In July 2016, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice sent an Open Letter to Mayor Walsh, calling upon the City to take affirmative steps to diversify its police force. Key points from our letter include:
The Importance Of Police Diversity For Strong And Safe Communities
It is well-recognized that a diverse police force helps build public trust and, thereby, increases public safety. In response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, President Obama appointed a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The Task Force drew together law enforcement, community leaders, researchers, academics and others to examine and recommend “best practices” in policing. See Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (May 2015), at 1 (“Task Force Report”).
The first “pillar” of reform recommended by the Task Force was “Building Trust and Legitimacy.” Id. As a key way of building this community trust, the Task Force highlighted the “critical importance of hiring officers who reflect the communities they serve….” Id. at 16. This Task Force recommendation echoes and builds upon decades of research demonstrating how police diversity helps legitimize law enforcement authority, strengthens police forces, and increases public safety. See Diversity in Law Enforcement: A Literature Review, May 2015, U.S. Department of Justice and EEOC.
The Task Force also highlighted that as police forces and the communities they serve become more diverse, there is a critical need for training on “recognizing and confronting implicit bias and cultural responsiveness….” Task Force Report at 58. Such training should be “ongoing” and “accomplished with the assistance of advocacy groups that represent the viewpoints of communities that have traditionally had adversarial relationships with law enforcement.” Id.
Boston’s Police Force Does Not Reflect The Community It Serves And Is Not Keeping Pace With Demographic Changes In The City
Despite this well-documented need for law enforcement to reflect the community it serves, BPD falls woefully short on this measure. Boston is a diverse city with a growing and dynamic population of color. Since 2011, people of color have constituted 50% or more of the Boston’s population.
However, BPD has failed to keep pace with these demographic trends and is increasingly out of step with the racial and demographic composition of the city. Earlier this year, the Lawyers’ Committee sued BPD to obtain information on the racial composition of the police force over the past decade. See Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights v Evans, Suffolk Sup. Ct. No. 16-1075 (filed Jan. 20, 2016). The statistics produced as a result of the lawsuit show that White officers are dramatically over-represented in BPD, compared to their population in Boston. Over the past decade, White officers have consistently constituted approximately 65% of the BPD ranks. At the same time, the percentage of White residents in Boston has fallen to less than 50%. Meanwhile, minority representation in BPD has hovered at approximately one-third, even as Boston has become a majority-minority city.
Representation of Latinos and Asians in BPD is particularly problematic. While these groups combined now represent 28% of the Boston’s residents, only approximately 10% of BPD’s officers are either Latino or Asian. The records we received from BPD as part of our public records lawsuit show that the most recent recruit class has no Asians or Latina women. See Police’s Latest Hiring Sparks State Inquiry, June 29, 2016, Bay State Banner (noting recruit class is 74% White).
Another troubling trend is the lack of diversity in BPD’s supervisory ranks. As the Department of Justice’s Task Force highlighted, diversity throughout a police force is critical to achieving community trust and legitimacy: “Achieving diversity in entry level recruiting is important, but achieving systematic and comprehensive diversification throughout each segment of the department is the ultimate goal.” Task Force Report at 16-17. Yet in Boston, less than one-fifth of supervisory officers are Black, Latino, or Asian – significantly below their representation in the overall force and well below their representation in the community.
The City Is Actively Impeding Progress On Police Diversity, And Failing To Undertake Proactive Steps That Are Readily Available
At a July 2016 public forum, John Barros, the City’s Chief of Economic Development defended BPD’s diversity arguing that the City could not do more because of vague and unspecified “barriers.” See “Race in Boston” Town Hall, WCVB at 21:00-23:00.
In fact, some of the greatest barriers to diversifying the Boston Police Department are created directly by the City:
- In court cases, the City is aggressively fighting efforts to diversify BPD. The City is aggressively fighting against attempts to diversify the police force. For example, in Smith v. City of Boston, a federal judge ruled last fall that the City discriminated against Black and Latino officers by using a flawed promotional exam to select police lieutenants. However, rather than resolve the issue of appropriate remedies for this discriminatory action, the City has fought settlement and is now asking for appellate review. Similarly, in Jones v. City of Boston, the City has been fighting for years to defend a discriminatory and scientifically unreliable drug-screening vehicle that resulted in the wrongful termination of a disproportionate number of Black police officers.
- BPD has been found to discriminate against recruits. In another case brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Defay v. Boston Police Department, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ruled that BPD discriminates against minority recruits in its disciplinary practices and ordered BPD to “cease and desist” from this conduct. Nevertheless, other irregularities in the recruitment process continue, and the Civil Service Commission has recently opened an investigation into why large numbers of high-scoring recruit candidates were bypassed, many without notice. See Civil Service Commission, June 9, 2016 Initiation of Investigation re: BPD & Due Process of Non-Selected Candidates; see also Investigation Targets BPD Hiring Practices, June 18, 2016, Boston Herald.
- BPD is not transparent in its practices. As noted above, much of the demographic data cited herein was secured only through a public records lawsuit that the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights filed after BPD refused to voluntarily disclose public records concerning the racial composition of the most recent recruit class and other demographic information about the police force. BPD is particularly resistant to fully and freely informing the public of its practices, especially surrounding racial and demographic issues.
As these examples demonstrate – contrary to statements by City officials – there are no “barriers” preventing the City from diversifying BPD. Rather, the City is actively impeding progress by aggressively fighting efforts to diversify BPD, by disproportionately disciplining minority recruits like Claude Defay, and by shielding its practices from public scrutiny by refusing to comply with the public records law.
Simply stopping these practices would help to diversify the police force. Other solutions that could and should be adopted include: proactive recruiting efforts in communities of color; increased use of PAR10, the regulation that allows hiring of officers with language skills; and greater attention to retention of minority recruits and officers. Adopting the Department of Justice Task Force’s recommendation of ongoing implicit bias training is also critical. In doing so, BPD should eschew reliance on “homemade” in-house trainings, and should draw instead upon social scientists and law enforcement practices experts who have in-depth experience in this arena.
Additional information about the disparate impact of the “Hair Test” is set forth below:
We represent ten African-American former police officers and the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO) in an employment discrimination case, Jones v. City of Boston, concerning BPD’s use of hair samples in drug screenings administered annually to sworn personnel. We contend that the BPD’s “hair test” has a statistically significant adverse impact against African Americans because it generates false-positive results in processing the type of hair common to many African Americans. In 2014, the Federal Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that BPD’s hair test caused a statistically disparate impact on the basis of race. This is a snapshot of the impact:
Year % of Positive Results Assigned to African-American People
The “Hair Test” Does Not Meet the Standard of Reliability
In a separate case litigated by private counsel representing the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, In re: Boston Police Department Drug Testing Appeals, Case No. D-01-1409, the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission unanimously concluded:
“The present state of hair testing for drugs or abuse…does not meet the standard of reliability necessary to be routinely used as the sole grounds to terminate a tenured public employee under just cause standards governing civil service employees under Massachusetts law.”
Nevertheless, the City of Boston and BPD continue to defend this discriminatory and unreliable drug test, and to administer it to its sworn personnel. In the meantime, Boston’s increasingly diverse populations – particularly Latinos and Asians – remain significantly underrepresented.
In response to these trends, a community forum on policing and diversity was recently co-sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice (LCCR), the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO), the Boston Branch NAACP, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and the Blackstonian. At the forum community members called on the City of Boston and BPD to promote diversity and to support community representation in policing. The forum was featured in Urban Update, the Boston Herald, and the Bay State Banner.