Campbell leads group calling for BPD test reform

A number of police officers, civil rights attorneys, and City Councillor Andrea Campbell stood outside City Hall on Tuesday and called for sweeping reforms to the way the Boston Police Department recruits, promotes, and disciplines its officers.

“While the events of the last few weeks, including the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, have been painful and traumatizing for so many, these events have forced us to once again reckon with an important reality,” said Campbell in a press conference outside City Hall.

“Our institutions were founded on racist and exclusionary policy and practices that continue to show up to until this day,” she said. “One of the most obvious systems where this shows up is in our policing system.” 

Specifically, Campbell and her allies called for an end to the BPD’s current promotional exam and hair test, which she called “discriminatory” to officers of color. She asked Mayor Walsh, Police Commissioner William Gross, and her colleagues on the council to take immediate action.

“We need to seek long-term solutions to change policing as we know it, and we need to take action on things we can change right now — which includes removing barriers for officers of color in our police department,” she said. “That starts by diversifying our own police department.” 

Shannon Liss-Riordon, a Boston labor attorney who represents some of the police officers added that the BPD’s promotional test has “been proven in federal court to stop brown and black officers from advancing through the ranks.

“It doesn’t test who has the best character or leadership skills, but instead relies heavily on an exam that determines who is best at answering facts and multiple-choice questions,” she said.

“We are in the time and the space right now for the city and the police department to start to change,” said Eddy Chrispin, a Boston Police sergeant who is president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, Inc. (MAMLEO). “We have had a number of cases that we’ve filed against the city, all of which have succeeded. I think it’s time for our leadership to be proactive about change. They have to take a hard look at what these cases are speaking to.” 

Sgt. Paul Joseph, a 31-year BPD veteran, is a plaintiff in a case he filed against the department alleging that the testing has unfairly prevented him from being promoted to lieutenant since the 1990s. 

“We were sort of known by white officers as taking their job, or taking their sons’ jobs, as though the pie was finite instead of infinite,” said Joseph. “It was as though, somehow, the sergeant and lieutenant positions were there and we had no right to it. Just do what you were told; that was the way it felt back then.” 

He added: “Far too many minority officers over the years have experienced similar situations to me, and the public deserves to know the truth. I say these words in hope that Mayor Walsh and Commissioner Gross help us turn the page and diversify the first, and in my humble opinion, the best police department in the country.” 

Sophia Hall, a supervising attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights, said the city must collectively work to dismantle systemic and structural barriers.

“This is not a failure to any individual, this is a failure to us as a city and a state,” she said. “We have to demand that we take a harder look at the systemic barriers in our employment process when we recruit, hire, promote, and when we discipline, particularly when it’s officers of color.” 

Campbell said reforms should include reallocation of funds and services from the police department to other city services.

“This is about changing a system,” Campbell said. “I know Commissioner Gross stands to make some of these changes and we want to work in partnership with him. Not just on the exam issue, but on hair test barriers and other areas that limit opportunities.”

A spokesperson for Mayor Walsh sent the Reporter this statement in reaction to the press conferece: “Mayor Walsh has made it an absolute priority to build a more diverse police department that is reflective of the community they serve. He has said before that he is in favor of eliminating the hair test at the Boston Police Department and we thank the City Council for their support of this change.

“A diverse police force is crucial to our public safety strategy, and Mayor Walsh is committed to continuing this work as we move forward, especially as we engage in a much broader conversation about policing in the city and nationwide.” 

Boston’s police force is presently composed of 35 percent people of color— including 22 percent black officers, according to the Mayor’s Office.