Under a new law, Boston will create a police accountability office. Here’s what it will do.
"Now is the time to act with urgency to dismantle systemic racism across our city."
Mayor Marty Walsh on Monday signed a law to establish the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency — an independent agency armed with subpoena power that will investigate complaints against Boston police both through a civilian board and an internal affairs panel.
“Now is the time to act with urgency to dismantle systemic racism across our city,” Walsh said in a statement. “The Office of Police Accountability and Transparency will support lasting, generational change by rooting out impropriety and ensuring the type of enhanced oversight that leads to greater community trust. This is an important milestone, but it’s only the beginning.”
The office, referred to as OPAT, is partially built off recommendations on how to improve the Boston Police Department assembled by a task force Walsh convened in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last year.
While Walsh filed the draft ordinance in November, City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Ricardo Arroyo, and Julia Mejia had sought to create the Civilian Review Board through legislation filed earlier in the year.
The ordinance signed Monday, passed by the City Council in December, is a compromise legislation between the two.
“Creating this office and a true system of civilian oversight is a win for our city and a major step towards eliminating racial disparities in our policing system which are in need of more transparency and accountability,” Campbell, who is also running for mayor, said in a tweet.
The creation of OPAT follows other task force recommendations that Walsh has acted on through executive orders in recent months, including one to form the CRB and another to create the Internal Affairs Oversight Panel or IAOP. The ordinance codifies both agencies, which fall under OPAT’s jurisdiction.
“The Boston Police Reform Task Force worked diligently to produce a set of recommendations that will create real reform within the Boston Police Department,” Boston Police Reform Task Force Chairman Wayne Budd said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing how the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency enhances equity and allows the community to have greater confidence in the integrity of policing.”
Walsh, in a virtual signing ceremony, said the measure is about adding accountability to “the best police department in the country.”
“There’s no reason why anyone should be fearful of what we’re doing today,” he said.
“Whether it’s in training, whether it’s in hiring, whether it’s in diversity, whether it’s in police misconduct, we want to make sure we do everything we can — that people have the full faith and trust in the Boston Police Department,” Walsh added.
Here’s what to know about the ordinance and OPAT:
What is OPAT?
According to Budd, OPAT will create “a single point of entry for residents” to bring complaints against the department.
The office will be comprised of the CRB, IAOP, and an administrative staff helmed by an executive director. City officials launched a search for candidates for the position this week.
OPAT will also have a three-member commission, which will include the executive director, and the chairpersons of the CRB and IAOP. All positions will be appointed by the mayor, and the commission will hold subpoena power for itself along with the two boards.
“We … recommended that the overarching commission made up of the chairs of the three branches be given the power of the subpoena to ensure it was given adequate means to promote accountability,” Budd said during the signing ceremony.
The CRB will be a nine-member group, three of whom will be appointed by the mayor based off City Council nominations and the remainder from a pool of applicants recommended by neighborhood associations, civil rights advocacy groups, and youth organizations, among others.
Meanwhile, the IAOP will contain five members appointed by the mayor from an applicant pool, “preferably” attorneys with civil rights advocacy, law enforcement, and youth advocacy experience, according to the ordinance.
What OPAT can and cannot do
OPAT will provide “intake services, research, and administrative support” to the CRB and IOAP, officials say. In all, the office will investigate police misconduct complaints, provide oversight to the department’s internal affairs review process, and review current and proposed department policies.
The CRB will review and make recommendations about specific department policies and instances, for example, of when an officer who is Black, indigenous, or a person of color is disciplined or fired.
However, while the CRB can make those suggestions to police officials, disciplinary measures are still left to the police commissioner to decide.
Notably, under the ordinance, the commissioner is now required to explain his or her decision when they do not follow the recommendations provided by the CRB.
The OPAT commission will also meet with the mayor and City Council and hold public meetings on a semi-annual basis.
According to Walsh, members of the task force have offered to advise his administration moving forward — an offer the mayor accepted “so we can continue to build trust,” he said.
“This is not the beginning of our work, and this is not the end of our work,” Walsh said. “This is a continuation of our work.”
Watch the signing ceremony:
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