In a lawsuit filed yesterday, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice sued the Boston Police Department (BPD), Commissioner William Evans, and the City of Boston, seeking public records that are critical to ascertaining the racial impact of BPD’s employment practices.
The lawsuit, brought in partnership with Birnbaum & Godkin, LLP, stems from two public records requests made by the Lawyers’ Committee. The first request – made over a year ago – seeks documents related to the “hair test” that BPD administers for drug screening. BPD’s use of this test is highly controversial, particularly in light of serious questions regarding the test’s reliability in testing the type of hair common to many African-American people, and is the subject of a pending federal lawsuit (Jones v. City of Boston). The second public records request, made in late 2015, seeks records and information that BPD has failed to publicly disclose concerning the demographic make-up of its current police recruit class.
“To be accountable to the community, the Boston Police Department must be transparent,” stated Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “Diversity and community representation in the police force is a critical issue, and the public has a right to know the impact of BPD’s employment practices on Blacks, Latinos, and other minority groups.” He noted that although the Massachusetts Public Records Law requires government agencies to provide access to public records within ten (10) days of a request, the Lawyers’ Committee has been waiting for records to be produced for over a year.
“Recent court and agency decisions have demonstrated that BPD’s employment practices are neither fair nor even-handed,” stated Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. He cited a federal court ruling last fall that found that BPD’s promotional examination for lieutenants illegally discriminates against minority officers (Smith v. Boston), and a decision last month from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination finding that BPD illegally imposes harsher discipline against minority recruits in the Training Academy (Defay v. BPD). “Particularly in light of these recent rulings, it is critical that BPD not be allowed to shield public records on its employment practices from public scrutiny,” added Sellstrom.
This case was featured in the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Bay State Banner, Courthouse News Service, and Massachusetts Lawyers’ Weekly. In a separate article, the Banner addressed Boston City Council oversight of police and fire department employment practices.