Editorial: You can support BPD, and civil liberties

Another flap that made headlines this week involves our city’s police commissioner— William Gross— and his critique of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Gross wrote and posted a scathing rebuke of the organization on his Facebook page— and later doubled-down on his remarks, which dismissed the group as “paper warriors” who are absent from the larger effort to make Boston safe.

Gross’ comments came in response to an ACLU lawsuit that seeks to make public elements of how the BPD tracks city teens and young adults who are allegedly affiliated with gangs. Gross’s rebuke of the group was cheered by many, including many Boston police officers.

Gross may have cause to feel aggravated by lawsuits that seek to probe and check his police tactics; and he would not be alone in those feelings. The ACLU frequently finds itself at odds with all sides of the political spectrum in defending unpopular speech, for example.

But, for our city’s top law enforcement leader to so roundly denounce the efforts of the ACLU or similar organizations that seek to bring a measure of scrutiny to police actions sends the wrong message.

Police officers are not infallible. Internal mechanisms for policing law enforcement agencies are not always a sufficient check and balance. However unpleasant, the tool of external inquiry can be —and should remain— a tool to help the public better understand how law enforcement is deployed and how public policies must adapt to a changing environment, both nationally and in our own backyard.

Gross and his fellow officers should know that Bostonians appreciate their daily efforts to keep us safe. But this community also understands that sometimes the police department— like all public agencies— bears scrutiny. Those two sentiments are not contradictory. We hope that the commissioner and City Hall in general will acknowledge that dynamic moving forward.