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Does Boston hate the BPD?

A secret survey shows just how low the Boston Police Department’s reputation had sunk two years ago. Is the mayor listening?
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  July 18, 2008


At least snow is under control!
The BPD isn’t the only city function that has lost public confidence. Asked for their level of satisfaction with city services, respondents to the 2006 Boston Public Safety Survey gave the lowest ratings in the survey’s 10-year history to the fire department, trash removal, park maintenance, taxi service, and traffic maintenance. Of 12 categories, the only ones scoring higher in 2006 than in 1997 were elderly support and snow removal.

Previous coverage of the Boston Police Department

Framed? The Boston Police investigation of Stephan Cowans led to a wrongful conviction. Was it incompetent — or corrupt? By David S. Bernstein.

Righting a staggering wrong: It is time for the US Attorney to investigate how and why the Boston police wrongfully convicted Stephan Cowans. The Phoenix editorial.

Truth, justice — or the Boston way: Boston’s taxpayers just coughed up another multimillion-dollar check for a wrongful conviction, without being told what was done wrong. By David S. Bernstein.

$50 million worth of mistakes: Legal claims are costing the city millions of dollars a year. Is it a random blip or a sign of a badly run government? By David S. Bernstein.

The worst homicide squad in the country: The Boston Police Department doesn’t catch killers, so the killing keeps getting worse. By David S. Bernstein.

Where's the evidence? Boston’s homicide detectives keep finding evidence they didn’t even know they had. What else is lost in the disarray of the BPD? By David S. Bernstein.

The jig is up: After a string of wrongful-conviction revelations, and anger over the acquittal of an alleged killer, the Stephan Cowans case further erodes trust in the criminal-justice system. By David S. Bernstein.

Blind Spots: A spate of wrongful convictions has convinced Suffolk County DA Dan Conley and Boston Police commissioner Kathleen O’Toole to reform how the police use eyewitness evidence. While they’re at it, they should reopen these three cases. By David S. Bernstein.

When Kathleen O’Toole served as Boston police commissioner, from early 2004 through mid 2006, she and Mayor Thomas Menino seemed in constant denial of the spiraling violence and shocking police scandals that were roiling the city. Calls for more police officers, greater resources, and more targeted programs were rebuffed. Atrocious arrest and conviction rates were blamed on lack of citizen assistance. Misconduct — ranging from wrongful convictions, to corruption charges, to the fatal pepper-gun shooting of Victoria Snelgrove during the 2004 World Series celebration — were shrugged off or blamed on others.

Indeed, a new report from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, first reported on by the Boston Globe three weeks ago, charges that city and Boston Police Department (BPD) leaders stood by idly as the “Boston Miracle” of the 1990s unraveled.

That complacency finally seemed to change, according to the Kennedy School authors and other observers, when Ed Davis became the new commissioner of police in December 2006. But that change may have had less to do with Davis personally leading the charge, and more to do with an internal finding of just how low the public’s opinion of the BPD had sunk, which may have then spurred city officials into action.

A Boston Public Safety Survey conducted by the city in fall 2006 — never released, but obtained this past week by the Phoenix through a public-information request — found that Boston residents held a less favorable opinion of the BPD, and were less confident in its ability to prevent and solve crime, than at any previous point in the 10-year history of the survey.

Sources speculate that the survey may explain why Menino went outside the department to select Davis (from Lowell) as the new commissioner, and why the mayor gave Davis unusual latitude to make changes.

Menino, however, tells the Phoenix that he doesn’t recall ever seeing the 2006 survey results, and, further, wasn’t even aware the survey had been conducted.

He also rejects the criticisms in the recent Kennedy School report. “We didn’t drop the ball, as a city,” says Menino. “Maybe academics dropped the ball, but we didn’t.” (One of those academics, the report’s lead author, is Anthony Braga, who was one of the original “Operation Ceasefire” architects and now works as a BPD consultant.)

Menino denies that a shift in focus and strategy since 2006 even took place; regardless, the Kennedy School researchers are not the only ones who have seen a significant change since Davis took over. The results have been slight but promising. Under Davis, arrest rates for homicides and shootings have risen, while the number of shooting incidents has declined. Community policing has been re-emphasized, most notably with a “Safe Streets” initiative that assigns officers to specific neighborhoods, where they can get to know people over time.

All of that should translate into better public-confidence numbers when the department conducts the survey again, later this year. “I am convinced that the numbers will improve,” Davis tells the Phoenix.

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  Topics: News Features , Harvard University , Boston Police Department , Ed Davis ,  More more >
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