The Boston Police Department has taken commendable first steps in its response to Friday night’s shooting on Humboldt Avenue in Roxbury. As the Globe reported, police said officers fatally shot Angelo West after he fired a .357 Magnum point blank at Officer John Moynihan during a traffic stop. Officer Moynihan, a six-year veteran recognized for bravery during the Marathon bombings, was reported in stable condition after undergoing surgery on Sunday.
Police Commissioner William Evans wisely involved community leaders, ministers, and elected officials almost immediately, showing them security video of the shooting and answering questions about details from start to finish — including the care police took to treat West’s body with respect as they processed the crime scene. And Dan Conley, the Suffolk County District Attorney, promised a “completely thorough investigation,” vowing to release a “full and transparent account of the facts.” It is equally heartening that uniformed Boston Police officers and other first responders attended a Palm Sunday Mass at a Roxbury church near the site of the shooting, where prayers were offered for Moynihan’s recovery.
This is an important beginning, one that speaks to the strengths of Boston: It is a compact city where personal relationships still matter, especially in a crisis — where the police commissioner can easily send a text to the president of the NAACP and others to convene an urgent meeting. Working tirelessly all weekend long, city and police officials, politicians, and civic leaders took steps designed to assure that this disturbing and tragic event becomes a model of measured response and methodical investigation.
That sort of model could not come at a more critical time. Nationally, trust in law enforcement officials has frayed — sometimes seemingly beyond repair — in minority communities because of the killings of unarmed black men by white police officers in Ferguson, Mo., New York City, and other communities.
Just this month, a Department of Justice investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown found that African-Americans in Ferguson are disproportionately targeted for arrests, tickets, and use of force. It also found that such disparity was due to unlawful bias and not a result of black residents committing more crimes. And the report produced overwhelming evidence of a culture of racial bias.
Although Boston certainly has its challenges, it is not Ferguson, and at this juncture, it appears that what happened there bears little resemblance to what occurred in Roxbury on Friday night. Evans has embraced community policing and has said that he is open to considering some of the recommendations made in a study last year by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which included body cameras for officers, the public release of data, and “receipts” (or a business card) dispensed at each encounter between an officer and a civilian.
The Boston Coalition for Police Accountability could serve as a central touch point and offer an opportunity to build trust among the broad array of member groups, from ACLUM to the NAACP to Black Lives Matter. And efforts to bring structure to data collection — a vital tool for 21st-century policing — are already under way. Earlier this year, state Senator Patricia Jehlen took a needed first step toward that admirable goal when she filed a bill that proposes statewide protocols for data collection when an officer uses force.
The grievous wounding of Officer Moynihan is a stark reminder of the inherent dangers in police work, and the difficulty of getting guns off the streets: Angelo West had just finished probation on a seven- to 10-year prison sentence for firing a shot at a police officer in the Theater District. He also faced earlier charges of illegal possession of a firearm.
The vow by law enforcement officials to bring full transparency to bear on the investigation holds important lessons not only for Boston but for communities across the country as well.