In apparent incongruity with its funding sources, Kennedy School affiliation, and law-enforcement ties, PERF is best known for its published reports and conferences on such liberal-friendly issues as community policing, reducing gun violence through gun-control legislation, protecting abortion clinics, and the need to separate immigration enforcement from police work. According to Wexler, the organization has until now taken most of its heat from the far right.
"We got whacked for our role against the Arizona immigration law," he said, adding that right-wing advocates even sent him threatening letters.
"I feel like Alice in Wonderland," he said. "After a while you think, 'Well, there's so many people saying this stuff about me, it must be true.' "
Wexler spoke to me Monday morning from Miami, between Anonymous attacks on his organization's Web site. A native of Boston and graduate of Boston University, Wexler held a number of key roles in the Boston Police Department before taking his position at PERF in 1993. As operations assistant to Boston Police commissioners Robert DiGrazia, Joseph Jordan, and Mickey Roache, he played a central role curbing violence against black Bostonians in the wake of court-ordered desegregation of the Boston School System.
He was also instrumental in the development and management of the Community Disorders Unit, which earned a national reputation for successfully prosecuting and preventing racially motivated crime, and served as aide de camp to the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, where, according to longtime NRA lobbyist Richard Feldman, he fought hard for Massachusetts gun-control laws.
While in Boston, he got to know two-time PERF Board President William Bratton, who once served as Boston Police Commissioner under former governor Mitt Romney and now serves, like Wexler, as an appointee to the Homeland Security Advisory Council. He is also a friend of longtime PERF Member-at-Large and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis.
In our phone interview, Wexler gave a rather mundane-sounding rundown of the two calls. "PERF's reason for being is to take on difficult issues and try to make sense of them and discuss them. When Occupy emerged, a couple of [police] c hiefs said, 'Let's have a conference call and talk about this.' We set up a line and let people talk to each other. Not everybody came on, some people did. There was no agenda. There wasn't any common theme at all. If you look around the country, it's very idiosyncratic. It was not tactics or anything. It wasn't about how we should shut this thing down, it was more like, 'Here's the issues we're facing in our city.' "
The second call, on November 4, was much the same, he said, "only now some things had become contentious. Issues of sanitation, marching and blocking streets. One city said, 'The police aren't even involved at all, they have health and sanitation involved.'"
When I probed Wexler as to why people should trust his word, he made a reasonable point: "Listen, our last conference call was November 4. If we were involved in tactics, we'd be having conference calls every day. It wouldn't be two and a half weeks ago. Anyone that knows us knows we don't tell people what to do. We don't have that kind of authority, nor do we want that kind of authority. We don't actively tell police departments what to do."