More than two years after its creation, the state’s police watchdog commission has released its most ambitious initiative yet: a long-awaited database of police disciplinary records that covers thousands of sustained police complaints that span more than four decades.
The Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, database includes more than 3,400 records of sustained complaints leveled against nearly 2,200 officers including those from local, state, and college agencies. A complaint is considered sustained if an investigation found a “preponderance of evidence to prove the allegation of an act that was determined to be misconduct,” according to POST.
Some complaints listed on the database are relatively minor department infractions, such as parking violations or being absent from work. Others were more serious and included sexual harassment and use of force. Some even led to criminal charges, though the details of those were redacted from the database.
Perhaps as expected, Massachusetts’ largest agencies topped the list of most complaints. The State Police, which has more than 2,300 sworn officers, had the highest number of complaints as an agency, with 493. Boston, with its over 2,000 officers, was third on the list, with 373 sustained complaints.
The Springfield Police Department, which has around 500 officers patrolling a city of roughly 155,000 people, had the second-most complaints, with 417, more than the first six police agencies outside the top three combined.
Enrique Zuniga, the POST Commission’s executive director, said the public database is “an important part of our mandate” to make policing less opaque in its disciplinary actions.
“We have to have transparency regarding officer misconduct,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Although the database sheds light on particular departments and officers, it has already received criticism from police-reform advocates who insist it doesn’t disclose enough information. Meanwhile, the Springfield Police Department, which has faced intense scrutiny in recent years and in 2022 agreed to a federal consent decree, said parts of the database are misleading.
Ryan Walsh, a spokesperson with the Springfield Police Department, said his agency does not consider more than 220 of the infractions as disciplinary actions that should be in the database because they resulted only in retraining.
Such outcomes “are not disciplinary and are not sustained complaints. We expect to have this issue remediated in the near future,” Walsh said.
Cynthia Campbell, a spokesperson for the POST Commission, said while the watchdog agency will update the database with corrections and additions, the entries “will not be removed if they were submitted by the agency as sustained complaints that resulted in the disciplinary measure of retraining.”
The creation of the database has been eagerly awaited by advocates and politicians who pushed Massachusetts lawmakers to pass the 2020 police reform bill that brought sweeping changes to oversight of law enforcement.
The list includes people who resigned or retired to avoid discipline; departments were allowed to exclude the records of officers who left in good standing, even if they had a previous record.
Among the more striking examples are a now former officer from Beverly who posed “in a Hitler salute,” an officer from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences who was fired for making “inappropriate” remarks about people with autism and also inappropriately touched a dispatcher, and a Worcester officer who was suspended for making comments about President Barack Obama and a bomb during the then-president’s 2014 visit.
The data may, however, provide only a snapshot of the number of disciplinary complaints against officers, as it is on individual departments to report complaints to the commission. According to the commission, 167 departments reported having no sustained complaints.
Other questions regarding transparency remain, including the omission of key details of specific complaints by the departments.
Some departments, such as the Abington and Massachusetts General Hospital police, include explanations for each infraction. Others, including the larger departments such as the State Police and Boston, are sparse with their descriptions.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Howard Friedman, a local lawyer known for bringing lawsuits against police. “But having said that, on first blush, they’re giving the minimum. ... You can’t really tell in many of the cases what the conduct was.”
Zuniga acknowledged he would also like more information from departments, noting how many entries involving “truthfulness,” one of the most common topics of the complaints, do not say anything about what an officer was dishonest about.
“Was it sloppy, or forgetful?” he said. “There’s more to do.”
POST also redacted specifics of criminal charges against police officers, citing the state criminal offender information, or CORI, law. The Globe found 96 complaints with such redactions, including 31 from 2020 through 2022. Local news reports shed light on some of those, including allegations of domestic violence, drunken driving, and assault.
“This is something that we believe we are required to” redact under state privacy laws, Zuniga said.
But Carol Rose of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said the database needs more information about when officers are arrested and convicted of crimes.
“The database also limits information only to records of ‘sustained’ internal affairs complaints, which could allow legitimate complaints of misconduct to escape public knowledge and oversight,” she said in a statement.
Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the advocacy group Lawyers for Civil Rights, said the database “raises a host of questions,” including why so many departments claim to have no sustained complaints.
“History and experience tell us that this is because these police departments are unable to effectively police themselves,” Espinoza-Madrigal said. “To uncover the true extent of police misconduct, independent third-party investigation is needed.”
Zuniga stressed that there are around 20,000 officers in the state, so, “I want to remind everybody that the majority of officers in the Commonwealth are doing their job in a professional way.”
While the majority of officers and troopers listed had a single incident lodged against them, more than 650 had multiple incidents or sustained allegations, and 150 had at least four.
Lieutenant Matthew Desmond of the Salem Police Department had 13 sustained allegations, including a 2020 suspension for “incompetence,” a string in 2017 that led to suspension, and a suspension in 2013 after he was acquitted of rape charges but the department determined he should still be disciplined for “conduct unbecoming.”
Desmond did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Worcester Officer Angela Consiglio, who recently was honored for trying to rescue a fellow officer and a 14-year-old boy who drowned in a pond, had the second most, with 11, including four incidents involving alleged bias. Consiglio declined to comment through a department spokesperson.
The data also show that Harvard University’s Police Department, which lists 63 sworn officers, racked up 77 complaints — the fifth most among any department and more than Worcester’s Police Department, which covers New England’s second-largest city.
Steven Catalano, a spokesperson for the department, said the majority of the complaints, or roughly 62 percent, involved a motor vehicle accident or the unsafe operation of a car. And about 40 percent occurred more than 14 years ago, an indication of how long some officers within the department have served.
“I can’t speak to the reporting of other police departments,” Catalano said, “but the HUPD is committed to transparency and our accountability.”
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