The Boston Police Department’s citizen oversight panel has recommended that the city create a new, independent office charged with investigating allegations of misconduct against police officers.
The recommendation was made to Mayor Martin J. Walsh in December, months after he vowed to reform the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel, or CO-OP, that is widely seen as ineffective, and asked the panel to come up with suggestions.
The three-member panel presented the Community Office of Police Accountability — a separate office for people to file complaints against the police department that would be granted the resources and authority to investigate those complaints. The accountability office would include an executive director, ten staff members, a board, a budget, and an office away from police headquarters.
The accountability office would be a “first step” toward restoring confidence in the police department, which has been criticized for taking too long to investigate allegations of misconduct against officers. A Globe review of complaints filed against Boston police found that internal affairs investigations can sometimes drag on for years.
“Every successful organization needs to look at what they can do better,” said J. Larry Mayes, a member of the oversight panel and vice president of programs for Catholic Charities. The other panel members are retired judge Regina Quinlan and Natashia Tidwell, a former associate professor at New England Law, Boston.
“Two years [for an investigation] is not reasonable,” Mayes said. “It erodes trust and that’s not helpful.”
Walsh met with the panel in March, but said on Tuesday he has not reviewed its recommendations.
“We still have to look at what the recommendations come back with and see what works and doesn’t work,” Walsh said. “Regardless of whatever reviews are going on or what’s happening, it comes down to the job in the street, and we’ve made some changes in our academy, the way we train our officers, the way we do our work.”
Police Commissioner William B. Evans said he would meet with Walsh to discuss the recommendation.
“We are committed to being transparent and promoting integrity throughout the department,” Evans said in an e-mail.
Neither Walsh nor Evans addressed when a decision might be made on whether to create the new accountability office.
As part of the review, which was provided to the Globe, panel members solicited input from criminal justice experts, clergy, and the community and studied civilian oversight models throughout the country.
Mayes estimates that a new accountability office would cost less than $3 million a year.
Under the executive order that created the CO-OP in 2007, the panel was granted authority to review all grievances alleging use of force, except those upheld by the police department, but has never received a single case to review. The panel does hear appeals when complaints are rejected by the department and the complainant disagrees with the department’s findings. But the panel cannot interview witnesses, conduct investigations, and does not have subpoena power.
The recommendations call for the executive director of the new accountability office to be an attorney who would report directly to the mayor. Staff would include an information specialist to streamline the complaint intake process, a specialist to do neighborhood outreach,seven complaint analysts, and a mediation specialist. There would also be a 7-to-11-member police review board that would review and resolve complaints filed with the office. Members of that panel would be appointed by the mayor with input from community leaders.
Mayes said civilians would be able to send in complaints in a variety of ways, including via smartphone, and receive confirmation of receipt. He compared it to the city’s 311 system of lodging quality of life complaints.
Under the proposal, all complaints would still be investigated by Internal Affairs and grievances received by the accountability office would be reviewed by both the police department and the new police review board.
If the review board and the police department’s Internal Affairs unit reach opposing conclusions, the police commissioner would make the final decision.
Civil rights attorneys and community leaders said an independent office is something the residents of Boston need.
“Especially during these times we need to build the confidence back in the police force,” said Jorge Martinez, executive director of Project RIGHT, a Grove Hall antiviolence organization, who lauded the recommendations, but said he was disappointed that the recommendations do not include subpoena power.
Martinez said the proposal is similar to previous recommendations made to the city, including in a 2005 report by Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice.
“Change is definitely needed,” said Boston civil rights attorney Howard Friedman. “Boston hasn’t had a Ferguson-like incident and I hope something like this would prevent that from happening.”
Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association president Patrick Rose blasted the report, calling the proposal for an independent board “totally unnecessary.”
“I don’t understand why we need a separate agency to investigate when the system is already working,” said Rose. “We have trained, experienced investigators that do this for a living.”Jan Ransom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.