Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell is introducing a proposal to create a civilian review board that would be independent of the police department and have the authority to issue subpoenas and investigate allegations of police misconduct. The proposed board would replace an existing oversight panel that operates within the police department. WGBH Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu spoke with Campbell about her proposal. The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: If we already have an oversight panel — it's known as CO-OP — why do we need a new one?
Councilor Andrea Campbell: So what has become abundantly clear from folks who have followed the CO-OP and also looked at their reports, including one most recently in 2015, is that it's ineffective in creating true accountability with respect to the police department in incidents and complaints of misconduct. And so the ordinance I've introduced alongside councilors Arroyo and Mejia specifically creates a civilian review board that is independent from the Boston Police Department, which the CO-OP panel is not. It creates a broader authority to investigate complaints, including subpoena power, ways to file the complaints — more accessible and easier for people to do that. It also allows not only civilians to file complaints, but police officers to file complaints against other police officers if they see some wrongdoing. It calls for data collection and transparency, and most importantly, it creates an actual office to support the work of the board that is resourced and staffed. All of these things I just mentioned currently are not available to the CO-OP and make it extremely difficult for that body to be effective in creating accountability for the police department.
Mathieu: That's quite a list. Who would serve on the panel, Councilor? How would you ensure its diversity?
Campbell: So right now, the ordinance requires that it consists of 11 members and there's a joint appointment between the mayor and city council, to balance out power. But we would leave it to the board, almost similar to the Community Preservation Act, where there is a committee. The board will put forth an application process. We were very successful in creating such a process for the Community Preservation Act board and committee, and I think we can do the same here to ensure diversity not only in terms of demographics, neighborhood and experience, of course, but also in terms of age, with the ordinance calling for one member between the age of 18 and 21.
Mathieu: Understood. Let's say there is an infraction [and] we have a suspected case of misconduct. The board would investigate and report findings along with recommended discipline to the police commissioner. If I understand that right, what if he or she decides not to act?
Campbell: Well, the difference between this board and the CO-OP, the CO-OP makes a recommendation and that is it. The commissioner decides whether or not he is going to adopt that. In the ordinance, it puts forth a matrix where there has to be a set of criteria, and so when they put forth a recommendation to the commissioner, he can't just simply say 'Yea' or 'Nay.' He has to respond according to this matrix with specific details as to why he may or may not enforce the recommendation of the board. So it's really specific, and my goal is to make it more enforceable. Of course, this connects to the collective bargaining negotiations going on right now, and I'm hoping the mayor will push for greater transformation in that agreement to allow for more effectiveness with respect to the board and disciplinary recommendations.
Mathieu: Well, that's important. So the commissioner would be required to respond one way or the other.
Mathieu: Mayor Walsh said yesterday that he will review your proposal — he was asked about it — as he waits for recommendations from his own task force. Do you consider the mayor to be an ally in this fight?
Campbell: He has to be. To get this done, we need him to sign this [and] we need him to be at the bargaining table pushing for greater reforms in the contract to allow for a more even effective ordinance. I have drafted an ordinance that is the most powerful given the limitations that currently exist. But this work, I will tell you, was underway long before the task force. And I was sort of disappointed in that I have filed hearing orders on this for years and they haven't gone anywhere. And now, of course, in the midst of George Floyd and what is happening nationally, we are moving on this. But it's sad that it's taken such tragedy for us to get it. We know in Boston we are not immune to folks having incidents that are disrespectful or other issues of misconduct with respect to our own police officers. But residents have been complaining for years that they don't think there's an apparatus that they can go through that would create true accountability. I hope that this would be something that they see as something that will work for them.
Mathieu: So why, Councilor Campbell, has it taken so long? And do you agree with critics that the current collective bargaining system and union protections are part of the problem?
Campbell: I think that's one question for the mayor's administration. Why has it taken so long? This, along with many other reforms that I'm pushing for including efforts to diversify our police department, which is still overwhelmingly, predominantly white [and] for our police department to be more transparent with data. Stop and frisk data, traffic stops — all that information we currently do not release publicly. This ordinance calls for that transparency with respect to data, too. There are a lot of things on the table that have taken, I think, too long to actually actualize. So it's a question for him, but my hope now is that we get this done, the time is now and that we do it in partnership.