Walsh orders up reforms for BPD oversight

Mayor Walsh is shown signing an executive order in his City Hall office on Thursday, one of several signed today on matters ranging from police reform to tenant protections. Mayor's Office photo/

Mayor Walsh moved ahead with today with a three-pronged approach to reform the Boston Police Department, following recommendations from a task force he commissioned last summer in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis.

Walsh announced Thursday that he will file an ordinance with the Boston City Council to create the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency. The effort is part of enacting the Boston Police Reform Task Force’s recommendations, which Walsh said he “fully endorsed” when they were released last month.

Walsh signed two executive orders today, including one to create Boston’s first-ever Civilian Review Board, and another to strengthen the department’s Internal Affairs Oversight Panel.

“Our goal is to achieve historic change in Boston and create a national model for breaking down systemic racism across all aspects of our city,” said Walsh. “The recommendations we are enacting today represent the voices of the community advocating for change, and I thank the Task Force for their incredibly hard work in creating this report that we are bringing to life through reforms. We will continue this work as we come together to build a more equitable, just city.”

The Civilian Review Board will be a 9-member board nominated by the City Council and the Mayor’s Office.

The second order revamps Boston’s Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel (CO-OP) by transforming it into a stronger Internal Affairs Oversight Panel (IAOP) that will have the power to review all completed Internal Affairs cases.

Previously, the CO-OP could only review 20 percent of cases. The panel would also have the power to review the policies and procedures of Internal Affairs, and engage with the community about their impact.

“I want to thank Mayor Walsh for not only receiving and adopting these recommendations but for respecting the integrity of the recommendation with and understanding that they were informed by Boston residents, as well as the best practices and structures that have been implemented across the country,” said Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP Boston Branch and Task Force member.

“While these are not the only solutions needed they truly do speak to what's possible when we lean into the challenge deterred to make change. These recommendations serve as a foundation for this work and it is our hope and expectation that we will continue to build on this work.”

Led by former US Attorney Wayne Budd, the task force was charged with reviewing current BPD policies and procedures. They focused on Use of Force policies; Implicit Bias Training; the Body-worn Camera Program; and the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel (CO-OP), which has been the subject of scrutiny for years.

The task force called for the creation of an independent Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (OPAT), with full investigatory and subpoena powers and an independent diversity and inclusion unit. It also told Walsh he should expand the body-worn camera program and continue an existing ban of biometrics and facial recognition software. The task force calls for implementation no later than 80 days.

The ordinance, which will be filed next week, would create the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, which would provide intake services, research, and administrative support to the Civilian Review Board and the Internal Affairs Oversight Panel. The OPAT Commission would have subpoena power to investigate misconduct.

District 4 Councillor Andrea Campbell, who announced in September that she will run for mayor next year, has been a leading voice on the council when it comes to the topic of police reform.

This week, Campbell criticized the mayor’s ordinances because it would create two separate review boards instead of consolidating authority.

“The Mayor's move to establish two separate boards with different rules, authority, and appointing structures undermines the goal of ensuring true civilian oversight that is independent and accessible to the public,” she said Thursday in a statement.

“We need to establish a Civilian Review Board that will be effective in creating the kind of police accountability and transparency that our residents deserve.”

For me, that means passing the Council's Civilian Review Board ordinance which would create one board with the independence and authority to review and investigate all cases — internal affairs, citizen complaints of police misconduct, and complaints filed by officers or BPD personnel.”

Councillors Campbell, Julia Mejia, and Ricardo Arroyo filed an Ordinance Establishing a Civilian Review Board in July. The 11-member Civilian Review Board would review Internal Affairs investigations, investigate complaints of police misconduct, and recommend disciplinary actions and applicable changes to the Department's policies, procedures and practices.

At-Large Councillor Michelle Wu, who has also announced a mayoral campaign, told reporters in one of her "Neighborhood Reporter Presser" events on Friday that she is "in full support of moving forward with the Task Force’s recommendations."

"They are specific, actionable steps that frankly should have been acted on years before in many cases.The real question with so many of these changes will be in the details of implementation. Will there be true independence, will there be the funding provided to actualize the ability to make a change? It’s great to see some progress on the legislative front and I know the council will have many discussions because this now adds a second alternative to how this type of office should be set up," she said.

"I know we want to see more independence, we want to see a streamlining of the process and not create too heavy of a bureaucracy in order to see that accountability. We very much need to prioritize how collective bargaining will reflect the changes recommended, how the pressure and advocacy to the state will also move some of the home rule petitions forward as well."

The City has begun the process of searching for an executive director to lead the Office of Accountability and Transparency (OPAT).

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said: “These actions will help our department continue our goal to become a stronger, more equitable force for public safety.”

Walsh has also filed a Home Rule Petition that would give Boston high school graduates a preference in police hiring, a key step to increasing diversity and having more officers drawn from the communities they are serving.