Activists weigh in on city’s next top cop
Wu says there’s no rush to fill seat
Last Thursday, Mayor Wu’s police commissioner search committee heard from community members weighing in on what they want to see in the next leader of the Boston Police Department.
The committee, whose five members are former BPD Commissioner Ed Davis, Bishop William Dickerson of Greater Love Tabernacle Church, Abrigal Forrester of Teen Empowerment, Professor Jasmine Gonzales Rose of Boston University and committee chair Geraldine Hines, retired Supreme Judicial Court justice, has been tasked with finding a strong candidate to recommend to the mayor.
According to Wu, her office currently has no candidates in mind or being interviewed, in order to first hear public opinion.
“It was very important for me and for our team and for our search committee to really have a first phase of this process completely dedicated to ensuring that we were even looking for the right person, to have community feedback shape the parameters around values, experience, qualifications and other characteristics that we need our next police commissioner in the city of Boston to have at this moment,” Wu said Thursday.
Around 200 people attended the feedback session, held virtually through Zoom.
Some of the characteristics community members spoke about were commitment to racial justice, someone who understands and will address gender-based violence and someone with an interest in promoting disability equity. Moreover, additional suggestions included calls for someone committed to reducing gun violence and promoting positive relationships with marginalized communities.
Community members, neighborhood advocates and former police officers were among those that shared ideas Thursday night. A common thread shared by many who spoke was a desire for increased transparency and accountability in the department, as the next commissioner inherits a department embroiled in scandal and controversy.
Following the departure of former Commissioner William Gross last year, then-Mayor Martin Walsh appointed Dennis White, the commissioner’s chief of staff. After only two days on the job, White was placed on leave when decades-old domestic abuse allegations surfaced. He was officially fired after a lengthy legal battle with acting Mayor Kim Janey.
Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long has been acting commissioner since February. He is not seeking the position permanently.
Now Wu, promising progressive change and touting a duty to the public, is engaging in the first external search for a commissioner since the appointment of Davis in 2006. Davis, as part of the search committee, comes with his own political baggage. Several of the former officers of color present in the Zoom meeting recounted a culture under Davis where discipline and promotions were not proportionate with white counterparts.
Police Sgt. Detective Paul Joseph said he and his colleagues felt “let down many times.”
James Gilden, an attorney representing the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO) said in the Zoom meeting Thursday that “Ed Davis did some good things.”
He continued, “One of the things he recognized … is that nepotism and favoritism are alive and well in the Boston Police Department. Unfortunately, that’s still true.”
To solve its problems, Gilden said, BPD needs “a leader that’s strong and independent.”
The biggest disagreement among speakers was whether the candidate should come from inside the department or not. There were some who wanted someone with experience and know-how, while others thought a candidate unjaded would be better suited.
This is not the last time community members will get to share their opinions. According to City Hall, larger sessions and smaller group conversations alongside individual stakeholder conversations will be going on for several weeks.
Wu, in her address to those gathered, stressed the importance of the community’s engagement with the selection process.
“As we continue to see the strains on our communities just about every which way … we know that this is a moment for bold action and bold leadership.”
She continued, “We can’t know what the right bold steps are unless we are listening to and following the footsteps of community members already on the solutions.”