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Police changes confront new commissioner

Melvin B. Miller
Police changes confront new commissioner
“Looks like we better get this ‘officer friendly’ program going.” Illustration: Dan Drew

Mayor Marty Walsh’s appointment of William Gross as Boston’s police commissioner was well received by those Bostonians who are eager for racial diversity in the city administration. However, it is good to remember that change often brings conflict. There are presently a number of changes confronting Boston’s police force.

First of all, the police will have to adjust to a new district attorney and procedures. Daniel F. Conley recently decided not to run for re-election after 16 years in the office. He will be replaced by Rachael Rollins, who promised in her campaign to eliminate proposals for cash bail for minor offenses and to oppose the establishment of criminal records for minor crimes such as trespassing and petty theft.

In many jurisdictions the police have relied upon support from the prosecutor’s office when they are charged with violations of the constitutional rights of African Americans. The police have to know that there will be no such protective collaboration during Rollins’ time in office.

There will also be some pressure on the police force to improve their record for clearing murder cases. According to the Washington Post reports, Boston has a great gap in closing such cases when the victims are black rather than white. Police apprehend suspects in 90 percent of the cases with white victims, but in only 42 percent of the cases when blacks are murdered.

Also, the federal investigation of fraudulent payments for overtime to the state police comes at a bad time. With a number of Boston police officers being paid more than $200,000 per year, reformers have questioned whether Boston police salaries are legitimate. This issue becomes especially significant because Rollins’ modernizations will be efficient and could reduce the need for overtime pay for court appearances.

Gross’ introduction to his new post included a dust up with the ACLU over the designation of some youth as gang members. This dispute illustrates the increased administrative refinement needed in police work. But the fundamental principle remains the same: The police are to serve and protect and the police function in the service of the public.

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