Tom Menino: Meddling While Boston Burns

By Paul Kix | Boston Magazine |

Then in December 2006 Mayor Menino hired a new police commissioner, Ed Davis. He had come from the Lowell Police Department, and he promised to bring back the wonders of community policing. Soon after taking his oath of office, Davis promoted Gary French to deputy superintendent, and put him in charge of BPD’s community-policing efforts. Davis was asking French to perform another miracle.

He largely did. From 2007 to 2009, the murder rate inched lower. But as French worked on community policing, so too did the mayor. Menino introduced — officially or through the police department — a flurry of new plans. Many of them, according to civic leaders, undermined French and what he wanted to do. Through a spokeswoman, French declined to comment for this story, but one cop friend of his says French felt marginalized, his ideas crowded out by other, sometimes lesser plans.

The murder rate skyrocketed again in 2010. French, the friend says, felt frustrated. “He’d been frustrated for a long time.” In November, Davis demoted him out of the unit. Davis won’t discuss his rationale, but a spokeswoman says it was French’s choice to leave.

If that’s true, here’s one way to interpret it: The man who helped conceive of community policing grew so disgusted by Menino’s ever-newer plans that his only course of action was to abandon his community-policing leadership role.

HERE’S ANOTHER INTERPRETATION: The crime rate in Boston is also a political barometer. Menino may say Ed Davis runs the police department. But his first call, at 6 o’clock every morning, is with Davis, discussing what happened overnight. When Menino’s son, a detective in the BPD, was questioned by a supervisor about his overtime pay, that supervisor was ultimately demoted. Says one longtime cop, “Davis can’t hire or fire anyone on his command staff without Menino.” As though proving the point, in January Davis promoted one of Menino’s former chauffeurs to the command staff.

This is another way to say that the mayor’s ideas for better policing, frequent as they come, hasty as they may be, always make it to the street. That’s how Boston, three years ago, came up with the Safe Homes Initiative, in which detectives entered residences without search warrants, looking for guns teenagers might have. The haul was never great and the ACLU got righteously ugly about the whole thing, so the city quietly shelved the plan. Or there was that PACT initiative, introduced last summer. That one sounded promising: gather state agencies, cops, and black ministers, show them photos of 240 dangerous, high-impact gang members, and then ask community and government leaders to try to steer the thugs straight before they commit further crimes. Good old community policing. “But we didn’t have any follow-up with the city,” one prominent black minister says. The ministers had one meeting with officials last summer, he says, and then they just…heard this fall that some of the players had been arrested.

The PACT program is a redundancy, anyway. It repeats elements of many of the city’s other community-policing efforts. There are strains of PACT, for instance, in the Boston Foundation’s street-workers program, in which former convicts look for high-impact thugs and work with them to turn their lives around. But because Menino dislikes — and, all right, maybe even hates — the Boston Foundation’s president and CEO, Paul Grogan, on account of Grogan consistently criticizing the mayor’s many initiatives, the foundation’s program is ignored by the police department. Meanwhile PACT, the brainchild of Menino’s buddy Superintendent Joyce, gets the mayor’s blessing. 

  • Sean

    It is amazing that this reporter took such a shot at indivdiuals. This is a tired tale that some have tried to sell before, Gary French the fair-hair child who was ignored, Paul Joyce the bad guy. These are both great cops who have done great things for BPD. To try to put any blame on the actual cops doing the work is incredible. Ed Davis is an ineffectual leader who is way over his head – Boston and BPD are no Lowell and LPD. Tom Menino is an ego maniac who wants to control everything. He is way past his prime.