The City Council Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, chaired by Councilor Andrea Campbell, held a hearing on March 2 regarding the implementation of recommendations of the Boston Police Reform Task Force.
Several councilors expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that no representatives from the Boston Police Department (BPD) or the administration were present at the hearing to provide information or answer questions.
Campbell said that “late in the day” on March 1, the administration told the City Council that no one from the administration would attend the hearing, and provided a letter that included “general updates” regarding the implementation of the police reform bill.
“The letter does not provide any specifics regarding a timeline of implementation,” she said, nor does it provide an “opportunity” for specific questions to be asked or any specific information about whether or not any Boston Police officers participated in the insurrection at the US Capitol in January, which she said the council has received many questions about.
“Residents are counting on us to act with urgency and attention,” Campbell said.
She said that “just a few months ago,” legislation creating the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (OPAT) was passed and, the Council and others “celebrated the mayor’s commitment to adopt all of the recommendations.”
Campbell said there is a “big difference between commitments and action,” and the purpose of this hearing was to learn about the city’s plans to implement the recommendations of the Boston Police Reform Task Force.
“These last and latest police reforms should be an opportunity for the city to do things differently,” Campbell said, “since we know that the City has not effectively delivered on its commitments to police reform in the past.”
She said that there were “lots of questions” from the Council and residents for the BPD or members of the administration.
This hearing was co-sponsored by Councilors Julia Mejia and Ricardo Arroyo, who agreed that not having the administration present was a severe detriment.
Mejia said that it shows a “lack of regard for the community and the process,” and “shows a lack of care for our constituents.”
Arroyo said that the administration’s “lack of presence does not shield them from accountability,” and assured residents that the Council will get the answers everyone is looking for as well as ensure that the recommendations are implemented.
Boston resident Carrie Mays testified about her experience as a Black woman in Boston.
“One thing I do not love is the abusive domestic relationship I’m in with America as a Black woman,” she said, adding that it is “no surprise that police brutality does exist here in Boston.”
She shared her story about a 2018 encounter with the BPD where she feared for her life.
“I had never seen a gun before, let a lone seen one pointed at my face,” she said. It was the day before her 18th birthday, and Mays said she was standing with her mother and her grandmother in their driveway when five officers “pulled a gun out” on the three women.
She said that it was a case of “mistaken identity,” and said that the officers were “completely skipping all the proper police protocol; just guns aimed at our faces.”
Mays said that once the officers “realized they had the wrong people” they lowered their guns and left.
“I thought they were going to kill us,” she said. “I thought I wasn’t going to make it to 18. As a City, we must do better, and include youth like me in the conversation.”
Harrison Clark, a 21-year-old college student, also shared a story about an encounter with police. He said that last year, he was meeting a friend for burgers after work, and when he got to his friend’s car, he saw that he was “visibly shaken up.”
When he asked his friend what had happened, the friend said that he was stopped on the highway in Boston on his way in from Brockton and was “surrounded by at least four or five police cars with weapons drawn and he was forcibly taken out of the car and put into the backseat.” Clark said that the car was a rental, as his friend had an electrical issue with his own car, and the rental car “was involved in some criminal activity that he had no affiliation with.”
He said that the police were looking for two Black males, and added that he couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had been in the car with his friend, as that would have further “affirmed their assumptions that we were the guilty party.”
Clark said that things like this unfortunately happen “all the time,” and he said he wants to “see more done from the administration. I always see that people acknowledge problems, but I want to see implementation of real policies. This is the real world; these have real consequences for people.”
Larry Calderone, a representative from the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (BPPA), said that the association represents “1600 odd patrol officers that answer the 911 calls on the street daily, and without a doubt I believe that we should have been involved at the beginning, and every invitation that you extend, I’ll do my best to have a seat at the table and a voice and try to clear up issues that people are experiencing out in the City of Boston.”
He added that “it’s awful to hear these stories, but I also have to say publicly that I think my membership; the men and women out there daily are doing a great job. It’s not to say people aren’t experiencing what they say they’re experiencing on the street, but I don’t read about Boston Police officers in the paper being accused of things that may happen in other parts of the country.”
Councilor Mejia brought up the relationship between the police department and immigration enforcement, and Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, said that “there is a deep intersection between law enforcement and immigration enforcement. That is an entanglement that is incredibly dangerous. If witnesses and victims of crime think that they will be turned over to immigration if their immigration status is discovered, that chills their ability to come forward to report crime and to help resolve crime.”
He said that “any connection” between the two “must cease,” adding that It is really critical that we stand by our values as a sanctuary city to make sure that immigrants are never asked about their immigration status and that information is not shared with ICE so that police officers can continue to serve with trust and confidence in the community and without raising the specter of deportation as they are encountering victims and witnesses of crimes.”
Councilor Mejia also asked for some clarification surrounding what might happen should it be discovered that a BPD officer was participating in the insurrection at the Capitol.
Jeff Feuer, Chair of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said that it a police officer “participated in criminal acts” that move beyond attending a rally or speech, such as what happened at the Capitol, including “trespassing, destroying property, attempting to injure other police officers, attempting to interfere with Congress, and so forth, they can face consequences up to and including termination from their job.”
He said that Massachusetts’ new police reform bill “directly addresses this, laying out that officers are to be held to a higher standard” and that they “should lose certification as police officers.”
Feuer said that “we obviously at this point don’t have answers as to whether or not there were Boston Police officers participating and if there were Boston Police officers or other police officers from Massachusetts participating down there; whether they broke the law, whether they were engaged in the types of criminal activity that we all witnessed.”
He said that police officers in “Massachusetts and elsewhere are held to a standard of conduct that is above and beyond that which private citizens are held to,” as private citizens cannot arrest others or carry guns and clubs.
“If they’re going to have that kind of power and that kind of responsibility,” Feuer said of police, “then they have that obligation to conduct themselves in a way that is completely within the law, both legally and morally, and ethically as well.”
Campbell said that the testimony provided at this hearing was a good example of why the city “need[s]” to get the OPAT and Civilian Review Board in place “immediately” and “funded appropriately,” she said “so folks have a place to go to truly get some sense of accountability.”
Rahsaan Hall, Director of the Racial Justice Program for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said that “the task force recommendations, the creation of the OPAT are an important opportunity to really transform the way that policing happens in the City of Boston. I still think that the City needs to really reckon with the growing demand for alternatives to policing.”
He said this could include having more counselors in schools, as well as as a “greater investment in the underlying needs that our young people and the residents of Boston are dealing with, and those demands aren’t going to go anywhere.”
Campbell said that there will be more hearings to come regarding implementation of the recommendations and “to get updates on the status of things,” where she said she hopes the administration will be present.
“I do specifically plan on filing a 17F [order] with respect to the investigations that are happening as to whether an officer or officers participated in the insurrection on the capital, because we continue to get questions about that,” Campbell said. The 17F order is a request for specific information from the Mayor, a week after which the Mayor must answer. “There was a suggestion or a comment at some point that the department was actually doing an investigation, but no one knows anything else.”
The full hearing can be viewed on the Boston City Council YouTube channel.