After coming under fire for withholding the names of five officers caught driving drunk, Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans is vowing from now on to let the public know whenever an officer is arrested.
The policy change comes after the Globe reported in December that Boston police refused to release the names of officers who were charged with operating under the influence while off duty, even though the department has posted the names of many citizens arrested for similar violations on its website.
Evans said the new policy of transparency will apply to future cases only and won’t be retroactive. The department will continue to withhold the names of officers arrested for drunken driving in past years but would release the names if any officers are arrested in the future.
“We are trying to be as transparent as possible,” Evans told the Globe. “We have nothing to hide here.”
Evans noted the police already posted brief items on the department’s website after a Boston police officer was recently charged with attacking an Uber driver.
Free speech advocates applauded Evans’s decision to make future arrests public.
“Whatever rules apply to civilians should apply to police officers as well,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “No one is above the law.”
Boston police, which blacked out the names of officers charged with drunken driving from documents provided to the Globe, said they believe they are barred from releasing information on old cases under the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information law, which restricts access to the state’s database of criminal records.
“We don’t give out people’s past criminal records,” Evans said.
The secretary of state’s office, which oversees the public records law, upheld the redactions, but the Globe filed suit this week to challenge that interpretation of the statute and force Boston to release the information.
Even without the full documents, the Globe was able to identify all five officers whose names had been withheld — plus the name of a sixth officer arrested for drunken driving in November — from information provided by other law enforcement agencies.
Once the Globe had the names, the paper was able to find out additional details about what happened to the officers and how the Boston Police Department handled the incidents.
All six officers were quietly kept on the payroll — either on administrative leave or desk duty — after they lost their driving privileges for weeks or months and couldn’t do their usual duties. Normally, Boston police officers are required to maintain a valid license as part of their job.
In four cases, officers lost their licenses because they refused to take a breath test, making it harder to prosecute them for drunken driving. In another, an officer briefly gave up his license after admitting he was driving while intoxicated. And in a sixth case, an officer had his license revoked after he was involved in a nearly deadly crash.
Evans, the Boston police commissioner, said his department generally has to keep officers on the payroll while their cases are pending to comply with civil service rules.
“Our policy is, unless we terminate them, we keep them on administrative duty and we continue to pay them,” Evans said.
Boston police also acknowledged they have disciplined two of the officers so far, suspending their pay for 10 days. The department said a third officer reached mandatory retirement age before he could be suspended.
A fourth officer eventually agreed to resign as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors.
The other two cases are pending, including one that involved a crash more than two years ago, illustrating the sometimes sluggish pace of the disciplinary process.
Commissioner Evans said his main goal is to treat officers fairly.
“I think we have to be consistent with what people got in the past,” he said. “You can’t give one guy 10 years and the next guy a week.”
Last year, the Globe found at least 30 cases where Massachusetts law enforcement officers were accused of driving drunk since 2012. The Globe has since found about a dozen other cases, including two involving the Revere police and the sixth case involving Boston police.
In many cases, the Globe found, departments tried to keep details secret — withholding names, photos, or documents. The Globe also found most officers refused to take a breath test. Massachusetts is one of only two states where prosecutors cannot use a refusal to take a breath test as evidence.
To discourage people from refusing the test, Massachusetts automatically suspends the license of any driver who refuses a test. But many police departments found ways to keep officers on the payroll after they lost their licenses by putting them on paid leave or giving them duties around the station.
Springfield, for instance, put Officer Christopher Collins on restricted duty in January after he had his license suspended for refusing a breath test in Maine.
Eugene O’Donnell, a lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former New York City police officer, said it’s common for police departments around the country to keep officers on the payroll even after they lose their licenses. He noted police officers enjoy much greater rights than many other workers because they typically have strong union contracts and civil service protections.
But O’Donnell said he was surprised Boston tried to keep the arrests confidential, noting the information is normally public across the country. “They are public employees. They hold sensitive positions of trust. I don’t see any good compelling reason to withhold the names,” he said.
Indeed, the Massachusetts State Police typically alert the media when a state trooper has been arrested. And several local police departments in Massachusetts, including Springfield, provided the information in response to records requests.
The Globe already reported the names of three Boston police officers who were charged with drunken driving inside the city limits — Richard Jeanetti, Robert P. Carr, and Stephen D. Roe. Jeanetti later resigned as part of a deal with prosecutors, and Carr left after reaching mandatory retirement age late last year.
But the Globe only recently learned the names of three additional officers who were arrested in the suburbs.
One officer, Sergeant Ronald E. Pirrello, was arrested in Sharon in June 2012 after a 911 caller reported a car being driven erratically on Route 27, crossing the double yellow lines and nearly hitting other cars and a light pole, according to the police report.
Sharon police found Pirrello apparently asleep in his car, stopped at an intersection as the traffic light cycled from one color to the next. After being roused, he acknowledged “I was drinking,” and kept repeating, “I’m a Boston cop.”
Pirrello refused a breath test, causing his license to be suspended. His case was eventually continued without a finding, a common resolution for first offenders that allows the case to be dismissed if drivers comply with the terms of probation. Pirrello also lost 10 days’ pay.
Officer Steven W. Howard was arrested in January 2013 after Hanson police received 911 calls about a crash, then someone noticed that Howard’s car had a dangling front bumper.
Howard identified himself as a “Boston cop” to police, and denied being in an accident. But the police report shows he struggled with sobriety tests and police found seven Bud Light bottle caps in his vest pocket.
Howard refused to take a breath test, causing his license to be suspended. But without any blood alcohol results, he was found not guilty of operating under the influence last May. The department said internal discipline is still pending.
Finally, last November, court records show state police arrested Roland Sandefur after he was involved in a three-car crash on Route 3 in Billerica.
Police said he admitted to having “a few” drinks and struggled to perform sobriety tests. But Sandefur also refused a Breathalyzer test, prompting the state to suspend his license for four months before granting him a hardship license.
In January, Sandefur acknowledged there were sufficient facts to find him guilty, and the case was continued without a finding. Boston police said the internal affairs investigation is still pending.
None of the officers responded to letters seeking comment.
Police chiefs have noted in the past that officers, like anyone else, sometimes make mistakes. But media attorneys and civil rights lawyers say there is no reason to keep secret the names of officers charged with drunken driving.
“People who work in other fields have their names revealed when they are arrested, and many of them find it embarrassing,” said Howard Friedman, a Boston civil rights lawyer. “But police officers are public officials, so the public has a greater need to know when a police officer is arrested.”