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Ridding police of bad actors a work in progress

POST Commission takes first steps on a long and winding road to reform.

A police officer left the station on Nov. 9 in Blackstone. A former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth police officer accused of groping a female student was hired by the police department in Blackstone. He is assigned to investigate sexual assaults.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The need for police reform — for weeding out those “bad apples” politicians, police, and people on the street all say they want gone — is as crucial today as the day the landmark bill became law here nearly two years ago.

But the reality of police reform is turning into a long, hard slog of closed-door meetings, mind-numbing regulations, and glacial progress.

Meanwhile the list of police officers with serious blemishes on their records — officers who have no business ever being trusted again with a badge and a gun — seems to grow with every passing day.


Public trust and public confidence in a system intended to rid the ranks of those errant officers will depend on how transparent the process now taking place before the new Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission is.

Right now all the public has is numbers, when the times demand that those who have abused the public be named.

The commission voted Tuesday to publish on its website the names of those worthy of certification or recertification as police officers — some 8,322 to date in the first tranche of officers (whose last names begin with A through H) considered by the POST Commission.

But executive director Enrique Zuniga identified 26 — in the aggregate only — as “not recertified” because of a pending disciplinary matter that might include a “determination of not good moral character.”

The real world of policing is not standing still while this new bureaucracy sorts through what will ultimately be the records of more than 20,000 sworn state and local police officers plus thousands of others with arrest powers.

Witness the real-life consequences of the state’s already-late entry into the business of police certification as reported recently by WBUR, which found more than a dozen Massachusetts police officers still on the job who were previously fired or resigned from another department after a misconduct investigation.


They included a former University of Massachusetts Dartmouth police officer accused of groping a female student. The officer, David Laudon, who resigned when the department opened an investigation, now works for the police department in Blackstone where he is assigned to investigate sexual assaults.

A rookie State Police trooper, fired in the wake of several off-duty incidents involving alcohol, was hired as an officer in the western Massachusetts town of Erving. Following a similar alcohol-related incident outside Seattle, the officer was suspended for five days. The officer was recently promoted to sergeant in Erving.

The public record is replete with other examples. Three officers who once worked for the Stoughton Police Department were deemed “unfit to serve” by Chief Donna McNamara, who has asked the POST Commission to permanently decertify the officers who she said had “inappropriate” relationships with a young woman who was a teenager at the time and later committed suicide.

“These men violated their oaths, and they are unfit to serve as police officers,” McNamara said.

Matthew Farwell and his brother William have resigned, although William Farwell began working for the Transportation Security Administration at Baltimore/Washington International Airport. Robert C. Devine has retired. There is no public information on where they are in the POST process.

Then there’s the case of John Donnelly, who resigned from the Woburn Police Department in the wake of reporting on his ties to the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., and the extremists who planned it. He’s gone for now, but could he too resurface elsewhere? Well, yes, unless he makes it to that official POST decertification list — which doesn’t yet exist.


The commission made some progress this week, approving six “preliminary inquiries” and nine suspensions. But, according to a commission spokeswoman, the preliminary inquiries are by statute confidential, and the suspensions will eventually be disclosed after the officers and the agencies they work for are notified. Three of those individuals, she noted, were not in the initial A-H certification rotation.

The decertification process is, by statute, a long and winding road — perhaps unnecessarily so. But that is the nature of how landmark legislation often comes together.

The sad fact is that while 47 states now have POST commissions with the power to decertify officers, according to one recent academic study, “Most POST commissions … rarely use these powers. Two states — Florida and Georgia — were responsible for more than half of the 1,847 certification revocations in 2015. Twelve states that had decertification power either never used it that year or used it only once or twice. Even when officers commit crimes or egregious misconduct, POST commissions do not consistently decertify them.”

Is Massachusetts better than that? Let’s hope so. Now is the time for those entrusted with this difficult task to prove that this state can indeed do better than its peers.


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