference Thursday morning, Wu said the commissioner post is among the consequential roles in the city.
“Delivering public safety through a lens of public health and community trust requires hard and ongoing work in the Boston Police Department,” she said.
The first phase of the search process will be community engagement. Wu said the search committee will host two community meetings later this month, where committee members will listen to concerns and priorities of the public regarding policing. More listening sessions are expected to follow. Wu said the search will be guided by Boston’s residents, who will determine what attributes the next commissioner must have. Wu said she hopes to have a new commissioner by spring.
“Nothing has been decided, there is no bias going in toward any type of candidate,” said Wu.
Whoever takes the helm at BPD will inherit a department wracked by scandal in recent months. Boston police’s last permanent leader, Dennis White, was fired by then-Acting Mayor Kim Janey in June following the reemergence of decades-old domestic abuse allegations against him. Before his termination, White had been placed on leave in February when those allegations resurfaced. Gregory Long has served as the department’s interim head since that time. Long is not interested in becoming permanent commissioner, Wu said Thursday.
The White debacle was the product of a haphazard commissioner selection in the waning days of former mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration, a process that included no candidate vetting or national search. The last three Boston police commissioners — White, William Gross, and William Evans — were promoted from within the department with no outside search.
The city last went outside its own ranks to hire a commissioner in 2006, when it chose Davis after a national effort that included interviews with a half-dozen candidates. Davis, who was Boston commissioner for about seven years, following a dozen years as superintendent of Lowell police, is the only former officer on Wu’s committee.
There are other recent Boston police controversies, from allegations of overtime fraud at an evidence warehouse to revelations that the department allowed an officer — who was the former president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association — to continue to serve on the force for years after investigators determined in the mid-1990s he had more than likely molested a child.
An internal investigation into whether any Boston officers were involved in last year’s insurrection at the US Capitol remains open and ongoing.
On Thursday, City Councilor Brian Worrell formally requested Boston police publicly release an update on the status of the disciplinary action against any of the department’s officers who were at the attack on the Capitol in Washington, D.C., a year ago.
“No one involved in this attack on the US government should be employed by the City of Boston, and most certainly not be entrusted to serve as a Boston Police Officer,” he said in a statement. “It is a violation of the public’s trust and an insult to every other public safety professional and first responder.”
Last year did contain some good news for the department: Boston saw shootings and homicides decrease year-over-year, which bucked national trends. Some other major US cities grappled with vast increases in street violence in 2021.
The next police commissioner will lead the department during what promises to be a period of reform. The city’s new police watchdog, the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, is up and running. The new oversight agency provides research and administrative support to a nine-member civilian review board and an internal affairs oversight panel. City officials confirmed Thursday the office is currently reviewing and investigating cases.
At Thursday’s news conference, Hines, who is heading the search committee, said the panel will consider “candidates who are committed to leading the city’s journey to systemic reform in policing. A reform that centers fairness, justice, accountability, and transparency.”
Another search committee member, Dickerson, spoke of the need for the next commissioner to be “a bridge-builder.”
Yet another member, Forrester, talked about reimagining public safety systems in the city from the ground up, invoking the tumult of Boston’s busing era, when city schools were de-segregated via court order, and the infamous Charles Stuart case, which saw Black men and boys searched without warning in Mission Hill after the murder of Stuart’s pregnant wife. Ultimately, Stuart, who was white, would jump to his death off the Tobin Bridge after his brother identified him as the killer.
Forrester did not shy away from acknowledging that change to policing will bring challenges.
“I don’t think transformative justice is ever popular,” he said.
On the campaign trail last year, Wu was a vocal supporter of deep and systemic reform for the police. Among her plans — and one that set her apart from some of her rivals — was her intention of using collective bargaining for the police union contracts as a means to realize changes in the scandal-plagued department. Wu was sworn-in as mayor in November, and on Thursday she said the city continues to explore alternative responses not involving police to some crisis calls and to examine how to bring accountability to the department’s overtime spending.