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Police’s latest hiring sparks state inquiry

BPD bypasses 300 names, hires 15 recruits with lowest ranking

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Police’s latest hiring sparks state inquiry
Boston Police Department. Banner photo

When the Boston Police Department selected its most recent class of recruits it seemed to have skipped over hundreds of higher-ranked applicants to choose 15 from the bottom of its list. The move triggered an investigation from the state Civil Service Commission and fed ongoing concerns from several civil rights organizations over BPD practices.

“The whole idea behind having the test and having a list produced in ranking order of the qualified candidates is to make the process transparent and democratic,” Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive direct of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice told the Banner. “[BPD] digging deep into the list to hand-select officers that it wants [is] in opposition to what the process is supposed to be. … This raises the specter of an old boys network operating and handpicking individuals instead of going through a merit-based system.”

Bottom of the list

As a matter of practice, BPD receives a list of would-be officers ranked by metrics such as test scores and veteran preferred status from which to make selections. Three hundred applicants were passed over, with 15 individuals — 28 percent of the recruit class — hired instead from among those tied for the lowest score.

Letters informing the bypassed applicants on the reason for their exclusion and recourse to appeal were significantly delayed, according to a June 9 letter from Civil Service Commission Chairman Christopher Bowman that formally opened the investigation.

Fourteen of the 15 low-scoring recruits are white, a source told the Banner. The result is a 53-person recruit class that is 74 percent white.

MAMLEO & Vulcans

While Bowman’s inquiry order did not mention race, Larry Ellison, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, says the incident is another example in a long trend of disparate hiring, promotion and discipline on the ever-whitening police force.

“This is not the first time” something inequitable seems to have happened, Ellison said in a Banner phone interview. “I’ve been president [of MAMLEO] for the last seven and a half years and we’ve had people coming to us speaking of the same thing — saying they’re bypassed and white officers are being hired. … Now it’s getting the attention that it deserves.”

The Lawyers’ Committee filed a letter on behalf of MAMLEO and Boston Society of Vulcans, requesting their inclusion in the investigation.” We have become increasingly concerned about the resurgence of unfair hiring and promotional practices that disadvantage minority communities,” they wrote in a joint letter to the Commission Chair.

Police Commissioner William Evans told the Boston Herald that the applicants were bypassed because they did not respond to enrollment offers.

BPD spokesperson Lt. Detective Mike McCarthy did not respond when the Banner asked how many of the 15 are related to BPD command staff or other city officials.

Letters, opportunity delayed

In April, a list of 515 would-be officers was generated, and applicants ranked by a scoring system from one to 50. Typically top-scorers are supposed to get the first offers, and if they do not, be informed of the reason why not and how they can appeal this decision.

However, during this selection cycle, that information was late in coming.

According to Bowman’s letter, applicants should have been informed in December 2015 that they were being skipped over and that they could appeal. But the letters were not sent until mid-March, more than four months after conditional employment offers were given. And it seems that not all were told they could appeal: Only six people filed appeals with the Commission — a number Bowman called “unusually low” — and two of them had not received written notice from the BPD that they had this right.

The letters also came two months after selected candidates enrolled in the police academy.

And now? “The December class already has been trained. They’re going on to the streets to start their patrolling duty,” Espinoza-Madrigal said.

Vanishing officers of color

The new recruit class is 74 percent white. Only six members are black, and eight Latino. None are Asian. Meanwhile, officers of color are retiring at a much faster pace than they are being hired, Ellison said.

While the BPD has showcased its reinstated cadet program as a new pipeline that will boost diversity, Ellison said the effects are limited.

“We lose more than [are entering] every year,” Ellison said. “Based on attrition, we’re expected to lose over half the officers of color by 2018 that came on during the consent decree. There’s going to be a huge dip and this cadet program is not going to make any headway.”

No new cadets will enter the force until five to seven years from now, he said, and only a limited number of the 38-person cadet class actually will be hired. In his view, there is no guarantee that any people of color brought in as cadets will add to overall diversity numbers.

“You may get three or four [officers of color from the program],” he said. “All that’s going to do is take spots away from people of color who may have come from the regular list.”

Longtime concerns

The investigation comes on the heels of years of concerns over practices in the BPD with respect to officers of color.

Last November, a federal judge ruled that the test used in 2008 to determine promotions to lieutenant was biased against black and Latinos and failed to predict success in the position.

Ellison also said officers of color frequently receive harsher discipline than white officers for the same offenses or get screened out of selection on the basis of minor offenses such as speeding tickets dating back six or seven years.

Ongoing investigation

The Herald reported on June 21 that BPD Commissioner William Evans and Mayor Martin Walsh said that the Civil Service Commission told the city it acted properly.

“The Civil Service basically said that we’re fine,” Walsh told reporters in a video posted by the Herald. “They’re checking one more piece of it as far as when letters went out. But think civil service was pretty clear the city of Boston did nothing wrong.”

Evans said that while letters should have been sent out more quickly, the issue is one of process, not intentions.

“A lot’s being made out of something that’s more of a technical issue,” he said. “We carried it out the right way. There was no nepotism. … Civil Service ruled we did it exactly as we should.”

On June 23, Bowman told the Banner that the investigation was open and pending before the Commission and that the BPD has until July 9 to provide requested information.