Citizen arrest

By ADAM REILLY  |  June 24, 2006

Earlier this month, meanwhile, City Councilors Felix Arroyo, Chuck Turner, and Charles Yancey were about to propose a relatively muscular CRB, one capable of issuing subpoenas and holding public hearings. But when Menino learned what the councilors were up to, he stole the spotlight by making a proposal of his own — for a watered-down body that would include both police and civilians, and whose proceedings would be closed to the public.

Snitching: a two-way street
What exactly is going on here? Menino, of course, wants us to think that he’s just being practical. After all, if a CRB could keep the cops from doing their jobs, who needs it? Ditto for a commissioner search that includes public participation, which Menino claims could scare away potential candidates. (A recent mayoral press release cast Menino’s opposition to transparency in vaguely heroic terms: “Mayor Menino made it known he would not compromise the city’s ability to attract the very best candidates if the process alone will discourage them from applying.”)

060623_robo_main
SERVE AND PROTECT: Menino wants control of the BPD, and greater public involvement in the search for O'Toole's replacement would undermine this goal.
It’s difficult to take Menino’s objections at face value, however. Granted, a civilian-review board might not be the panacea some of its proponents claim it to be. “It’s really been a mixed bag in terms of impact,” says Dr. Michael White, an assistant professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, of the civilian-review movement. “The perception among many people is, ‘if we can just get this board going, it’s going to fix everything,’ and it’s very clear to me that’s not the case.”

Even so, casting a CRB as a Trojan horse that would render the Boston Police powerless is absurd. Why, if that were a real risk, would O’Toole have recommended such a body in the first place? And why would so many other cities — Austin, Baltimore, Miami, Philadelphia, and Washington, to name just a few — have them already? If Menino talks the issue over with his fellow mayors, he’ll hear assessments like this one, from a spokesperson for Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam: “The mayor is very pleased with the way the committee” — i.e., Knoxville’s Police Advisory and Review Committee — “has operated. He understands that there were concerns in the police department when it was initially formed, but he really feels like it’s a positive now that it’s underway.”

As for the commissioner search: maybe some outstanding applicants would, in fact, be reluctant to apply if they knew their identities would be publicly disclosed. But Menino’s recent handling of the BPD could be just as off-putting. Hark back to Menino’s public undercutting of O’Toole on the civilian-review issue: if you were a talented cop looking to head a department, would you want to go to work for a mayor who considered his own law-enforcement sense superior to your own? Or a mayor who, by installing his former driver in a key police-department leadership position, openly signaled his determination to be actively involved in the department’s day-to-day operations?

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Feels like the first time
In the early ’90s, after the St. Clair Commission’s damning assessment of the BPD, then–police commissioner Mickey Roache created a “community-appeals board” (CAB) to provide a modicum of civilian oversight. But the CAB was hamstrung by its lack of investigative powers — “Nobody is going to investigate this department,” Roache vowed — and quickly faded into irrelevancy.
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