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Police hires come under scrutiny

City resists reform, some say; Civil Serv. slams BPD on recruits

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Police hires come under scrutiny
Boston Police Department Senior Staff Attorney Nicole Taub (right) spoke before Civil Service Commission Chairman Chris Bowman (left) last Thursday at a hearing on the BPD’s selection of its recruit class.

City officials often say that their ability to diversify the police force is limited by the civil service exam and veteran preference. But some critics charge that the Boston Police Department and city have used practices that disproportionately hinder minorities and actively resist what reforms they could make.

John Barros, city Chief of Economic Development, said at a July 14 town hall meeting on race presented by WCVB that the city’s efforts to achieve a BPD more representative of Boston’s population are pitted against legal requirements.

“It’s unfair to talk about that and not talk about legal obstacles to diversify the police department,” Barros said. “It’s unfair to talk about that as an executive decision.”

On the web

Lawyers’ Committee letter:http://lawyerscom… class=”_blank”> http://lawyerscom…

WCVB town hall: www.facebook.com/wcvb5/videos/10154415220959445/

Civil Service Commission ruling: www.mass.gov/anf/docs/csc/decisions/other/2015/bpd-investigation-072116.pdf

However, Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, said in a recent letter to Mayor Martin Walsh that minorities face a variety of unequal circumstances in the BPD.

“There are no ‘barriers’ preventing the City from diversifying BPD,” said Espinoza-Madrigal in a letter to Mayor Martin Walsh last week. “Rather, the City is actively impeding progress by aggressively fighting efforts to diversify BPD, by disproportionately disciplining minority recruits like Claude Defay and by shielding its practices from public scrutiny by refusing to comply with the public records law. “

In the Defay case, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ruled in January that minority recruits were disciplined more severely in the academy than white recruits. In several cases, minority recruits were expelled while white recruits who committed the same level of offense only received warnings. Espinoza-Madrigal also pointed out that last fall’s court ruling that the city’s exam used to determine promotion to lieutenant was racially discriminatory was appealed rather than used as a basis for making changes.

Greater attention also should be paid to Asians and Latinos, Espinoza-Madrigal said. Taken together, these groups are 28 percent of Boston’s population, yet are only ten percent of its police officers.

City Councilor Tito Jackson seconded the call for the city to drop its appeals.

“It is counter-productive for the general counsel’s office to continue to pursue appeal versus moving forward and making the much-needed changes in the processes and procedures in the Boston Police Department to ensure that recruits are not discriminated against, as well as to ensure the integrity of recruitment and hiring processes,” Jackson told the Banner. He also suggested reconsidering the exams used.

Barros said at the town hall that the city is trying, and pointed to the cadet program.

The cadet program is expected to enroll 40 to 50 people. Cadets spend at least two years in the program, after which they receive a preference in recruit hiring — they may comprise one-third of the police recruit class. To give a sense of potential impact: This year’s recruit class was 63 people, meaning that, with the preferencing, cadet graduates might have accounted for 21 recruits. Not all cadets necessarily would be minorities.

City Chief Diversity Officer Danielson Tavares previously told the Banner that there are no specific diversity goals in selecting cadets, but that the cadet program drew a diverse pool of applicants. Applicants must have been Boston residents for five years.

Recruit hiring practices

The BPD’s hiring of its latest recruit class was the focus of a state civil service hearing last Thursday.

When BPD seeks to hire recruits, the state provides a list of eligible applicants, ranked in priority order based on factors such as veteran status and civil service exam scores. In the latest round of hiring, 15 applicants who were tied for the lowest priority tier on the list were selected, whereas 300 people higher on the list were not.

As of press time, BPD did not disclose the racial makeup of those not selected and those from the bottom of the list, but the questions around the hiring deepened concerns among some civil rights groups over BPD practices and transparency.

“I think you’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg,” Lawyers’ Committee Litigation Director Oren Sellstrom said following a civil service commission hearing on the hiring.

Typically, an applicant who signs a form stating willingness to accept appointment but then is not hired, while someone with a lower priority ranking is, the person is considered “bypassed” and must be informed of the reason for the decision and right to appeal. However, this year the majority of the non-selected recruit applicants did not receive such information because the BPD did not regard them as bypassed.

Instead, the BPD categorized 60 applicants as having failed to complete the applicant process and 50 as having voluntarily withdrawn their applications — making the lack of selection the fault of the applicant, not the BPD, and thus not a bypass, BPD Senior Staff Attorney Nicole Taub said at a hearing last Thursday.

At the hearing, Civil Service Chairman Chris Bowman told Taub that it is the role of the commission, not BPD, to judge if the lack of selection is the candidate’s fault or the BPD’s. Failing to inform candidates of their right to appeal denies them a chance to have their side considered and violated policies and precedents, he said. This applies to candidates not selected for reasons such as failure to pass a physical exam, appear at orientation or provide full information, Bowman said.

Voluntary withdrawl?

Bowman said that while some candidates with whom the commission spoke withdrew their applications because they found different jobs, others seemed to have been encouraged to opt out at the behest of the BPD, and not informed of their right to appeal a non-selection. In one case, the commission spoke with a candidate who said the BPD advised him to withdraw and that when he declined, saying he would likely be too old next hiring cycle, he was told to reconsider.

Furthermore, Bowman said, the form for opting out of the application process was written in a way that falsely implied that if individuals did not sign it they could be removed from the eligible list of candidates maintained by the state — and thus from future selection cycles. This is not the case and “calls into question whether the ‘voluntary withdrawl’ candidates made an informed decision” to sign the opt-out form, he wrote.

Bowman ordered the BPD to inform all the candidates previously regarded as having voluntarily withdrawn or failed to complete the process of their right to appeal.

BPD spokesperson Lt. Detective Mike McCarthy told the Banner in a phone interview that three of the 15 recruits hired from among those who were tied at the bottom of the applicant list were related to BPD command staff.

Steps to take

Veteran preference is often cited as a force that results in white men receiving BPD and fire department jobs. However, Patrick Bryant, attorney for Massachusetts Veteran’s Edge, said at the civil service commission hearing that there is a lot of untapped diversity among veterans.

“The diversity of the veterans is higher than of the [police] department at large, yet the department has said that the veteran preference is to blame for the lack of diversity,” Bryant said.

The city’s chief diversity officer said increased outreach to minority veterans will be among the fire department’s strategies.

There are many other proactive steps the city could use as well, officials and activists say. Darrell Higginbottom, first vice president of the Boston Society of Vulcans, which represents minority firefighters, told the Banner he recommends increasing the residency requirement from one year to three, initiating a cadet program similar to BPD’s and utilizing a language preference in hiring — something allowed under the same law that permits veteran preferencing, he said.

At-large councilor Michael Flaherty filed an ordinance in 2014 that would require three years of residency for police recruits. The measure passed unanimously in the city council, then was vetoed by Mayor Martin Walsh.