The Boston Police Department headquarters in Roxbury.
Black officers have often spoken of disparities in how cops are disciplined in the Boston Police Department, but data on suspensions, firings and other sanctions has long remained out of public sight. Six months after requesting information on hiring, promotion, discipline and termination, broken down by race, Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) in June filed a lawsuit against the department demanding release of the data.
Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers President Sgt. Eddie Crispin says that if the civil rights group receives the data, they’ll likely find patterns of bias.
“From my 20 years on the job, I look at black officers who are being punished and white officers facing the same charges, and it always looks like the black officers are being punished more harshly,” he said.
The LCR suit comes six months after the group first requested the information under the Freedom of Information Act, under which government agencies are required to share information with the public if requested.
“What we’ve heard anecdotally is that at every level of the employment process, people of color employment process, people of color are treated differently than their white colleagues,” said Sophia Hall, a supervising attorney with LCR.
One ongoing high-profile case involves Area B3 Captain Haseeb Hosein, who in May was put on paid leave while under investigation from the Internal Affairs Division. Police have not disclosed for what Hosein is being investigated, but multiple sources say he had a marked department cruiser painted as an unmarked car without going through proper channels prior to his suspension.
“It’s something captains do all the time,” said one officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Hosein’s case stands in contrast to that of Captain Timothy Connolly, assigned to the department’s Homeland Security unit, who in February was charged with two counts of domestic assault stemming from a fight with his wife. Connolly has been assigned desk duty while his assault case remains open.
Black officers point to apparent disparities, including the Dec. 31, 2017 case of ten officers assigned to the predominantly white gang unit who were found to be drinking alcohol on BPD property before one officer, Domenic Columbo, was charged with operating under the influence after he plowed his pickup truck into a car, seriously injuring a passenger.
While Columbo has been placed on paid leave pending an investigation, the other nine officers who were drinking — an offense that can result in termination — were given threeday suspensions and allowed to remain in the special unit.
Contrast that with the case of David McBride, a black officer who was written up in 2017 after a city employee said he saw McBride exit his cruiser with a beer bottle, which he then deposited in a trash can. McBride was assigned to desk duty for eight months while he was under investigation. He retired last year with the charges still pending.
Hall said that without the data LCR has requested from the department, outside observers will never know for sure how deep discriminatory practices may run.
“That’s why this lawsuit is so important,” she said. “If lawyers are asking for this information and can’t get it, nobody will know.”