Updated at 8:25 p.m.
Boston’s police reform task force is recommending that the city replace its existing civilian oversight panel with a new policing accountability office, according to a draft of the panel’s report released Thursday.
The recommendation would mean the end of the controversial Civilian Ombudsman Oversight Panel, or Co-Op, a body that reviews a limited number of police investigations for fairness and thoroughness. The panel has been criticized for its lack of power to summon and question parties involved in the cases it reviews — a point the task force addressed in its recommendations.
“For the Co-Op to achieve its fundamental purpose, holding the BPD accountable to the public, it must be reconstituted as a new organization with a more expansive accountability and transparency mandate and greater investigatory powers,” the panel said.
The proposed Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, or OPAT, would have three sections: administrative staff, an internal affairs oversight panel with at least five members, and a civilian review board with at least seven members. The internal affairs oversight section would have full investigatory and subpoena powers and would be allowed to conduct an unlimited number of review investigations. In addition to reviewing police investigations, the office, through its civilian review board, would also investigate civilian complaints involving perjury against BPD officers, discriminatory conduct, excessive uses of force and in-custody deaths.
Three commissioners would lead the OPAT and be responsible for signing off on the internal affairs panel’s subpoena requests. The members of the internal affairs panel would be appointed by the mayor “from a pool of applicants recommended by civil rights advocacy groups, youth organizations, neighborhood associations and police associations,” the report said.
The members of the civilian review board would be selected through a combination of appointments from the mayor and the city council.
Other recommendations include expanding the Boston Police Department’s body-worn camera program, creating a formal BPD diversity and inclusion policy and adjusting the department’s use of force policies to include clear disciplinary consequences.
The task force proposed that all uniformed officers wear body cameras. According to The Boston Globe, in May, about half of the department’s roughly 2,000 officers were trained and equipped with body cameras. The task force also recommended retaining body cam footage for at least six months, and that the public have broad access to the footage through public information requests.
Regarding use of force policies, the task force proposed the creation of a public dashboard with information about use of force incidents, and list of zero-tolerance offenses that would result in officers’ immediate termination. The task force also suggested flagging charges of domestic violence by BPD employees as excessive force.
The task force also recommended the department overhaul its racial equity training program, calling the existing curriculum “wholly inadequate” because of its two-hour length and “outdated” substance, the report said.
Mayor Marty Walsh said in a press conference immediately following its publication that the report is a "draft recommendation" so far. "We are inviting the community to give their input before we move forward with implementation," he said.
"We want to increase trust and accountability to ensure fairness for residents and officers," Walsh added.
Even as he announced the draft recommendations, Walsh defended the BPD’s record under his administration.
“Since 2013, complaints of improper conduct have fallen in Boston by over 40%; excessive use of force complaints dropped in that same time period by over 50%. In 2019, we had only 21 complaints against our officers," he said, adding that “We want those incidents to remain low and even go lower. And at the same time, we want residents to feel comfortable to come forward with any concern that they might have. “
The recommendations come after months of meetings on the heels of multiple protests in the city and elsewhere in the country over racism and police brutality.
Led by former U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Wayne A. Budd, the task force has held meetings in private and via Zoom for public listening sessions since June. The panel was charged with making recommendations across four areas: use of force, implicit bias training, the body-worn cameras, and strengthening the civilian oversight board.
Walsh said the task force will take written comments starting next week and will hold a public listening session on Sept. 22.
"This is, this has always been about more than a moment," Walsh said. "This is a process of change. … The goal is dialogue and improvement."
See the task force's full report below.