Alanna Durkin Richer, Associated Press, March 1, 2021
For years, Boston city leaders have vowed to diversify the police department so it looks more like the community it serves. Yet the police force is just as white as it was a decade ago, and huge barriers to diversity remain, advocates say.
William Gross, Boston’s first Black top cop, said diversifying the department was one of his top priorities when he took the reins in 2018.
Yet, as of early January, Boston police were about 65% white, according to numbers provided by the department, even though they make up only about 45% of the city. The percentage of officers of color is up slightly compared to 2018, but the racial makeup of the overall force is largely the same as 10 years ago and only slightly more diverse than 20 years ago, according to data compiled in a 2015 audit of the department.
His replacement, Dennis White, the second Black man to lead the police force, was placed on leave days after he was sworn in after The Boston Globe raised questions about 20-year-old domestic violence allegations. Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long, who is white, is leading the department while lawyers investigate the allegations.
A group of minority officers and local ministers have called on White to be reinstated while the investigation continues, and one minister has called White’s treatment a “racial double standard.”
Jeff Lopes, a Boston officer who leads the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, said they saw some progress under Gross’ leadership in getting more officers of color into specialized units and other important roles. Gross’ command staff was roughly 50% people of color, but many ranks remain overwhelmingly white.
A 1974 consent decree forced the department to diversify, and the percentage of minority officers climbed from 12% in 1981 to 25% a decade later. A judge lifted the consent decree in 2004, when more than 40% of patrol officers were Black, Hispanic or Asian. Today, the patrol force is around 38% people of color.
Some argue there won’t be significant progress without overhauling or opting out entirely of the civil service system, under which military veterans — who are overwhelmingly white in Massachusetts — get a hiring preference over others.
The city says its efforts are paying off. The current group of cadets are about two-thirds Black or Hispanic, said Michael Gaskins, the department’s diversity recruitment officer. The last several recruit classes were about 35% to 45% people of color, which Gaskins said is up from previous years. Roughly 54% of police applicants in 2019 were minorities, up from 51% two years earlier.
Some question the city’s commitment to diversity while it continues in court to fight a group of Black officers officers who said a lieutenants’ promotional exam discriminated against minorities. A federal judge found the 2008 exam had a disparate impact on minority candidates and last year ruled the officers are entitled to back pay. The city is appealing.