Citizen arrest

By ADAM REILLY  |  June 24, 2006

Maybe these mayoral decisions won’t keep good candidates away. And maybe D’Alessandro and his cohorts — former Suffolk County DA, incoming Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce head, and Menino ally Ralph Martin; Minister Don Muhammad; and Vanessa Calderon-Rosado, CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción — will conduct such aggressive outreach to Boston’s minority communities that, when the new commissioner is named, the same people who are complaining today will happily admit that they got it wrong. But that’s a best-case scenario.

The sad fact is, Menino’s deep skepticism toward civilian review and his unwillingness to include the public in the commissioner search come as no surprise. The mayor, for all his charms, is too often a controlling, close-minded leader: people who threaten his absolute control are co-opted (Charlotte Golar Richie) or marginalized (Felix Arroyo), and ideas he dislikes (an elected school committee) are caricatured and dismissed. Menino wants control of the BPD, and greater public involvement in the search for O’Toole’s replacement would undermine this goal. So, too, would the creation of a civilian-review body with any power; throw in the fact that the police unions would do their utmost to prevent the creation of a CRB — and that Menino’s son recently became a BPD detective — and the mayor’s opposition seems almost inevitable.

So where does that leave Boston? Since Menino, as mayor, gets to hire all the city’s department heads, he’s free to do whatever he wants with the commissioner search; there will be as much — or as little — community involvement as Menino and his four surrogates want. As for the civilian-review debate, don’t look to the city council to force the issue. The councilors who can afford to alienate the police — Arroyo, Turner, Yancey — have already weighed in; if the others followed suit, they’d risk losing their jobs next year thanks to the political potency of the police unions, and would jeopardize their dreams (which almost all of them have) of succeeding Menino one day. There’s Menino’s wrath to reckon with, too — which may explain why, in a letter recently drafted by Boston’s legislators of color, “experience and willingness to support and work with Civilian Review Board” was deleted from a list of suggested attributes for the next commissioner.

All of this bears remembering as Boston edges into what could be an exceptionally bloody summer. Would there be a tangible reduction in violence if a potent civilian-review board already existed, or if the public felt some stake in picking O’Toole’s successor? Maybe not. But if distrust of the police is partly to blame for the city’s recent escalation in homicides, as Menino seems to believe, nothing that could help remedy that problem should be summarily dismissed. Consider these comments from Jorge Martinez — the executive director of Project RIGHT, a violence-prevention organization in Grove Hall — on the civilian-review debate: “It’s going to be pretty nasty out here. We need a tool; we need people to come and report crimes. We’re really going to need it — and we need it yesterday. We can’t take another year.”

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Baltimore's Civilian Complaint Review Board:
Salt Lake City's Civilian Complaint Review Board:
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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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