Q & A with MAMLEO President Jeffrey Lopes
Jeffrey Lopes became the new president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers this year. Lopes serves as a detective in the Boston Police Department and has been involved in the community since 2013, attending community meetings and leading programs targeted at helping young people. In 2018 he won the SPARK award for his community engagement work with Boston’s youth.
MAMLEO works to improve the relationship between police and communities, as well as maintain equal rights and opportunities for minority officers in order to diversify the force. A Black, Cape-Verdean man raised in Dorchester, Lopes wants to play an active part in the conversation around police reform and help the community understand his role in the public’s safety.
What was your journey to becoming president of MAMLEO like?
I was on the board for two years at MAMLEO prior to becoming the president. You essentially put your name in the hat saying that you want to run for the office, and people vote for you. This time around, I’ll be very transparent, I was the only person that put my name in the hat. I mean, it’s a big job. Most people don’t want to take on other tasks, you know, over what they already have going on, but I was okay with it. I’ve always been a multitasker and been able to run around and do different things. Eddy Chrispin had told me that he was no longer going to be running for president, and he and a few other people actually encouraged me to apply.
How have other Black officers been mentors to you throughout your career?
[Former MAMLEO president] Larry Ellison and Chrispin both have always been really supportive of me in my career, so anytime I’ve had a question, they’ve always been available. Anytime there was something that I was concerned about, I called them, and they always showed up to give me the answer. And if they didn’t have the answer, they found the answer for me.
You mention having a passion for working with Boston’s at-risk youth. How will you continue that work in this position?
I believe that community-based engagement should be involved in anything you do. MAMLEO has done some things in the community. I helped run a back-to-school drive once where we gave out book bags, we held a barbecue at a local school. Nonprofit organizations come and use MAMELO’s space for free. But I just really see myself using MAMLEO as a place where young people can convene to have a program or work on a project … Having MAMLEO as a place where they can come and be innovative.
I run a youth leadership group called We Belong. I’d be collaborating with MAMELO to get other officers to engage in the program, trying to get more officers to become mentors. I just did a conversation with Mass Mentoring, talking about the importance of mentorship, and so it’s something that I also want to bring to the members of MAMELO to see if we can get more officers mentoring youth.
What are some issues that need to be changed in the police force, from a diversity and inclusion perspective?
I think from a diversity and inclusion perspective, obviously we need more diversity recruitment. We need more female officers. That’s something where we’re seeing a significant gap. But also, Black and brown officers represent a very small population of the police department who represent the majority population in the city, so we have to change that. I tell people all the time, the more people join the department, the more we increase diversity. But people have to want to do the job. Oftentimes, I talk to a lot of young people who say, ‘I don’t want to be a police officer.’ ‘I don’t want to be a snitch.’ And I tell them all the time, it’s not about being a snitch, It’s not about, ‘Because you wear a badge now you’re better than people and you have to arrest people’ — because we can do a lot of positive things as a police officer.
What do you think the temperature in Boston is like now, since the surge of anti-police-violence protests last summer?
I think the temperature has definitely cooled off but I think the temperatures are high. The community was upset with what they were seeing nationally, police officers were upset at what we were seeing nationally, the brutality incidents upset us. Every good police officer hates a bad police officer. Those that are bad apples always stick out to people. When I see those things in the news and watch those videos I think, how do they become police officers? And why haven’t they been weeded out sooner?
When you live in a city and you feel like you can’t trust those who are supposed to protect you, it’s a sad day. So I’m happy to see that a lot of those tensions have cooled down. And people have the right to be upset about repeated incidents of brutality, incidents that should not have happened. I think for us it was important that we gave people that space to be upset, but also let the community know that we were also here to have conversations.
Former MAMLEO President Eddy Chrispin was part of the mayor’s Police Reform Task Force, and other Black officers were directly involved with the state police reform bill. How will you participate in police reform at the state and city level?
I’m hoping that we still have a seat at the table, in these conversations. I’m hoping that our municipal elected officials and state elected officials and even our federal elected officials, continue to ask us to have a seat at the table, and to hear our voices, because it’s one thing to be a police officer, and it’s another thing to be a police officer of color.
One of the first things that I that I did as president of MAMLEO was to nominate five people to the Attorney General’s Office for the POST Commission [created by the state’s bill]. That was number one, police reform is the priority, let’s get these nominations and let’s get these people vetted through the AG’s office so they can make that selection, so that they can start meeting. I think police reform is needed. But I think police reform has to be advised and it has to have different perspectives. We can’t just look at police reform from a single perspective.
I’m on Council President Kim Janey’s [mayoral] transition team, on the Public Safety Committee, which is health and healing and safety. Myself and [ACLU Racial Justice Program Director] Rahsaan Hall are co-chairs.
How is the transition going?
It’s a very exciting time for Boston. I think we’re at a place where we’re going to see a lot of changes coming, and just the thought of having a Black mayor is amazing. As a young kid growing up in the city, I would have never thought we were going to have a Black mayor. They made it seem like a lot of those things are so unattainable. It’s so exciting to see how much the city has changed. Especially, growing up, people always said Boston was such a racist city, and you just didn’t see a lot of electeds of color stepping up into leadership roles and driving the narrative of the city. It’s huge.
What are your priorities for MAMLEO as the city recovers from COVID-19?
I think we’re at a time where everyone is stressed out, there’s a lot going on, and I just want to be a support for our members. I want to be a support for the community. I think mental health has been a big concern for everyone. I work with students and parents, so I want to make sure people understand that this is a network that’s here to support them. Because of COVID, a lot of people were meeting virtually. For police officers, we all work in different districts, different assignments, so we don’t come together a lot. I want to see more people coming together, even if we don’t come together in person, but getting on Zoom calls and talking about different things that are going on is being a support.
One of the biggest things as a police officer of color is that oftentimes you don’t get the same opportunities as others. So I want to make sure that I’m advocating for those opportunities. So making sure that we have the training and professional development opportunities, but also when it comes to specialized units, really being a voice and making sure that the members of MAMLEO feel like they have the support needed to be the best possible officer.