On Thursday, Mayor Marty Walsh announced he'd received a draft report from the Boston Police Task Force, commissioned by Walsh to recommend reforms to the Boston Police Department.
Among the task force recommendations, which now go to the public for input, is a call to establish a new civilian police oversight board -- notably, one with subpoena powers and the ability and mandate to independently investigate itself allegations of police misconduct.
The report is not the first time a Boston mayor has appointed a task force to recommend changes to the Boston Police Department, mostly after criticisms of racist policies and practices by the BPD.
But it is the first time in decades that such a mayoral-appointed group has overtly recommended establishing a new civilian review body with, seemingly, the power to carry out significant work independently of the BPD and the mayor himself.
The task force will be taking public comment through September, and will be holding a public “listening session” later this month.
Meanwhile, local elected leaders and community and nonprofit advocates for police reform have voiced largely optimistic, if measured, responses to the task force draft report.
Those voices include Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell, lead sponsor, along with Council members Ricardo Arroyo and Julia Mejia, of an ordinance before the City Council now that would also establish a new civilian police review board, in many ways similar to the structures recommended in the mayor’s task force report.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Campbell told WGBH News, noting she has concerns over how a new civilian review board would be appointed – the task force recommendations suggest most key positions would be appointed by the mayor.
Campbell said she will continue to move forward with herand her co-sponsors' legislation -- but looks forward to productive conversations with the mayor over the final outcome of any reforms.
City Council President Kim Janey, who has called for major changes to policing in Boston -- and was one of a minority of Council members to reject Mayor Walsh’s proposed budget on grounds that it didn’t go far enough toward such reforms – told ‘GBH News that while she was still reviewing the report, she was pleased to see that it recommended a civilian board with “teeth.”
“Real authority -- because that’s been the issue,” Janey said. “So I’m hopeful this will get us there.”
Councilor Michelle Wu, who Walsh says has informed him of her intent to run for mayor next year (Wu has not confirmed that assertion), released a statement largely praising the task force findings and calling on Walsh to implement them.
“The recommendations from the task force are specific, actionable, and impactful. The City should use its full power to actualize these steps,” Wu said.
The ACLU of Massachusetts, which has weighed in heavily -- often critically -- on various matters related to the BPD and reforms thereof, also signaled a cautious note of support for the report.
And it remains to be seen which of these recommendations, or any contained in a final report after more public input, Mayor Walsh enacts. But Walsh has strongly suggested he intends to follow the task force’s lead.
And those final recommendations may depend in no small part on public feedback in the next few weeks, says task force member Jamahrl Crawford, a Boston journalist, activist, and long-time critic of the Boston Police Department.
“I heard a lot of concerns and fears that somehow this would be another sham effort to gloss over problems and provide some sort of rubber stamp to the establishment,” Crawford told WGBH News Thursday. “All I can tell you, is this was not some sort of willy-nilly, knee-jerk reaction.”
Crawford’s message to the public now: “Go full bore, dig into what we've presented and whatever you find in there that is flawed, that doesn't go too far, please add on - that's what it's there for,”
The task force will be taking public comment through September.