Or, as some argue, a small improvement has allowed the city to settle right back into complacency.
That complacency could be seen, some suggest, in the just-completed city budget process. The mayor’s budget was very tight, not only with policing resources, but with other key areas that affect youth violence. Flaherty points for examples at crisis-level increases in the school drop-out rate, failure to fund youth activities and jobs programs, and unaddressed substance-abuse problems. “Leadership and accountability begin at the top,” he says.
But the list of needs illustrates the impossibility of “buying our way out of the problem,” as one local religious leader puts it. The city just had to dig into reserves for $10 million to bail out its schools — clearly, spending is going to remain tight for some time to come. The answers will have to come from new thinking, not new budgets.
Menino, for his part, adamantly denies the charge of complacency: “My bottom line is, we’ve got to do a better job. The status quo doesn’t go.”
For all the attention paid to the issue of rising violence and confidence in the police to solve crimes, perhaps the most revealing aspect of the 2006 Public Safety Survey was one that had not previously been explored: confidence in the BPD’s ability to police itself. And, like that year’s specter of violence, it’s an issue that has still not been resolved.
According to that 2006 report — conducted shortly after the arrests of Roberto Pulido and two other Boston cops for corruption — just 20 percent of respondents had a “great deal” of confidence in the department’s internal oversight; 45 percent had some confidence, 20 percent had little confidence, and 14 percent had none at all.
At the time, Menino had come under fire for refusing to establish a civilian review panel to investigate citizens’ complaints. He finally agreed in principle that summer. But the system he established has been widely criticized as powerless and ineffective.
Meanwhile, evidence of the department’s ongoing problems in this area has mounted. The disappearance of drugs from an evidence-storage locker, which was discovered in late 2006, has not yet led to any punishments. Ditto for officers’ use of steroids, reportedly discovered during the 2004–’06 investigation of Pulido, and for any officers involved with misconduct at Pulido’s “boom-boom room” parties.
A Phoenix article earlier this year suggested serious misconduct in the wrongful conviction of Stephan Cowans — who served seven years for a crime he was later found not to have committed — despite previous investigations that resulted in no charges against officers involved. And the department has been accused of giving light punishments to officers charged with domestic violence.
At times, Davis has seemed to have ushered in a refreshing change — such as when he reportedly ripped the badge from an officer caught selling drugs. “Davis has been tough on police,” says Menino.
But in many cases, Davis seems unable to impose serious discipline over the resistance of the patrolman’s union.
And just recently, Davis himself publicly claimed that officers had not acted inappropriately in the death of a college student after the Boston Celtics’ championship victory — seeming to clear them even before an independent investigation had begun. Menino, asked whether the public skepticism toward Davis’s statement revealed an ongoing public distrust of the BPD, said that it showed only that “there is a distrust by an attorney representing the student.”