Time to shine up Boston Police Department's badge
Mayor Ray Flynn finally has maneuvered Joe Jordan out of the Boston police superintendent's office. Now he faces a much tougher task: restoring efficiency and high morale to a department that has seen too much of politics and too little of professionalism in law enforcement. Rarely has a Boston mayor had a greater opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the fabric, if not the face, of his city than Raymond L. Flynn. His choice of a new police commissioner could well be one of the most important decisions of his mayoral career.
Having finally convinced Joseph M. Jordan to leave the $60,000-a-year post, Mayor Flynn can provide Boston with the kind of a police department he thinks the city needs under the direction of a leader who enjoys his confidence. While it would be unfair to blame the retiring commissioner for all of the shortcomings of his department during his six-year reign, a better job in law enforcement might well have been done.
The politicizing of the police department during Commissioner Jordan's tenure by former Mayor Kevin H. White and his allies, including the almost-meteoric rise of more than a few from low-level positions in the uniformed force to the rank of deputy superintendent, has been much criticized. And it has done nothing to boost morale within Boston police ranks.
Obviously, it would serve no good purpose were Mayor Flynn to go the same route and even indirectly attempt to run the police department through a commissioner who, in fact if not in appearance, might be little more than a puppet. Instead, what Boston needs in its next ``top cop'' is a police professional -- somebody responsive to the concerns of the residents of the city, rather the City Hall power structure. The mayor's meetings with neighborhood representatives on the day of the Jordan retirement is an encouraging sign that he is more than just thinking along these lines. If the Boston police department is to become a more effective force both in preventing and solving crime, the new superintendent must have a free hand to deploy available manpower and shape programs. Appointing someone from outside the city might have considerable merit in terms of perhaps bringing in new ideas and a different approach. But the best person for the job at this time might already be on the force. Such an appointee would have the advantage of knowing the department, its personnel, and operations.
A major source of criticism from some quarters in recent years has been the movement of patrolmen and commanding officers from district to district rather than leaving them on their assignments for long periods, as in the past. Such transfers often result in police being assigned to unfamiliar neighborhoods. Thus, local residents do not feel close to the ``cop on the beat.'' Building and preserving a climate of mutual respect and cooperation between the neighborhood police officer and residents is especially important, criminal justice observers like George Kelling of Harvard University contend. He notes that studies now under way at Michigan State University indicate that foot patrolmen are especially more effective in crime prevention and in public safety in general than mechanized patrols.
Mr. Kelling, as director of programs on criminal justice policies and management at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, says some types of ``rewards for excellence in performance'' might go a long way in boosting police morale and encouraging those on the beat as well as their commanding officers to do a better job. The Harvard criminal-justice scholar stops short, however, of endorsing the idea of incentive pay, noting that a proposal in that direction in Dallas in the 1970s failed to get off the ground because of disagreement between municipal officials and police as to how it would work.
Strengthening public confidence in the police department's capacity to protect people and property and its commitment to enforce laws evenhandedly could well tax the talents of the new commissioner. The police image in some sections of the city and among some groups, including minorities, has been at least clouded by allegations of brutality and insensitivity or less-than-aggressive pursuit of certain types of crimes such as drug trafficking, gaming, and prostitution in some neighborhoods.
A citizen review board to investigate and report its findings concerning the department's possible shortcomings would seem worthy of consideration. Although the structure and degree of authority varies widely from one city to another, it might be noted that this approach to improving the level of police work has been instituted elsewhere.
But George Berkely, a criminal-justice professor at the University of Massachusetts and one-time chairman of the Boston Finance Commission, questions whether such a board would help improve police-community relations. Some type of a citywide ombudsman arrangement involving all municipal departments and their operations, he suggests, ``might be useful.''
What might be in order would be creation of a panel made up of business, professional, and civic leaders from various parts of the city to informally oversee the operations of the police department and from time to time not only rate its performance but suggest improvements.