It’s been just over a year since the deadly attack on the US Capitol, where a mob made up of thousands of angry supporters of President Donald Trump breached and looted the building while Congress was in session in an effort to overturn the election results. And yet it would seem like time has stood still for the Boston Police Department.
Apparently 12 months has not been enough for the BPD to wrap up its investigation into whether one or more of its officers participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection. The Globe has identified at least one officer who possibly attended at least the preceding rally: Joe Abasciano, a West Roxbury retired Marine who is currently out on medical incapacitation leave. On Jan. 6, 2021, Abasciano posted photos of the crowds in Washington on social media under an account that has since been deleted. But the police department has refused to publicly reveal who and how many officers are under investigation.
What is taking so long at BPD? It’s unconscionable, embarrassing, and a mockery of transparency that an investigation of this nature and importance has yet to conclude. It’s crucial that the department prioritizes it — Bostonians deserve answers. Furthermore, the department finds itself at a crossroads: Mayor Michelle Wu announced last week a committee to search for the new Boston police commissioner. As it is, BPD is already mired by scandal and controversy. In June, Dennis White, the department’s last commissioner, was fired by Acting Mayor Kim Janey over decades-old domestic abuse allegations; later that summer, 14 Boston cops were charged in a brazen overtime fraud scheme; then there’s Patrick Rose, the police union leader who allegedly molested children. And now this delayed investigation into the possible role of Boston cops in the anti-democracy insurrection.
There’s another, practical reason to wrap up this investigation too, and make whatever decisions need to be made about clearing or disciplining officers. How does the city expect to attract top law enforcement talent for the commissioner’s job if that person knows that one of his or her first challenges will be the thankless task of deciding what to do about officers involved in the Jan. 6 events in the nation’s capital?
Other police departments have certainly done so. An oversight committee in Seattle was tasked last year with investigating whether six Seattle Police officers who attended the Trump rally on Jan. 6 had violated any law or department policy. In August, the committee announced the results of its probe: Two officers had indeed broken a D.C. law and Seattle Police Department policy (and thus were fired) while three of the officers did not. The case of the sixth officer was inconclusive. There are other examples from Chicago and Houston, as well as police departments in Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, that show an investigation of this kind can be done in a timely manner.
In total, more than 730 people have been charged in the insurrection, which left five people dead. It is possible that a Boston officer or officers attended the rally during their own time but did not break any laws. If that’s the case, why not just say so? If the facts are muddled or inconclusive, why not just say so?
Eight months ago, Acting Commissioner Gregory Long said at a City Council virtual hearing that he expected the investigation to conclude “in the next couple of weeks.” He also said: “I promise you, if I thought for one second an officer at the Boston Police Department had participated in that, they would not be a Boston police officer today.”
That is reassuring. Even more reassuring would be to exercise full transparency around any officer or officers’ involvement in the insurrection. The public deserves to know what the police could and could not determine. Otherwise, the inevitable perception is that the BPD is dragging its feet on clearing or disciplining its own officers.
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