The Boston Police Reform Task Force held an online listening session Tuesday to get feedback from members of the public on their draft recommendations for changes to the city's police department.
The listening session was focused on four topics: use of force, implicit bias training, body cameras and civilian oversight. Feedback from the session is intended to guide the task force as it prepares final recommendations for changes to the Boston Police.
Dorchester resident Elizabeth Doyle told the task force that she believes the police department should establish separate divisions with specific expertise to address unique community needs.
“Many calls for the police department are to people who are homeless,” Doyle said. “There needs to be some expertise, whether it's with another officer or another unit, to de-escalate some of these issues that don't need to end up where we don't want them to be.”
Boston resident Katie Bond, who said she has a family member with Serious Mental Illness, or SMI, told the task force that any time an officer responds to a call with someone with SMI, a trained specialist should accompany them.
“There have been times when Boston residents with SMI have been shot and killed by BPD officers,” Bond said. “I fear every day — every single day — that this will be the outcome for my family member.”
Tuesday's public listening session wrapped up a two-week public comment period before the task force's final recommendations are submitted to Mayor Marty Walsh. A specific release date for the final report has not been announced by the city.
The task force published its initial recommendations to Walsh earlier this month, suggesting improvements for existing policies and the creation of a new, independent office with subpoena powers and the authority to investigate civilian complaints against officers.
The proposed Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (OPAT) would, if enacted, replace the existing Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel, or Co-Op, which does not currently have the power to adjudicate those cases or conduct their own investigations, and which many police reform advocates say does not go far enough.
“[OPAT] as a collective would have subpoena power and also, as recommended, would really seek to create a structure that brings about not only greater public accountability, but also public participation,” task force member and Boston NAACP President Tanisha Sullivan explained. OPAT would have the authority to investigate complaints from the community, as well as oversee the internal affairs division of the BPD, Sullivan said.
The task force has also recommended that the BPD create a formal diversity and inclusion policy, including a clear statement of its commitment to diversity and “clear and transparent” metrics demonstrating what the department hopes to achieve.
“Currently, no such policy exists,” task force member Javier Flores said. “We think that it's important, culturally, that there be a clear statement reflecting the BPD’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
The task force has recommended that the body camera program be expanded to include all uniformed officers at the Boston Police Department, and that cameras remain on during work hours. Under the recommendations, police officers would be prohibited from reviewing body camera footage prior to writing a police report, raw footage would be provided to the subject of recordings or to their next of kin, and the video would be retained by the police department for at least six months.
Facial recognition technology would continue to be banned, as supported by the task force, and a disciplinary process using a “tiered approach” would be implemented. “That’s so officers are not accumulating multiple infractions and violations and still serving as a uniformed officer,” task force member Darrin Brown said.
BPD should also hire an outside legal firm to conduct a study on the internal promotional system, Flores said, to “increase transparency” and “overhaul training” for officers in all levels of the police department. “Those trainings should go far beyond implicit bias training, including focusing on our racial equity and literacy, anti-racist training and workshops that are focused on emotional intelligence, communication and conflict management, as well as mechanisms to effectively implement all the skills that we are teaching our officers and cadets on how to utilize those techniques,” Flores said.
Accountability and transparency means including civilian perspectives, said task force member and former Massachusetts State Rep. Marie St. Fleur.
“At the end of it all, if there's no accountability, then we know that it's not going to be realized,” St. Fleur said. “The bottom line is, accountability also stems from the public continuing to remain vigilant and involved in how this moves forward.”
Gert Thorn, a Jamaica Plain resident and local community activist, recommended that a review board ensure that each civilian complaint is dealt with on a specific timeline, with transparency around the processing of the complaint.
“The problem with existing boards, as you well know, it's like putting your hand in a black box in the movie 'Dune,' where you have pain, but you have no idea where it's going,” Thorn said. “The police department can often respond in two years to a complaint, which is just not acceptable.”