Brookline's police chief issued a public appeal to two black officers who say racism is so entrenched in the department they fear for their safety, asking them to meet with him and a mediator to search for a way they can return to work.
In a report to the town's board of selectmen Tuesday and a letter to the public posted on the police department's website, Chief Daniel O'Leary gave an extensive account of his interactions with the two officers, Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, since 2014 when Zerai-Misgun first raised the issue with him personally.
"I have publicly and personally encouraged both Officers to return to their work, and I remain hopeful that they will," O'Leary wrote to the selectmen, adding that he had invited both men to meet with him in the company of a mediator.
The goal of the proposed meeting, he wrote, would be to "resolve their concerns and achieve what I hope is our mutual goal of returning them to work as Brookline Police Officers.''
Pilot and Zerai-Misgun have twice appeared before the town’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Relations Commission, where they have reported instances of racist attitudes and actions by fellow officers. They said the attitude is so prevalent on the force that they fear for their safety.
In separate telephone interviews Thursday, the officers both expressed deep skepticism about O’Leary’s offer, saying that he and some other town leaders do not fully grasp their concerns and have failed in the past to take the steps needed for substantive change inside the force.
"How do you mediate racism?" Pilot asked. "They don't understand what they mean when we say we don't feel safe. I'm not quite sure where these people are coming from."
Zerai-Misgun was equally skeptical.
“I think it’s bogus, to be honest,” he said, noting that the hearings before the diversity committee have drawn a large number of town residents and generated substantial media coverage about the internal workings of O’Leary’s department. “This whole thing has been compromised. How can I work with them?”
The men have not been back to work since Pilot reported an incident to O'Leary on Dec. 7.
O'Leary said an independent investigation of Pilot's and Zerai-Misgun's allegations of discriminatory conduct and workplace safety began last week. He said both officers are currently on paid sick leave.
During the town hearings, Pilot described pulling his cruiser up next to a sergeant on detail and being greeted with a crude remark. The officer used a racial epithet and told him to do “jumping jacks and I’ll put in a good word for you,” Pilot has said.
In his posts, O'Leary wrote that an experienced commander investigated Price's complaint. "Officer Pilot believes that a slur was used; the Sergeant stated that he did not use a slur," O'Leary wrote. "The results of that investigation were inconclusive."
O’Leary defended his officers, their training, and what he described as the department's “excellent reputation.” for being compassionate and careful during its dealings with the public, including those with mental health issues.
"Despite our involvement in a number of high-profile investigations, the use of force by Brookline Police Officers has rarely been criticized," he said.
He also noted that while some police departments are facing allegations of excessive use of deadly force while dealing with members of the African-American community, no such problem has been raised with his department.
"To be clear, we will not rest on our excellent reputation. We are humans and we are not perfect. We are also not satisfied," he said.
He vowed that he and his officers will learn "from our experiences as well as from constructive criticism, and that we can always do better."