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Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis resigns

Banner Staff | 9/26/2013, 6 a.m.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Police Commissioner Ed Davis presented Rev. Liz Walker with the Crimefighter of the Year Award on Sept. 15. Courtesy of the Mayor's office

In his retirement announcement on Monday, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said the city should change the way that officers are hired and promoted in order to increase the number of police of color in the upper ranks of the department.

The Civil Service Exam determines who will become a police officer and who within the ranks will be promoted to sergeant, lieutenant and captain. That’s the law. But at his press conference, Davis — who promoted officers of color but has also been criticized for not promoting enough — said the civil service law should be changed.

“We are swimming upstream against the law here in Massachusetts,” he said. “I would recommend that the media and that all of the people in this organization, especially whoever succeeds me in this position, keep diversity high on the list of priorities ... by changing the law and making sure this police department is reflective of the community it serves.”

Police Superintendent William Gross agreed. As the night commander of the Boston Police Department, Gross is one of the few African Americans in a leadership position with the BPD. Gross said the problem with the Civil Service Exam is that it does not measure street smarts.

“You read material, you remember it, and then you take a written exam,” he said. “There’s great leaders, and you can pick that without an exam process.”

Gross credited Davis with promoting him and other officers of color but says the Civil Service Exam system is outmoded and has left the upper ranks of the BPD nearly empty of blacks, Latinos, Asians and women. Davis leaves a department with white males occupying all 21 district captain and temporary captain positions and 42 of the 48 lieutenant positions.

The greatest beneficiaries of affirmation action within the Boston police department at the moment are not officers of color, but military veterans. A military veteran with a passing test score of 70 is weighed over and above a nonveteran with a score of 100 — no matter the nonveteran’s color, ethnicity or gender.

Davis said that whoever succeeds him will need to work hard to make the character and color of the Boston Police Department reflect the changing demographics of the city.

He submitted his resignation to Mayor Thomas M. Menino Sunday, just two days before the preliminary election that will bring the city of Boston one step closer to having a new mayor.

Menino’s office released a statement Sunday, stating: “The Mayor will continue to work … to make sure there is a smooth transition as a new mayor comes into office to find their own permanent police commissioner.”

Davis served as commissioner for the last seven years and was thrust into the national spotlight during the days that followed the Boston Marathon bombings in April.

Before serving as commissioner in Boston, Davis was the Lowell, Mass., police superintendent and served in that police force for the better part of 30 years. But where will he go next?

Through a spokesperson, he says his plans are unclear so far. People close to him say he may do some teaching at a local college. And then there’s the speculation he may serve the Obama administration as the next secretary of Homeland Security.

Davis was both defiant and emotional as he announced his resignation. “Those who know me know that I will never run away from a challenge or adversity,” he said. “I leave on my own accord. … I’m very comfortable with my decision. I want to clear the deck for the new administration that’s coming in.”

Davis became the subject of the mayoral debate as six of the 12 mayoral candidates said they would keep Davis in his job while the other remained undecided. “I’ve been here seven years,” Davis said. “That’s about twice as long as an average urban police chief. But I know … that it is time to go, to leave this department in better shape than I found it and to leave it in the hands of the very capable people who stand behind me.”