February 23, 2006 – Vol. 41, No. 28


Let’s focus on the issue

Only a committed troglodyte would object to the use of new technology in law enforcement. Nonetheless, those who watch “CSI” and “Law & Order” on television have learned that the effectiveness of technology in solving crimes is limited.

The Boston Police department seems to be unaware of such limitations. In a feeble effort to appear to be resolving the rise in the murder rate, the Commissioner recently announced the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) bracelets for violent criminals. The location of dangerous individuals would then always be known through this human “Lo-Jack.”

The problem with this strategy is that there are few occasions when the criminal justice system can require the GPS bracelet to be worn. Even then, one wonders whether judges would release defendants on bail or probation if there was a serious concern that there freedom would create a danger to the public.

The real problem is that the police are unable to secure witnesses to testify in murder cases. One reason for this is that many in the black community distrust the police. People believe that the police can be abusive in the black community with impunity. A study last fall of the outcome of the 274 civilian complaints for the excessive use of force by the police in the previous five years found that only 14 were sustained.

It is hard to believe that a timely and objective investigation of those complaints by the Internal Affairs Division of the police department would reject 95 percent of them as lacking merit. And what has become of the case involving Senator Dianne Wilkerson’s son? A police officer pulled his CORI and gave the information to the Boston Globe. There is a record of those who get CORI reports, yet there has been no resolution of the matter after several months.

The Internal Affairs Division of the police department has long been criticized for its lack of transparency. For many years, African Americans in Boston have called for a Civilian Review Board with subpoena power. The proposal was endorsed in 1992 in the report of the St. Clair Commission which was established by former mayor Ray Flynn to review police policies. However, Mayor Menino has consistently opposed the measure.

In addition to an antagonistic relationship with the police, African Americans are also discouraged from coming forward as witnesses because of a lack of protection. Witnesses are now on their own. The bill proposed by the Legislature, allegedly protecting witnesses, is inadequate because it provides a budget of only $750,000 for the whole state.

It is unreasonable for city officials to expect the black clergy and community leaders to step up to solve the administration’s problems. Complicity with the police, unless they adopt a more accommodating method of resolving citizen complaints, sullies the reputation of community activists who would like to be helpful. Many citizens would see cooperating with the police as collaborating with the enemy.

Technology is wonderful, but it can never replace the effectiveness of a truly congenial and cooperative relationship between the community and the police.


Melvin B. Miller

Editor & Publisher
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