7Investigates: Records show Boston police investigations into civilian complaints take years to complete

It’s not uncommon for someone who files a complaint against Boston Police, to wait years before getting answers from Boston Police, a recent 7News investigation found.

Just ask Jamarhl Crawford.

In March 2018, Crawford recorded a video outside his Boston home. In the video, Crawford says officers damaged his stained glass windows by knocking on them.

Boston Police say they got a call about a man in distress at the location, but Crawford says he explained to the officer that he was the only one home.

The next day, Crawford filed a civilian complaint with the police department, and more than two years later, he says he’s heard nothing back.

“There’s no resolution, no call of note, hey here’s where we are in the investigation, this is where next steps are, how are you feeling, none of that, none of that,” says Crawford.

CIVILIAN COMPLAINT RECORDS SHOW LONG DELAYS, OTHER ISSUES

7 News requested police records on other civilian complaints, to take a closer look at how BPD internal affairs process works.

We found long delays, so long, some cases took years to clear.

The records were copies of completed Internal Affairs investigations the Boston Police sent to the city’s oversight panel (known as the CO-OP) for review.  The oversight panel’s job is to review IA investigations citizens felt weren’t investigated properly, and decide if they are fair and thorough.

From 2018-2019, the CO-OP reviewed 45 cases. The majority of cases were from complaints filed before 2016, and only recently completed. 39 investigations were found to be fair and thorough; others determined to either not fair, or not thorough.

In a 2011 case, a black man says police detained him because he fit a suspect description of a suicidal man. He says officers only released him after a dispatcher told them the suspect was white.

It took three years to interview the officers involved.

The CO-OP member who reviewed the 2011 case said he was “alarmed” the original investigator did not put anything in the file, and said the lack of immediate follow through “destroys trust between citizens and police.”

In 2012, a black man filed a complaint after officers stopped him because they felt he looked suspicious. The city police oversight panel didn’t look at the case for seven years.

They found the investigation was not fair, saying they found one part of the BPD investigation particularly disappointing.

The panel noted that BPD argued “(The complainant) seemed aware that his behavior of going into numerous areas around West Broadway over a short period of time had caused the Officers to be suspicious of him.”

The panel responded “What? So going to get a haircut, then eating at Burger King, and buying a cupcake for your girlfriend’s birthday is the complainant’s fault?”

While reviewing a 2014 complaint, the panel said they were “troubled by the loaded or leading questions,” internal affairs investigators asked of their fellow officers. They wrote “IAD investigators must resist the natural tendency to put their fellow officers at ease. Equally, in questions to citizens, resist loaded or leading questions to put the actions of officers in a better light.”

The panel said it was “troublesome” it took so long for the internal affairs to finish the last leg of the investigation.

In all of these civilian complaints, officers were cleared of wrongdoing.

Civil rights attorneys say this kind of wait for a civilian complaint to be addressed, is all too common.

“The reality is, if these issues were a priority to the BPD, they would be looking into them timely,” says Sophia Hall, supervising attorney for the Lawyers for Civil Rights. “The BPD has just as much interest in being able to weed out bad actors as the public does.

A spokesperson for Boston Police say there are many factors as to why any case could go long, “whether it’s homicide, sexual assault, domestic violence, breaking and entering, or an internal affairs investigation.”

SHOULD THERE BE A TIMELINE ON CIVILIAN COMPLAINT INVESTIGATIONS?

Tom Nolan, a former supervisor with Boston Police Bureau of Professional Standards, says investigations into civilian complaints should take 90 days, except in special circumstances.

“I think that people would ultimately be convinced the process is fair because it’s a timely process,” says Nolan. “I think it would put the Boston Police Department in the best possible professional light and I think it would provide an abundance of transparency to the process.”

Nolan said a timeframe could work in everyone’s favor.

“Keep in mind here, the police officers themselves don’t want to be under indefinite investigation and some of these investigations we’ve seen reported have lasted years, and it’s something, it’s a sword hanging over the officers’ neck,” says Nolan. “They no more want to have these ongoing investigations that cloud them in some sort of suspicion than the complainants.”

As for Jamarhl Crawford? He now sits on a newly formed Boston Police Reform Task Force, and is working to change the complaint process.

“I just think we need a total revamping of not only the complaint process, making it easier for people to complain by giving them multiple locations to file complaints, but also giving people a hard line of when they can expect a time frame of results.”

BOSTON PD RESPONDS

A spokesperson for the Boston Police Department says putting a set timeline on investigations could prevent a fair and thorough conclusion.

Sergeant Detective John Boyle says, “Each case is unique. Sometimes civilian complaints or IAs are put on hold because they have to wait for a court case to be completed. Court cases, both civil and criminal, never wrap up quickly,” adding there is “no cookie-cutter template for an investigation.

Boyle says BPD “follows the evidence,” and there are many times they can’t find a witness, or even the person who filed the complaint.

It is important to note that many times, the review panel did say they felt internal affairs officers needed more resources and time to do their job.

7 Investigates is still waiting for additional internal affairs documents we requested more than 40 days ago.

WHY WE WANTED THESE RECORDS

7 Investigates requested the CO-OP’s records from the Boston Police Department after we found the oversight panel hadn’t met in over a year, and hadn’t released a report to the public since 2017.

Boston City Councilors have long called the internal affairs oversight process, a broken system, and are working on forming an independent civilian review board to investigate police misconduct allegations.

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