Mayor faulted for lack of diversity in top cops

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

That same year, then-Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O’Toole publicly admitted that relying solely on the civil service exam was an impediment to hiring and promoting black and Latino officers. She promised to find ways to maintain diversity on the force.

But five years later, the civil service exam remains the sole determinant for promotions on the force.

“Other cities have revised their system so it depends on more than just the score,” noted City Councilor-at-Large Sam Yoon, who is running for mayor in this year’s election.

“Whether or not you’re a good cop should be determined by more than a single exam,” Yoon said. “Your ability to relate to the people you serve is more important.”

Fellow City Councilor-at-Large and mayoral candidate Michael F. Flaherty pointed out that the mayor has the power to order the commissioner to appoint people to certain leadership positions, regardless of their civil service rank.

All superintendents and deputy superintendents are appointed by the police commissioner, as are captain detectives, lieutenant detectives and sergeant detectives, Flaherty said. Right now, there are no black captain detectives and just one black lieutenant detective.

“There are so many people of color who I’ve worked with, who I know their work ethic and their character,” said Flaherty, who worked as an assistant district attorney in Roxbury District Court. “I intend to tap into that talent for the betterment of the city.”

Flaherty and Yoon both called for a top-to-bottom restructuring of the department and an end to what they said was rampant cronyism.

“We need a cultural sea change at the Boston Police Department,” Flaherty said. “The culture that exists now in the department is such that it’s not about how well you do on the job. It’s about who you know.”

According to MAMLEO’s Ellison, the culture in the department has not been friendly to people of color. Under the Menino administration, the number of blacks and Latinos appointed to the rank of deputy superintendent has remained at four out of 14, but that position has been stripped of any decision-making authority.

The black officers who have risen to the highest ranks in the department have either retired, left the department or been demoted. James Claiborne, the superintendent on duty during the 2005 fatal police shooting of Emerson College student Victoria Snelgrove, took the fall for the incident and was demoted to his civil service rank as captain.

Both Claiborne and former Superintendent Joseph Carter — who left the force in 1998 to lead the Oak Bluffs Police Department, became head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police and now serves as Adjutant General of the state National Guard — have been mentioned as potential commissioners.

But as Flaherty pointed out, leadership by people of color has been lacking in the Menino administration. Right now, Menino has just one African American department head — Larry Mayes, the city’s chief of human services — and one black superintendent — Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carol R. Johnson.

Mayes and former Department of Neighborhood Development Director Chuck Grigsby are the only two African American men to ever head departments in the Menino administration.

Yoon said that in the police department, diverse leadership is key to effective community policing.

“The leadership is the way the department relates to the community,” Yoon said. “That relationship is so much better when you have folks from the community in positions of power.”