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Boston Police reforms: September 2021 community update

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The Boston Police Department (BPD) continues to be committed to implementing police reform.

The department has been working to implement the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Reform recommendations, Massachusetts Police Reform legislative mandates, and other calls for reform from the community, advocates and elected officials

The Task Force specifically recommended that the City “Pledge to implement the Task Force’s recommendations without increasing the BPD’s budget.”  The Department has been working within current resource constraints to implement recommendations as well as prepare for compliance with the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission requirements. 

BPD is contracting with a consultant to complete a staffing analysis to provide the City with an independent research and data driven assessment regarding the appropriate sworn staffing levels the Boston Police Department requires.  

The Massachusetts police reform bill and the task force recommendations overlap in several key areas, most notably civilian oversight, reporting of data, policy and training.  The POST Commission that is being created at the state level will have some similar responsibilities as the newly created Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (OPAT).  The POST Commission will also be issuing standards for policy and training in areas that the task force has also made recommendations.  The Department has been meeting regularly to work through the state legislation and Task Force recommendations. 

The POST Commission will also be overseeing a new certification/ decertification process for all police officers in the commonwealth.  Officers will get reviewed for certification every three years.  There will be significant new mandatory reporting requirements for police departments.  For example:

  • All complaints filed with BPD submitted to POST within  two business days
  • All investigations into complaints completed within one year
  • Complete disciplinary records for all officers
  • Training records for all officers
  • Complaint investigatory files
  • Officer involved injuries
  • Any other data they request to identify patterns of potential bias

The BPD has been working on policy changes and setting up new reporting systems to be able to comply with the MA legislation.  This is a significant undertaking for our Bureau of Professional Standards and Bureau of Professional Development.

The state legislation requirements for police response to planned mass gatherings took effect on July 1, 2021.  These include 1) communicating with organizing groups; 2) assigning a de-escalation officer for each event; 3) documenting all de-escalation attempts; and 4) reporting to POST any crowd control instance where tear gas/ chemical weapon, rubber bullets, or deployment of a dog were used (including all de-escalation attempts).  The BPD has been adhering to the practice of communicating with organizers before an event for many years.  The BPD follows all requirements of the law for mass gatherings. 

In addition, the BPD issued a training bulletin on July 27, 2021 regarding the City of Boston Ordinance Restricting the Use of Chemical Crowd Control Agents and Kinetic Impact Projectiles.

The BPD is complying with, and will continue to comply with legal restrictions to No Knock Warrants that took effect on December 31, 2020, per the MA legislation.  See Policies section below regarding revision to Search Warrant Rule. 

A consequence of the police reform bill was that 625 “special police officers” licensed by the BPD under Rules 400 and 400A lost their powers of arrest on July 1, 2021.   This impacted special officers employed by private security companies and hospitals, as well as hundreds of special officers employed by City agencies.  BPD has since reinstated the licenses of six BHA officers who met the new training standards.  BPD has been working with the School Department regarding public safety and police response to schools since the BPS School Police Officers lost their arrest powers and can no longer access or write police reports.  In addition, BPD’s School Police Unit officers are going through the Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC) School Resource Officer (SRO) training in order for the City to be in compliance with the SRO law.   BPD is revising rules 400, 400A and 400C per the police reform legislation. 

We have made progress in police reform efforts, however much of the state mandated requirements and various task forces’ recommendations have yet to be issued.  POST has issued some guidance in three areas:

  1. The first report from POST was issued on July 1, 2021, providing guidance to police departments on de-escalation and interacting with minor children.  BPD has prepared a document that responds the guidelines.  In addition, the Academy has prepared a Training Bulletin on the recommendations, and BPD is revising the Juvenile Arrest rule.
  2. On August 5, 2021 the POST Commission sent a communication through Massachusetts Major City Chiefs issuing a draft use of force policy issued by the MPTC that BPD is reviewing to see if additional changes need to be made to BPD use of force rules.  There was a public hearing on August 27 for comment on the draft policy.  Any additional changes to BPD use of force rules will be completed once the draft policy from MPTC is finalized.
  3. On August 13, 2021 the POST Commission sent a communication through Massachusetts Major City Chiefs providing an email address to which departments may send complaints of misconduct, or complete investigatory and final reports of complaints.  

POST has not yet provided a process for submitting discipline records for all our officers by the September 30, 2021, deadline. 


Policies

The BPD has made progress in policies related to police reform  many of which are not related to the Task Force recommendation or the MA legislation:   

  • A new Transgender Policy was issued on April 12, 2021 to establish guidelines for the appropriate treatment of transgender individuals who come into contact with the Boston Police Department.  (new Rule 113B)
  • The BPD revised policy regarding transporting prisoners on April 12, 2021 to mandate police officers report the odometer reading at the start and end of all prisoner transports.  (Rule 318)
  • BPD revised policy regarding notification responsibilities and process related to alleged criminal and/or questionable behavior of on and off duty officers and civilians on April 14, 2021.   (Rule 102)
  • BPD revised the Gang Database rule on June 8, 2021.  Changes to this Rule include:
  • Clarification of the purpose of the Gang Assessment Database in preventing and reducing violence and victimization in the City of Boston;
  • Clarification of the role of the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC) in management of the Gang Assessment Database;
  • Clarification and amendment of criteria for access, submission, verification, dissemination, and review;
  • Removal of the "inactive" status, thereby ensuring that those individuals will be reviewed for purge or re-categorized to more accurately reflect their participation in gang activity;
  • Clarification that Field Interaction/Observation/Encounter (“FIOE”) Reports shall not be used as the sole criteria for verification;
  • Addition of an annual public reporting requirement regarding number of individuals added to and purged from the Database.
  • Addition of a Juvenile section with the intention of connecting juveniles to services and providing a pathway out of the Gang Assessment Database.

In May 2021 BPD revised all Use of Force Rules (303, 303A, 303B, 303C, 303D, 304) based on state legislation and task force recommendations.  This includes incorporation of legislation regulating use of force, de-escalation tactics, duty to intervene, and discharging firearms into fleeing vehicles.  The Investigation of Firearm Discharges section was also updated to include Rule 405 Body Worn Camera policy related to collecting and securing video footage in instances of officer involved shootings and other use of deadly force.  Rule 304 Non-Lethal Force was also updated to include a description of the Use of Force Model.  BPD had previously updated all use of force policies in June 2020 to address concerns of “8 Can’t Wait”.  BPD may be revising these policies again once the POST model Use of Force policy is finalized.

The BPD revised Rule 113A Bias-Free Policing on May 25, 2012 based on Massachusetts Police Reform Legislation and the recommendations of former Mayor Walsh's Task Force on Police Reform.  The Department also used the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) model bias-free policing policy as a guide, adapting their format and language to fit the BPD.  Revised Rule 113A was reviewed by the internal DEI committee as well as the Mayor's Office of Equity.

The BPD convened an internal Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEI) to look at recruitment, hiring and promotions, discipline, assignments and opportunities for career advancement, as well as overall culture of the organization.  This DEI Committee is currently chaired by Deputy Superintendent Eddy Chrispin, who was a member of the Mayor’s Task Force and is assigned to the Bureau of Professional Standards.  This committee began meeting in the beginning of April 2021.

The BPD created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policy for the Department.  This policy was reviewed by the internal DEI committee as well as the Mayor's Office of Equity and was distributed to department personnel and posted on the intranet and internet on May 25, 2021.

On July 14, 2021 the BPD issued Rule 203A:  Processing and Executing Applications for Involuntary Hospitalization and Warrants of Apprehension pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 123 Section 12.  This rule is intended to clarify the process for receiving, reviewing, coordinating, and serving Section 12(a) Applications for Involuntary Hospitalization issued by agencies outside of the Boston Police Department (BPD) and Section 12(e) Warrants of Apprehension issued by the courts pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 123. 

This standardized process utilizes the BPD’s Street Outreach Unit and emphasizes de-escalation, in an effort to increase public safety and provide successful outcomes for the subjects involved in the Section 12 process.  The Street Outreach Unit is in constant communication with service providers, Boston Emergency Services Team (BEST) clinicians, district personnel and Operations (911) to create the safest plan for executing the Section 12, taking into account critical background information gathered about the individual. Data are being collected and analyzed to measure impact and effectiveness of this new process. 

A similar rule is being finalized for the processing and execution of applications for Civil Commitment of those with substance addiction problems pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 123 Section 35.

BPD’s Search Warrant rule is currently being revised to codify procedural changes that have been made to comply with the police reform bill and to provide additional guidelines for high risk warrants.  

The BPD is currently revising Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Policies.  

BPD is creating draft Disciplinary Matrix Guidelines per the OPAT ordinance.  This Matrix will address several of the Task Force concerns and recommendations regarding fair and equitable discipline.


Training

In terms of training, the BPD has expanded Fair and Impartial Policing curriculum for recruits from two hours to eight hours.  This change took place for the recruit class that graduated in June 2021 and will continue going forward.   This expands training in unconscious bias and procedural justice.   In addition, since 2015 all BPD recruits have gotten a two hour course on Bias Free Policing.

The BPD has also implemented ABLE – Active Bystandership in Law Enforcement, a national training effort to prepare officers to successfully intervene to prevent harm and create a culture that supports peer intervention.  ABLE is a collaboration between Georgetown University Law Center, the Sheppard Mullin Law Firm, and the New Orleans Police Department.  This eight hour training curriculum began with the recruit class that graduated in June, and will continue going forward.   The eight hour training will also be taught through in-service training to veteran officers to ensure that all officers receive this training.  Annual refresher training will be included during in-service training in future years.

In addition to the ABLE training, all BPD officers will complete the following MPTC/ POST mandated in-service courses by July 2022.  In total, BPD officers will complete 44-46 hours during this time period.

  • Responding to Emergencies Involving Mentally ill (3 hours)
  • De-escalation and Use of Force (3 hours)
  • Cultural Competency and Responding to Mass Gatherings (3 hours)
  • Human Trafficking (3 hours)
  • Law Enforcement Officer Mental Wellness (2 hours)
  • Law Enforcement Officer Suicide Prevention (2 hours)
  • Critical Incident Stress Management (2 hours)
  • Legal Update (6 hours)

Body Worn Cameras

The BPD has made progress toward the Task Force recommendations regarding the Department’s Body Worn Camera Program.  

  • The Video Evidence Unit extended the minimum camera footage retention period to 180 days (6 months) per Task Force recommendation.  This was implemented late last summer.  This is also the standard listed in the MA police reform legislation.
  • Secondary camera deployment was completed in May and June 2021 for Patrol Officers.  This provides the charging and storage capacity for officers to wear their BWCs on overtime and paid details.   
  • Rule 405 was revised to address secondary camera deployment and was issued on May 11, 2021.  In addition, this revision also includes a new Section 2.9. Special Operations Division Activation Factors.  This clarifies for the officers and for the public the expectations for BWC use by Division units. 
  • The MA police reform legislation created a task force to study use of BWCs.  Their report was due July 1 but has yet to be issued.  Additional changes will be made to the BWC program as mandated by new regulations.

BPD will continue to expand the Body Worn Camera Program as funding becomes available. 


Data and Reporting

The Task Force made several recommendations related to open and accessible data. The BPD published an accountability and transparency webpage with the Digital team, including seven dashboards developed in partnership with DoIT on June 30, 2021.  These include:

  • Homicide Clearance
  • FIOE Reports
  • Shootings
  • Shots Fired
  • Firearms Recovered
  • Boston Emergency Services Team (BEST)
  • In-custody Deaths

Other dashboards are in development: Complaints, Employee Demographics, Calls for Service, YouthConnect referrals, and Firearms Discharges.  As dashboards are added to the webpage, associated datasets are added to Analyze Boston, with appropriate restrictions for privacy and confidentiality as required by law.  

The BPD has been voluntarily reporting firearm discharge data to the FBI’s National Use-of-Force Data Collection system since summer of 2019, in compliance with their reporting requirements.  The task force report erroneously stated that we did not report to this system.  In addition, the federal Arrest-Related Deaths and Deaths in Custody Reporting Program the task force report recommended we report to is no longer operational.

The BPD strives to release public records as quickly as possible in accordance with the Public Records Law.  


Mental Health Response Pilots

In addition to the changes in policies, BPD in collaboration with Emergency Medical Services and Health and Human Services are working to pilot programs to enhance the response to Mental Health emergencies. These programs include:

  1. Expanded Co-response will improve and expand dedicated teams of police officers and mental health workers to respond to 911 calls that report a mental health crisis with a safety risk. Implementation of improvements to Boston’s co-response program will begin in the fall. Currently, dispatch of co-response takes place on a case-by-case basis. The pilot initiative standardizes this process. Dispatchers will automatically ask if a co-response team is available to respond to mental health calls that pose a safety risk. This component of the pilot will begin in the fall.
    • In addition, co-response cars with a police officer and mental health worker can currently be asked to respond to any call type. The pilot will designate dedicated co-response cars, which will only be dispatched to calls that are likely to have a mental health concern. This component of the pilot will begin in the fall, in Boston Police Districts A1 and B2, in the Downtown/Charlestown and Roxbury neighborhoods.
  2. Alternative response will deploy teams of Emergency Medical Technicians and mental health workers to respond to 911 calls that report a mental health crisis without a safety risk. Work to develop this model will begin immediately, in partnership with unions representing BPD and EMS employees.
  3. Community-led response will begin with a facilitated, community-led process to propose a model of mental health response that is led by trained community members who may have lived experience with mental illness and with the communities they’re serving. A request for proposal for the facilitator of the community-led response model will open in the fall, followed by a community design process that starts during early winter.

Conclusion

The Boston Police Department is undergoing significant reform as leadership works to implement the mandates of Massachusetts Police Reform legislation in conjunction with the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Reform, in addition to rethinking policing.  Together, all of these reforms will increase accountability and transparency, and promote diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the department.  The BPD is committed to these reforms and to proactive community engagement to strengthen relationships with the community and to listening to the community regarding their priorities for police reform and the role of police.

Boston Police data

You can view dashboards around Boston Police Department accountability and transparency data:

Police data dashboards

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