7Investigates: City panel created to oversee Boston Police IA investigations hasn’t met in more than a year; member calls for reform

BOSTON (WHDH) - For more than a year, a panel that is supposed to oversee Boston Police Internal Affairs investigations hasn’t had a single meeting.

It hasn’t published a report since 2017.

POLICE OVERSIGHT BOARD  MEMBER SAYS IT DOESN’T HAVE ENOUGH AUTHORITY

“It’s a new day dawning,” said former Superior Court Judge Regina Quinlan.

Judge Regina Quinlan has sat on the panel for 8 years.

She told 7 Investigates, the panel needs to be reformed, because right now it doesn’t have enough teeth or authority.

“I think this board has a unique opportunity to seize on the moment,” said Judge Quinlan.

Known as the CO-OP, short for the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel, the panel’s job is to review internal investigations, making sure they are “fair and thorough.”

“In other words, it’s not an investigating body. It is designed to review the decisions made by internal affairs,” said Judge Quinlan.

But, if the board disagrees with a decision, it can only make recommendations.

“It’s basically that, a recommendation. There was no requirement the department follow through or that they do anything,” Judge Quinlan said.

The board also doesn’t have subpoena power to conduct its own investigation.

In 2015, Judge Regina Quinlan and 2 other board members who are no longer with the panel wrote a recommendation to the Mayor’s office asking for changes, saying it “became clear to us that the existing oversight model, alone, is incapable of enhancing confidence in the internal affairs process.”

Quinlan said the city needs to expand the community’s role in the complaint process. She repeated that request to 7Investigates.

“There are other things that can be added to it to enhance accessibility to the public and to assist the public in terms of the complainants who are coming through. They are basically at a disadvantage, the complainant versus police police police,” said Judge Quinlan. “And so there can be some provisions made which would assist them and make it easier for them. And there are also others that could make the recommendation more than just a recommendation.”

Personally, Quinlan doesn’t think the panel should be doing their own investigations but, should be able to fight to overturn the police department’s decision in an IA investigation, if warranted.

COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS WANT CHANGE, MORE OVERSIGHT OF POLICE INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS

In 2017, Mayor Marty Walsh promised to strengthen the CO-OP, by increasing the board to 5 members, when it was originally three.  He also signed an executive order increasing their caseload from 10 percent to 25 percent.

Those new members, excluding Judge Quinlan who remained on the board, weren’t appointed until just this past February, 3 years later.

Jamarhl Crawford is a community activist and editor/publisher of the Blackstonian.

“Does anybody ever know that this exists except for people like me who are into this stuff,” Crawford said.

Every year, the CO-OP is supposed to review 25 percent of internal affairs cases, but they are cases handed to them by the department, and cases that civilians decide to appeal.

Crawford said the panel should have more discretion.

“So let’s say they see on the 6 o’clock news, little Mikey gets beat up by the cops, they can’t even go into work the next morning and say we want that Mikey case,” said Crawford.

Crawford believes there should be a separate civilian review board, and for any board to have subpoena power.

“This is like the most simplistic notion, that the actual citizen and civilians, taxpayers, the residents, would actually have a say so in how their police force conducts itself,” Crawford said.

BOSTON CITY COUNCILOR WANTS CO-OP PANEL REFORMED TO INCLUDE CIVILIANS 

Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell agrees. She said she’s asked the administration 3 times over the last 5 years, to find a date to schedule a public hearing on the matter.

“The CO-OP panel is a good thing. The question is, how do we reform it in such a way that it becomes more independent from the police department, has more enforcement power, has subpoena power,” said Councillor Campbell.

She knows the current board members, lawyers and other criminal justice experts appointed by the Mayor.

But, Councilor Campbell said she also wants civilians to be able to sit on the panel, as well as other reforms.

“When you do file something, it should be independent, it should go through a formal process, it should go quickly, and then if there is a finding that something happened that was negative, this panel should have the ability to enforce sanctions, to do so without the permission of the department or the commissioner; and hold folks accountable,” said Councillor Campbell. “In the current model that doesn’t exist, so we have to push for this in the new model.”

She also wants a process set up where civilians can go straight to the board with complaints.

“The critical piece is that we set up an apparatus that holds officers accountable, that allows not only residents and civilians to come forward to file a complaint but also officers. Setting something up where they feel comfortable and safe to complain about officers that aren’t doing a great job,” said Councillor Campbell.

CALLS FOR A PUBLIC HEARING

The Mayor’s Office said there are conversations about the review board and their function and if they should take on more.

Councilor Campbell has requested a public hearing but said she is still waiting for the Mayor’s Office to schedule a date with her, before the city council puts it on the calendar.

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