Editorial: BPD leadership search can't wait

On Monday, the city’s acting mayor, Kim Janey, fired the now-former Police Commissioner Dennis White following a brief legal tussle over whether she had the power to do so or not. Once a series of judges ruled that she did, the dismissal was only a matter of time.

The probe into White’s personnel record— much of it involving conflicts and alleged abuse toward his ex-wife — uncovered troubling details about his behavior and the department’s apparent dismissal of domestic violence allegations.

The sordid back-and-forth accusations that have played out in the public square since White was briefly elevated and then sidelined as the BPD boss back in February have made for a sorry chapter in the department’s history. It has muddied all parties involved, including former Mayor Walsh, who, it seems, was distracted and uninformed — at best— in choosing White as the replacement for William Gross, whose abrupt departure from BPD command sparked the whole sequence.

The fact that it all unfolded in the middle of a delicate transfer of power at City Hall—and in the run-up to a spirited mayoral election— makes things all the more problematic.

There is lots of upside to being the acting mayor: Constant photo and fundraising opportunities and a near-vice-like grip on the bully pulpit have propelled Janey into the pole position for the fall contests. Yet heavy is the head that wears the crown. It’s hard to find stronger evidence to back up that age-old adage than the current cluster that is the BPD command operation.

It’s hard, too, to find much fault with Janey’s decision-making when it comes to the White matter. She did not put him at the helm, nor did she put him on leave when reports surfaced of decades-old allegations of misdeeds. As she promised she would, Janey awaited the results of an independent probe into his file and then took swift action. She was respectful of jurists who sought additional time to review the case and gave White a chance to speak in his defense.

At the end of the day, Janey determined that the cloud over White’s tenure would be too heavy a burden on an already beleaguered police force. Now, having made the tough call to dispatch him permanently, Janey has drawn renewed criticism from some of her opponents for outlining a process to seek a new police commissioner over the coming months.

Michelle Wu, the at-large councillor, was particularly sharp in her critique via Twitter, calling any such effort a “charade,” and adding, “this acting administration should not use City resources on a search before the general election.”

But wait: Why not? The future leadership of Boston’s police force should not be left in limbo over the next half-year simply because an election is afoot. While the next four-year mayor should be able to make the appointment, there is no urgent reason to freeze a national search process, which will likely take months to mount.

One thing that is very clear from the Gross-White fumble is that there should never again be a rushed process to pick a BPD commissioner. The search radius for the talent pool must be cast wide, far beyond the edges of our city limits. Janey, whether she fails or succeeds in her bid for a four-year term, should set the plate for the ultimate winner in November to select from a deep pool of talent from across the United States.

Might the eventual choice be from our own BPD ranks? Perhaps. But the next mayor mustn’t feel compelled to make an internal hire. Janey now knows very well what it’s like to be left with a crap hand at the BPD. Let’s not put the next mayor— whoever that will be— in the same bind.

- Bill Forry

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