A sustained finding of child sex abuse by a Boston police officer should result in termination under any labor contract, in any rational-thinking universe. But, as we now know, in the case of Patrick M. Rose Sr. it did not. As first reported by the Globe’s Andrew Ryan, Rose not only kept his badge for more than 20 years after a 1996 finding of likely sexual abuse of a child; in 2014, he was also elected president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, and he led the city’s largest police union for the next three years. He retired in 2018. This year, he pleaded guilty to charges of molesting six children and was sentenced to 10 to 13 years in prison.
The Rose case is a huge travesty of justice — the result, said Mayor Michelle Wu when she released the Internal Affairs file, of “a system that failed in many ways.” But, there’s an even bigger travesty. The outcome is not an aberration. It’s extremely hard to fire a Boston police officer. Boston has a new mayor who said she’s committed to reform, and the city will soon have a new police commissioner, who no doubt will also commit to reform. But the underlying system that let Rose skate is still in place today. Once an Internal Affairs investigation determines there’s “just cause” for discipline or discharge, an officer can then appeal the finding to the Civil Service Commission or to a rotating panel of supposedly independent arbitrators who often side with the officer.
So, what needs to change?
First, basic housekeeping. Internal affairs investigations need to start more quickly, be conducted more thoroughly, and conclude in a more timely fashion, so they can withstand union challenges. According to the timeline put together by the Wu administration, the BPD first received a report that Rose had engaged in sexual misconduct in 1995. The finding was sustained in 1996. He was reinstated to full duty in 1998, with no clue in the file about why or by whom.
Incorporate language about the timeliness of Internal Affairs investigations into the collective bargaining agreement. In an interview with WBUR’s “Radio Boston,” Wu said the city is looking to incorporate “operational changes” into collective bargaining agreements. For example, she said, the contract could set clear time frames to address personnel matters and misconduct. “Over time, it can become very difficult for a case to be pressed forward,” said Wu in that interview. “It relies on testimony from survivors who are under a tremendous amount of pressure, and if that testimony ends up being withdrawn for whatever reason over time, or if the case goes on a long time and the memories of different witnesses fade or the courts become frustrated, then it’s just harder and harder and harder.”
Separate the employment action from any criminal case. Criminal charges were dismissed against Rose in May 1996. In June 1996, Internal Affairs sustained the allegations against him, which should have met the standard for “just cause” for discharge. In 1997, Rose’s attorney, Thomas Drechsler (now a Superior Court judge), submitted to the BPD an affidavit from a victim and another from the victim’s guardian disavowing any allegations of sexual misconduct. That plus the dropping of the criminal case appeared to influence the ultimate decision to keep Rose on the job, even though the standard for termination is not the same as the standard needed for conviction in a criminal case.
Use the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission to back up disciplinary actions. The stated mission of this new commission is to set up a mandatory certification process for police officers, as well as processes for decertification, suspension of certification, or reprimand in the event of certain misconduct. It’s supposed to be an objective oversight board that can look at reports of misconduct, subpoena them if necessary, and make rational judgments about discipline. If an officer loses their certification, that should be incorporated in the collective bargaining agreement as cause for termination.
A different attitude from the union. Instead of circling the wagons when an officer is accused of serious wrongdoing, the union should act to protect the vast majority of its law-abiding members, who don’t deserve to be tainted by the worst actors on the force.
More oversight and accountability from City Hall. In the push for police reform after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Boston set up an independent watchdog, known as the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, with subpoena power and the legal authority to investigate deaths in police custody, excessive use of force, perjury, discrimination, and abuse of authority. As a Globe editorial recently noted, the agency is off to a slow start, and has processed only a few complaints. The OPAT has no power to create new policies for the BPD or to take disciplinary actions, but it can shine a light on misconduct and make sure the mayor knows about it. In the Rose case — which initially happened during the administration of Mayor Thomas M. Menino — it’s unclear who in City Hall was in the loop. At the press briefing when she released the Rose files, Wu was asked whether any previous mayor knew about the details of the case — and if they should have. “The documents don’t show much written involvement from the administration, beyond the Office of Labor Relations file,” she said. “We can only use this moment that we have as we are filling important leadership posts and setting important legal parameters through collective bargaining to ensure our administration will help usher in a new standard of accountability and a new way of building trust with our communities.”
Wu did the right thing by releasing as much of the Rose file as she could without compromising victim privacy. Now she needs to do the right thing to change the system that kept him on the job despite the contents of that file.
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