Boston Activists Concerned Police Won't Be Reformed

BOSTON'S troubled police department is struggling to cope with continued calls for reform.

Some community activists here are concerned that Mayor Raymond Flynn will not follow through with major recommendations made by an commission convened to study the department.

The report was highly critical of the way the police department is managed. Released earlier this year, the study contains more than 30 policy recommendations, including the replacement of Police Commissioner Francis Roache. Its findings also confirm earlier charges of police mishandling of investigations and citizen complaints about the police. Some officers have been accused of misconduct and for harassing or shooting at residents in minority neighborhoods.

James St. Claire, who headed the special commission, and others would like to see it reconvene this summer to monitor progress made by the department. "It would seem to be that a look at the situation in six months would tell you a lot. If they are having problems, maybe we can suggest solutions," says Mr. St. Claire, a nationally known lawyer who was former President Nixon's attorney during the Watergate era.

"I think that by reconvening the commission ... you force the administration and the department to pay attention to the whole area of police accountability," says City Councilor Charles Yancey.

The study recommends a new community appeals board comprised of both citizens and officers to handle citizen complaints. The commission found that the department's Internal Affairs office investigated only 6 percent of the citizen complaints filed against officers during a sample period in 1989 and 1990. The department's handling of the Carol Stuart murder in 1989, when police targeted an innocent black man in her slaying, is the most notable example of how the department bungled a major criminal investi gation.

Although the city has responded favorably to the report and announced major reforms, Flynn has said he will not reconvene the commission.

Boston officials say they will adopt 31 of the report's 36 recommendations, although Mr. Roache will not be replaced. William Bratton, former chief of the New York Transit Authority, has been hired as police manager to be second in command to Roache.

Criminologists say Boston's problems are no different from those of other city police departments in the United States. In particular, the issue of police brutality is not uncommon, says George Kelling, a fellow in the criminal justice program at Harvard University's Kennedy's School of Government. "A lot of departments are going through soul searching after the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles. I think most chiefs knew that the outbreak [of police brutality] could happen in almost every police depart ment in the United States."

TWO other cities - Milwaukee and Los Angeles - have commissioned major studies of their police departments.

In Milwaukee, after the revelations of police negligence in the case of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer a special commission found racist and homophobic attitudes in its police department. After the videotaped beating of Rodney King last spring, a special commission cited evidence of departmentwide racism, brutality, and mismanagement.

Criminologists note that encouraging officers to adopt a less adversarial attitude toward citizens is a difficult, but important, policy objective.

"The question of what would be effective in making the police behave routinely more courteously toward citizens, to show more respect toward citizens in their day-to-day actions, is a much harder and more subtle problem," than simply improving management procedures, says Mark Moore, a professor of criminal justice at the Kennedy School.

Much of the problem has to do with the way officers are trained, Mr. Kelling says. "I think we have allowed a police culture to develop that is often times quite at odds with the management culture. One of the primary problems is when we constantly think in terms of wars: wars on crime, wars on drugs, wars on violence. You shouldn't be surprised when you get warriors."

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