Boston residents organizing to challenge the power of the police!
#BosCops City Council Hearing June 19th! #AllEyesonBPD
Demand Community Control Over Police Surveillance in Boston
It's time to have a conversation about the ways Boston Police are using surveillance and technology in our city! Organizers have been pushing for transparency and community control over the ways the police watch, record, track, and share information about us.
Come with us to demand our freedom to move through Boston without fear of being watched, stopped, and harassed by the Boston Police!
We encourage you to submit testimony to the City Council online and bring it with you in person to the hearing. We also created a testimony template to make it easier for your to write your thoughts and comments. Check that out here: https://tinyurl.com/testimonyboscops
We collected some shared messages from Boston organizers and residents if you would like to echo them in your testimony: https://tinyurl.com/boscopsmessaging
Communities from Oakland, California to Boston are organizing to require community control over police!
Join us for lunch on Saturday June 16 to get ready for the hearing!
Table of Contents:
Background: The City of Boston has come out in defense of immigrants, but existing police policy puts immigrants at risk of ICE detention and deportation.
Thousands of people are arrested each year in the City of Boston for minor offenses like driving without a license, drug possession, and disorderly conduct. Data obtained by the ACLU show these minor arrests disproportionately impact Black and Latinx Bostonians.
Every time the Boston Police Department arrests someone, ICE is notified. This puts our immigrant neighbors and family at substantially greater risk for detention and deportation. Charges for these minor arrests are often dropped, but by then the damage has been done.
The Boston Police Department collects and shares information with the federal government about people who are not suspected of criminal activity. This policy resulted in the ICE detention of and initiation of deportation proceedings against at least one Boston public school student, after an unsubstantiated claim that he was in a gang was shared with ICE. We do not know how often BPD information sharing with ICE has led to detentions and deportations without due process, but we can safely assume this is not the first or only time.
UPDATE (February 2018): In recent months, we’ve become aware of a new problem linking BPD to immigration enforcement: the gang database. In Boston, like in other cities, the police maintain a gang database. Cops add people to the database based on a number of things, including: who you’re seen with, what you’re wearing, and whether you have specific tattoos. The Boston gang database is likely composed of mostly people of color. If you’re a citizen and you’re added to the gang database, the consequences are very harsh, including police harassment and enhanced sentencing. For immigrants, being listed in the BPD’s gang database can lead to ICE arresting and deporting you. That’s what we’re seeing here in Boston. In some cases, information coming from Boston Police assigned to Boston Public Schools is sent to the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), and used to allege that students are involved in gangs. BRIC then allows ICE to access its gang database.
Background: The Boston Police Department participates in a “Countering Violent Extremism” program that claims to prevent “radicalization” but in reality results in discriminatory, unwarranted surveillance of Muslim communities. In Boston, BPD’s program is called “Youth and Police Initiative Plus” and it targets Somali young people.
The program relies on debunked theories that normal adolescent behaviors like spending time alone in your room or “living in a dangerous neighborhood” or “mistrusting police” are precursors to committing crimes or acts of violence. YPIP assumes Somalis are a potential threat due to the social and economic trauma they experience as immigrants and refugees. The application lists “unaccountable times and unobserved spaces” as a potential “risk factor” for Somali youth in Boston, implying that for Somali youth, privacy is dangerous.
BPD also participates in federal investigations with the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and information sharing with the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC). Current BPD policy allows people to be under surveillance and investigation even if they are not suspected of any crime.
BPD should not engage in suspicionless and warrantless investigations, either at the local or federal level. We know that recently a Boston Police officer assigned to the JTTF targeted and surveilled a Boston-based Dakota Access Pipeline protester in North Dakota.
Programs like YPIP in Boston and BPD collaboration with JTTF are discriminatory, restrict religious expression, worsen harassment of marginalized communities, suppress open dialogue and dissent, and do nothing to advance public safety.
Background: By every measure, white people and people of color in Boston experience profoundly different treatment at the hands of the Boston Police Department. Within the context of the larger conversation about white supremacy in our city and country, we must consider the role the police play in enforcing racism.
The Boston Police Department explicitly states "Our mission is community policing." The Boston Police Department's presence in the community continues to be defined by thousands of street investigations every year which predominantly target people of color.
According to data from the Boston Police Department analyzed and reported by the Boston Globe, 70% of the nearly 15,000 individuals that police observed, interrogated, or searched in 2016 were Black. Black people make up 25% of the population in Boston. These searches are known as “stop and frisks” or “Field Interrogations and Observations.”
Racial bias in policing is so extreme in our state that the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that Black people fleeing police have a legitimate reason do so, and that when an individual flees it doesn’t necessarily means the person is guilty. The SJC ruling cited data about racial disparities in FIOs to conclude that many police encounters with people of color are unfair and unjustified.
These street stops are in addition to racially biased traffic stops. According to a 2004 report by Northeastern University Institute on Race and Justice, Black drivers made up 13.7% of the driving population in Boston, but 32% of the driving citations issued by police. The SJC is currently considering whether pre-contextual stops of drivers (traffic stops in which a police officer uses a traffic violation as an excuse to stop a driver that the officer wants to stop for other reason like an unrelated criminal offense) are constitutional.
Background: Officials across Massachusetts say “we cannot arrest our way out of the problem” of addiction. Yet drug arrests, prosecutions, and convictions continue to be Boston’s primary response to drug use and sales. Meanwhile, Boston residents struggling with drug addiction lack access to healing, housing, and treatment. One major problem in Boston is that people are unable to transition from detox to longer-term or residential programs because beds are not available.
There are significant disparities in access to care and treatment along race and class lines. According to the 2015 report Addiction and Recovery Services in the City of Boston,”There are vast disparities in need among, and access to treatment and services is not adequate for, certain populations including females, cultural and linguistic minorities and people who are homeless, have serious mental illness, traumatic brain injury and/or PTSD.”
There are also major disparities in the rates of arrests for drugs. Across the nation, white people are more likely to use and sell drugs than people of color, yet substantially less likely to be arrested for those offenses. Although people of color make up less than 25% of Massachusetts’ population and less than 28% of people convicted of drug possession, they are roughly 55% of those convicted of drug distribution and 75% of those convicted of mandatory minimums drug offenses. Despite the fact that Black people make up only 23% of the population in Boston, they accounted for 36% of drug arrests during the years 2012-2016. Whites, meanwhile, were underrepresented; 46% of the population of the City is white, but whites were only 36% of all drug arrests.
The state’s own data shows that using police and jails as a response to addiction is deadly. Often people arrested on drug charges will spend weeks or months in jail unable to afford bail. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, “The risk of opioid-related death following release from incarceration is more than 50 times greater than for the general public. What’s more concerning is that the threat is immediate. Fatal overdoses during the first month after release are six times higher than for all other post-incarceration periods.” Incarcerating people with substance abuse issues can literally be a death sentence.
At the federal level and in Massachusetts, there is a push to increase penalties including mandatory minimums for people who sell drugs despite decades of proof that criminalization and incarceration do not prevent addiction or overdose. We also know that many people who use drugs also sell them. While officials at the Department of Justice and at the Massachusetts State House push for more punishment, there’s a need to demand more compassionate policies in our city.
Background: In recent years police departments’ across America have put their arsenals of weapons, technology, and armoured vehicles on display in response to protests and demonstrations. People in Boston and around the country have expressed concern about policing using weapons of war against residents in their own neighborhoods.
The threats of police militarization have escalated under the Trump administration. In August, President Trump eliminated rules put in place by the Obama administration limiting the types of military weaponry local and state police could obtain free of charge through the federal government’s 1033 program. Also during the summer of 2017, President Trump equated neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville with the counter-protesters who turned out to denounce their bigotry and hatred. Finally, Trump told a gathering of law enforcement officials that they shouldn’t go easy on suspects, comments that were widely interpreted as an endorsement of police brutality. This federal backdrop sets our nation on an even more dangerous course. We need to ensure our Mayor and City Council protect Boston from this dangerous path.
Officials in Boston have said that Boston is not Ferguson, yet Boston Police officers have killed a number of Black men in recent years and for the past 30 years all but one person killed by BPD were people of color. In each recent case, the District Attorney for Suffolk County has cleared officers of wrongdoing. But the District Attorney is not an impartial investigator. In his role as D.A., he frequently works side by side with members of the BPD to investigate and prosecute people. Police and prosecutors are therefore on the same team, which introduces an unavoidable conflict of interest when the District Attorney is tasked with investigating police use of deadly force.
Recently in Boston, many demonstrators witnessed a militarized response to the Fight Supremacy protest. More than 30 people who came to the Boston Common to protest against white supremacy were arrested by the Boston Police Department who were in full SWAT gear. Some demonstrators reported being pepper sprayed and beaten by Boston Police officers.
(Photo by Derek Hanlon)
Background: Several tactical units of the Boston Police Department patrol in plain clothes. They often drive unmarked vehicles while wearing cargo shorts, jeans, sweatshirts, hats, and sneakers on duty. Some Bostonians know these officers as "the jump out boys" because of their reputation for being more aggressive and using intimidation tactics against residents.
There is almost no public information available about the number of officers, budget, equipment used, complaints against, stops or arrest data of the Youth Violence Strike Force, the Drug Control Unit, or the Anti-Crime unit.
Plain clothes policing is a policy that exemplifies the disparity between how white people and people of color have different experiences with the Boston Police Department. This kind of aggressive policing is focused on communities of color.
The total fiscal year (FY) 2018 Boston Police Department budget is $373,380,191. In FY 2016, the BPD was allocated $35,028,750 for overtime but spent $57,479,518. In FY 2017 and FY 2018, budget allocations for overtime are over 55 million dollars. Of the city’s 100 top paid employees in 2017, 98 of them were police officers.
Police overtime spending exceeds spending on youth jobs and community centers. Current overtime policies allow for excessive spending including a mandate that officers testifying in court are paid for a minimum of four hours even if they’re there less than an hour. Boston Police officers collect pay for thousands of hours for construction details, while civilians flaggers work those sites in other cities and states.
Boston spends $554 per capita on policing - more than many other major US cities including Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, LA, and Minneapolis.
Possible policy solutions:
Background: The Boston Police Department has made some progress in terms of opening its data to the public. For example, every day the BPD automatically posts the most recent incident report metadata from across the city on the City’s open data portal. But currently, arrest data and stop and frisk data (also known as FIO) are not available to the public on an ongoing basis on the city’s data portal. These data can be posted online without compromising the privacy of Boston residents, by way of simple-to-automate data minimization. FIO and arrest data are critical to understanding the impact of policing in Boston.
In addition to data about the way our neighbors are treated by police, the public should also have a right to expect information about the technology and tactics used by the Boston Police Department in our neighborhoods. There seems to be a pattern of the Boston Police Department not disclosing new or potential surveillance technology to residents. Last year, a bid to purchase social media spying software for $1.3 million dollars was reported by the Boston Globe, revealing that neither the public nor the public knew about BPD’s plans. The BPD abandoned their plans to purchase the spying software thanks to organizing and public outrage.
More recently, the Boston Police Department purchased drones without the input or consent of residents, and were observed flying the drones over public housing in Jamaica Plain. In order to residents to have a say about how our communities are being surveilled and patrolled, the city of Boston needs to institute oversight and accountability policies before the department can purchase and implement more technology.
Possible policy solutions:
Background: While Boston has taken steps to allow for community review of civilian complaints against police officers in the form of the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel (CO-OP), the Panel has limited power to hold officers accountable. The current CO-OP is made up of a former police officer, a former judge, and a former city employee. These members documented resident dissatisfaction, severe delays and bias in the investigation process, and lack of referrals to the panel in their December 2015 report to Mayor Walsh.
Boston community members continue to push for the adoption of body cameras after Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in 2014. Boston Police officers are no longer wearing body cameras after the year-long pilot program. The Boston Police Department is planning a nine-month study on the body camera program.
Possible policy solutions:
Community organizing groups and advocacy organizations got together to create questionnaires for the Mayoral and City Council candidates so we could get more information about their plans and policies related to policing in our city. Here are their full responses.
Bowser, Ciommo, Edwards, Essaibi-George, Janey, King, Mobilia, Pressley, Wu
Baker, Campbell, DaRosa, Faulk, Flaherty, Flynn, Garrison, Kelley, McCarthy, O’Malley, Passacantilli, Payaso
Now that election results are in, residents have the opportunity to push our elected officials to implement the policing policy changes we want to see in our city! We encourage you to check out the winners’ responses to the policing questionnaite and hold them accountable to their commitments.
Mayor - Marty Walsh*
At Large - Essaibi-George, Flaherty*, Pressley, Wu
District 1 - Edwards
District 2 - Flynn
District 7- Janey
District 8 - Zakim*
District 9 - Ciommo
*Did not respond to questionnaire
Why policing? We focused on policing because it affects every aspect of our lives in Boston. Our city continues to struggle with systemic racism and policing is part of the system that maintains white supremacy. Often the discussion centers on how police are or are not responding to violence, so we wanted to broaden and deepen the conversation by asking about a range of policing issues.
Why the election? It’s important to remind voters, the press, and especially candidates for local office that the Mayor and City Council have policing oversight responsibilities. The mayor has the power to appoint and fire the Commissioner of the Boston Police Department and shape the culture of policing in the city. City Council has the power to approve or deny the budget, to hold hearings, to pass ordinances, and to subpoena information from City agencies and offices. Residents of Boston deserve to hear how their Mayor and City Council will use their power to ensure all of us are treated with respect, dignity, and fairness.
We created this toolkit for residents to offer more context about policing policy and some strategies for engaging with candidates. You might be still deciding who you are going to vote for, and how candidates address policing issues may sway who you are going to support. Or, you may already actively support a candidate and want to push them to be better (or to clarify their positions) on policing. We hope this toolkit will equip you to be more involved in the 2017 election! You can join our Facebook event to get reminders about election events, sample messages and more!
For more information about the ACLU of Massachusetts, go to:
For more information about the Muslim Justice League, go to:
For more information about Families for Justice as Healing, go to:
For more information about CAIR-Massachusetts, go to:
For more information about Young Abolitionists, go to:
For more information about Jewish Voice for Peace - Boston, go to:
For more information about Digital Fourth, go to:
For more information about Boston Police Camera Action Team go to: