Filmmakers always seem to catch the Boston Police Department (BPD) on its bad days. Five years ago, the crew of ABC’s Boston 24/7 filmed the city’s top homicide cop busting a guy for murder, who turned out to be innocent. This March, America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh “saddled up” with the vaunted gang unit to hunt down several violent criminals with outstanding warrants, and came back empty-handed.
The latest is Spike TV’s Boston PD, a four-part documentary filmed nearly two years ago but airing now, buried in a late-Friday-night time slot.
The first two of the four episodes aired last week. Spike TV’s cameras followed the gang unit — officially known as the Youth Violence Strike Force (YVSF) — as they rounded up five teens wanted for a gang rape in the Bromley-Heath projects. The YVSF cops are seen enjoying their success after arresting all five; unfortunately, in real life, prosecutors later determined that there was no evidence a crime had been committed, and dropped all the charges — after the five youths had spent more than a year in jail.
Boston PD features more than the YVSF team. It also follows drug-control detective Kevin “Mr. Incredible” Guy; downtown patrol officer Patricia DeRosa, a/k/a football star Pepper Johnson’s girlfriend; and now-retired deputy superintendent Robert O’Toole, who was last seen firing pepper pellets from the hip on Lansdowne Street the night Victoria Snelgrove died. But the show’s look inside the YVSF is especially interesting, in light of a lawsuit currently on the federal docket in which two former members of that unit, Steven Horne and Ronald Brown, allege racial discrimination.
The suit refers to conditions through 2001, when Horne and Brown were transferred out, but the Spike TV footage suggests that little has changed.
Among the lawsuit’s claims — backed up by recent affadavits from two other black former YVSF officers — is that white officers were always assigned to patrol with other white officers, and blacks with blacks. In Boston PD, the YVSF’s white officers are seen working together on the warrant-apprehension team; separately we see two black officers, veterans Vance Mills and Greg Brown, riding together on the night patrol.
Viewers also get a peek at how the alleged prejudice affects the way YVSF officers do their jobs. “Mr. Horne and Mr. Brown objected to racism and disparate treatment by white officers, not only as minority officers within the department, but also with regard to the treatment of the minority citizens within the community,” says Steve Roach, the Boston attorney representing the officers.
For instance, the lawsuit alleges that, although YVSF is theoretically a city-wide unit, the 100 or so faces on the infamous “wanted poster wall” inside its Warren Street headquarters were always exclusively black. Boston PD includes a couple of shots of the wall, and the claim appears to be true.
And out on the street, the show gives a glimpse at what passes for probable cause among YVSF officers — black and white — when it comes to detaining young black men. In one case, Eblan and Albert pull over to question two young black men who are simply walking on a sidewalk. “You’ve got a problem, you’re squeezing your pockets,” Eblan says to one after he denies having drugs or guns on him.
In another scene, Mills notes that a young black man “won’t take his left hand out of his pocket” as he walks — so Mills hops out of his cruiser and pat-frisks him. The search yields nothing.