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EDITORIAL

The mystery of the Patrick Rose file

The mayor of Boston says she’s not allowed to read the Boston Police Department file. Huh?

Former Boston Police officer Patrick M. Rose Sr. wiped away tears after he read a statement to the court following his plea of guilty in the molestation of several children, on April 25.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The rules, implies Mayor Michelle Wu, prevent her from even reading the full personnel file of disgraced former Boston Police officer Patrick M. Rose, who mysteriously remained on the force for two decades despite an internal report that found he probably molested a child in 1995.

Huh? Which rules, you might ask, could prevent the mayor herself from seeing documents in the city’s possession? State law? A collective bargaining contract? HIPAA? Marquess of Queensberry?

It’s reasonable to ask, and to expect an answer from, City Hall. After all, the idea that the city’s elected chief executive can’t see information about a city employee cuts against the idea of — well, of democracy. But, as the Globe’s Danny McDonald reported, Wu has gone mum, declining to explain exactly what rules she was referring to.

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In a statement to the Globe editorial board on Friday, Wu didn’t detail the obstacles either, but said: “The Patrick Rose case is horrifying. We are committed to transparency with the public, but we must follow our legal obligations to protect victim privacy. From everything I know, after the 1995 complaint, Patrick Rose should never have been allowed back in a police uniform and should have been prosecuted. I am committed to leading a city that demands full accountability.”

Still, Wu should explain what rule she meant — and then change that rule if she can, or ask whoever imposed it for a waiver. Then she should read Rose’s full file, release as much of it as possible, and tell the public who handled the Rose case, why they chose to let him stay on the force, and what, if anything, the city has changed to ensure that any cop who molests a kid get fired.

Leaving Rose on the beat, a child abuser with a badge and a gun, was an egregious violation of public trust that must never be repeated. And while the mishandling of the Rose case happened two decades ago, the city’s extraordinary aversion to transparency has raised serious doubts about how fully it’s come clean and whether a true accounting might still raise uncomfortable questions in the present.

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Recall that former mayor Marty Walsh claimed he couldn’t release any of the file to the public, to avoid compromising the privacy of victims. That sounded like a principled stand — until his successor, Kim Janey, released 13 pages without compromising anyone’s privacy. Walsh could have at least released those pages himself all along — in retrospect, it’s clear he just didn’t want to.

The full file is more than 100 pages long. And many of the details of the case remain a mystery, perhaps buried in the rest of the pages that Wu says she hasn’t read.

What’s known is that the police filed a criminal case against Rose in 1995, accusing him of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old boy. The criminal case was dropped when the victim recanted under pressure from Rose, but the department’s internal affairs investigation continued and concluded that Rose had broken the law. He was moved to desk duty.

And then, nothing happened.

After the union threatened to file a grievance, Rose was reinstated from desk duty to patrol in 1997. The city made no effort to limit his contact with children. He rose to become president of the patrolmen’s union.

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Paul Evans, who was commissioner at the time, said the department did everything it could to discipline Rose within its rules, and is among those who have called on the city to release the whole file.

Of course, Wu herself had nothing to do with any of the decisions about Rose. Which makes it all the more puzzling why she wouldn’t be leading the charge for transparency now.

The city needs to release the rest of the file — first to the mayor, and then to the public. In child abuse cases, there are times when the privacy of victims calls for some redactions. But politicians shouldn’t cynically use that sensitivity to justify stonewalling, the way Walsh did. To make any redactions credible, the city could hire an independent expert on abuse to vet the material.

According to Janey, the people who handled Rose’s case no longer work for the police. Some of them may no longer be alive to explain their actions or inactions.

But what they did, for whatever reasons, had horrible consequences. Decades after the 1995 charge, Rose molested another child — the daughter of the earlier victim. “Never did I expect to see that thousand-mile stare” in his own child’s face, the father said at a hearing when Rose pleaded guilty in April to molesting a total of six children.

If following the rules prevented police brass in the 1990s from removing Rose, Wu should make sure the rules have changed to make a similar outcome unthinkable now. And if the rules prevent the mayor of the city from even seeing the records of how such a tragic case occurred, then it goes almost without saying those will need to change too.

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Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.