Mayor faulted for lack of diversity in top cops

Yawu Miller | 9/9/2009, 4:55 a.m.

Although the numbers of black, Latino and Asian officers on Boston’s police force have increased slightly, high-ranking black and Latino officers have been marginalized in the department’s command structure during the 16 years of the Menino administration — and the blame lies with the mayor, according to the leader of a group that represents minority police.

“The mayor has done nothing to support diversity,” Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO) President Larry Ellison told the Banner.

Of 43 lieutenants on the force, there are just four African Americans, two Latinos and one Asian, according to BPD statistics.

There has never been a black or Latino superintendent-in-chief or commissioner. While cities across the state have been headed by black and Latino officers — including Cambridge and Lawrence — Boston has never broken that barrier.

After taking over as president of MAMLEO in January, Ellison wrote Menino a letter requesting a meeting, but has not yet received a response. Ellison said he was not surprised, though.

“Menino has never met with a MAMLEO president in the 16 years he’s been mayor,” Ellison said. “He chooses to meet with the ministers, but never with MAMLEO.”

MAMLEO’s calls for diversity haven’t entirely fallen on deaf ears. Ellison and other officers from the organization met with Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis earlier this year. After the meeting, Davis released a statement pledging to work to diversify the command staff.

But so far, the only major change has been that job openings within the department are now posted publicly, rather than publicized by word of mouth, according to Ellison.

“This is what they’re supposed to do anyway when there’s a position open,” he said.

Former BPD Deputy Superintendent and Area B Commander William R. Celester, now retired, said he’s not confident that Davis will make any substantive changes without the mayor’s imprimatur.

“You have to understand that this commissioner doesn’t make the decisions,” Celester said. “Basically, it’s a dictatorship.”

Menino’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, said the mayor is committed to maintaining a diverse police force. She noted that there are now twice as many Latino and Asian police officers as there were when Menino was elected mayor in 1993. The number of African Americans on the force has increased as well.

“We are continuing to increase the diversity within the ranks,” she said.

When asked why the mayor refused to meet with MAMLEO, Joyce said that Menino directed Davis to meet with the organization.

Historically, there was little diversity on the police force until civil rights activists sued the department in the early 1970s. In 1974, the BPD was placed under a federal consent decree mandating that for every white applicant considered for a job as police officer, the department had to consider a black or Latino applicant, and file a written statement with attorneys representing the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as to why applicants were not hired.

The consent decree was terminated in 2004, after a judge ruled that the department had achieved the goal of a police force whose black and Latino populations were proportionate to the percentage of blacks and Latinos living in Boston.