Police Force Felt the Mayor's Hand

Influence of Flynn is seen from the commissioner's office to local foot patrols

MAYOR Raymond Flynn's fingerprints are all over the police force. Not from being arrested, mind you. But from having a great impact on the men and women in blue.

Perhaps more than any other city service, the embattled department feels his influence - from Commissioner Francis (Mickey) Roache, a boyhood pal who may run for mayor, to its budget, which reflects the mayor's vision as well as departmental needs, to the neighborhood-policing plan, a result most recently of a report he commissioned. As Mr. Roache's term began, the mayor was accused of politicizing the force for assigning city employees to jobs at police headquarters.

"There's no question [Mr. Flynn] has an immense amount of influence in this police department that, in other cities, people would look at with their eyebrows raised," says Frank Hartman, executive director of the criminal-justice policy and management program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

A racially explosive 1989 murder investigation and subsequent press criticism prompted probes of the police, including one from the mayor-appointed St. Clair Commission, led by President Nixon's Watergate attorney, James St. Clair. It released its report - recently ruled court admissible - to wide acclaim Jan. 14, 1992. Calling for 36 changes, almost all of which Roache accepted, it said the department "drifts from crisis to crisis," causing turf wars and low morale.

For his part, Roache welcomed the report. "I think we're a good, honest, solid department now. I have personal relationships with hundreds and hundreds of officers. I'm moving forward."

But Flynn didn't act on its main recommendation: ousting Roache. To appease critics, he rehired former Superintendent-in-Chief William Bratton, then-chief of the New York Transit Authority, to help manage the force.

"I didn't go to the school of criminology or the Harvard School of Business to find the best manager. I was looking for someone who was a healer, somebody who was honest, had enormous integrity, and worked hard," Flynn said in a Monitor interview. "[Roache] helped to shape a real positive image, reputation of Boston police officers."

Roache successfully fought police corrupton, eased racial tensions, and reduced crime, then at a six-year low, Flynn said publicly. Homocides had fallen 22.6 percent in 1991; rapes and attempted rapes, 11 percent.

Roache's strengths also lie in his character, relationship with neighborhoods, and success fighting drugs, not his supervision of an almost 2,000-member force, community leaders say.

"He brought decency, commitment. But the question is management," says Samuel Tyler, executive director of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. "His approach is hands-on personal management, rather than thinking about overall management incentives," Mr. Hartman adds.

As the St. Clair report advised, Roache created a Community Appeals Board to check the Internal Affairs Division, the department's means of policing itself. The division had come under fire by St. Clair. Roache also doubled the size of the division and replaced the legal advisers' office - which had lost some 60 percent of cases brought against errant officers.

Roache also adopted the report's call for neighborhood policing, a plan that had been in the works since 1985. It won't be fully operational until 300 patrolmen can be hired, Mr. Bratton says. In fact, no officers have joined up since 1991 because of the tight budget. The proposed 1984 budget, though, contains $2 million for 100 officers, and full computerization could free up more officers for patrols.

Attrition, meanwhile, results in more overtime and up to 96 fewer officers a year, the Boston Finance Commission reports. This is why some officers believe 500 more are needed.

As riots broke out in Los Angeles after the 1992 Rodney King trial, Boston remained peaceful. "Roache and Flynn knew to reach out to black community leaders to say: `We'll work with you,' " says Jack McDevitt, associate director of Northeastern University's Center for Applied Social Research and St. Clair panel researcher.

On an ominous note, however, a judge in May 1992 issued an injunction against 13 officers individually for either using excessive force or not reporting its use by others after they were found guilty of having done so during an incident four years earlier. Now under appeal, the injunction may be the nation's first, says Hubert Williams, Police Foundation president. "It's certainly going to be an interesting situation to watch," he says.

Last month, racial tensions led to a South Boston High School brawl some compared to incidents during school desegregation and busing in the mid-1970s.

The department has also taken flak for other areas, among them:

* Deployment. The Boston Globe reported that in 1991 29 percent of patrols, not including special units, worked an area where 40 percent of violent crime occurred. City Councilor Charles Yancey calls this "unsafe."

* Racial disparities. Statistics show that 55 percent of officers fired or suspended from January 1988-July 1991 were minorities, who make up 25 percent of the force.

* Problem officers. Abuse claims rose in the 1980s while the number of claims deemed valid by the department fell, statistics show. Recently, 71 problem officers were identified.

* No contract, raises. It has been three and four years, respectively, since the force had them. The proposed budget contains a 2 percent raise.

Nevertheless, Roache, like Flynn, is popular with the public. Nearly half of those polled by KRC Communications in March like him; two-thirds call his performance average to excellent. Almost 90 percent know his name, ahead of those running for mayor. As Roache puts it: "I was there. I play on Sunday like the NFL. Everybody else plays Monday."

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