Before he was promoted to captain and transferred in 2007, Frank Mancini was the commanding officer of the BPD’s anti-corruption unit for six years. While in that job, he kept a rubber rat in the office, “for atmosphere,” he says. It was an appropriate prop for the secretive squad, whose duty is not to bust cops’ chops for uniform infractions or detail scams—that’s internal affairs—but to take down the real wrongdoers in their midst. (Mancini has never previously talked about the ACU on the record, and his replacement, Lieutenant Detective Richard Sexton, is not authorized to discuss the unit.)
The ACU works out of an off-site location kept secret from most of the rank and file. Its members—whose numbers vary from year to year—drive unmarked cars with plates that can’t be traced back to the BPD. For all intents, in fact, it operates as an entity separate from the BPD as it investigates the roughly 30 to 60 corruption cases that accumulate annually in its files. Because the ACU is working in a small department in a small city, when Mancini ran it he was careful to handpick officers who he thought would be up to the task of handcuffing friends or even relatives on the force. His sales pitch was that his unit’s busts did every officer a service. “If we aren’t able to watch our own shop and take down our own dirty cops,” he says, “the federal government is going to come in and do it for us. It happened in Cincinnati. It happened in Pittsburgh. It happened in New Orleans. It happened in Detroit. It happened in Los Angeles. It happened with the New Jersey State Police. I don’t want the feds coming in and watching over the Boston police. We have to take care of our own house, and we have to show everybody we can do it properly.”
But solving the smaller problems that can snowball into ugly scandals is more complicated than just appealing to fellow officers’ sense of duty. It calls for changing a departmental culture created, in part, by years of poor leadership. While Commissioner Paul Evans was well regarded when he took the job in 1994, he quickly fell into a notoriously cantankerous relationship with Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association president Tom Nee. The two men publicly butted heads over virtually every issue, making real reform next to impossible. Evans alienated much of the force when he acquiesced to the federal prosecution of a Brighton cop named Harry Byrne, who was charged with slapping a politically connected Harvard student in the face after, he claimed, the student spat on him. Byrne was found guilty, and served nearly six years in a federal penitentiary.
Evans’s successor, Kathleen O’Toole, had to put up with both deep budget cuts and incessant meddling by Mayor Tom Menino, who high-ranking sources say continues to have a hand in the day-to-day operation of the department. She also inherited a mess involving the BPD’s latent fingerprint unit (full of grievously ill-trained officers), which was blamed for the wrongful conviction of Stephan Cowans in connection with the 1997 shooting of a Boston cop. After a rocky debut, she drew heat from police commanders for seeming to be more concerned about maintaining good relationships with union officials than addressing the spike in violent crime. As her tenure stretched on, O’Toole took yet more flak for making herself scarce and allowing her command staff—which was itself divided by internecine feuding—to run the department. After just 27 months as top cop, she left for a police job in Ireland.
The impact of that stretch of dysfunction has been pronounced. Last summer, hoping to crack down on detail abuses like those committed by Ortiz, the BPD’s chief of patrol officers, Superintendent Dan Linskey, began to visit sites unannounced. He didn’t like what he found. In some cases, the cop on duty was not at the site at all. (Linskey called one sergeant, and was told he had left because of a “family emergency.” When pressed, the sergeant admitted he had taken his son to a doctor’s appointment—but had still put in for the detail and planned to charge the department for it.) Since then, Linskey has lowered the boom on lax district commanders who have allowed this sort of thing to happen. Davis himself notes, “You let the small things go, and the big things will manifest themselves.” A source close to Linskey says, “Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.”
After internal affairs or the ACU identifies an egregious offender, it’s far from certain the department brass will be able to adequately punish him. “It’s not a question of whether the department wants to fire someone,” Mancini said. “It’s a question of can they.” BPD leaders say one of the biggest hurdles to cleaning up the force is the state’s Civil Service Commission, an independent body established in 1884 to prevent politicians from interfering in the hiring practices of public agencies, or managers from canning people unfairly. The governor-appointed commission is currently made up of three full-time members and two part-timers, with its chairman, Christopher Bowman, earning roughly $90,000 a year. Any police officer—or civil servant—who has been disciplined or fired can appeal to the commission and have a full hearing. If it decides the cop was wrongfully dismissed, it can overrule the firing unilaterally. That’s a crucial difference from the way things are done in New York, for example, where the police commissioner has the final say.
Bowman points out that the commission sides with the police agency roughly 85 percent of the time. “We don’t impede the ability of a police department to discipline a cop for just cause,” he says. “We are not biased. We’re a check-and-balance on the system.” Still, the Massachusetts Major Cities Chiefs, an association of top cops from across the state, lists elimination of civil service protection for police as a critical mission. History is not on the reformers’ side: Both Mitt Romney and Bill Weld launched attempts to overhaul the commission, and both failed miserably, because legislators didn’t want to anger the state’s public employee unions.
Regardless of how often the commission rules in favor of the BPD brass, the mere threat of an appeal is often a deterrent to disciplinary action. Davis cites civil service protection as preventing him from firing David Murphy after the cop was charged with punching his girlfriend in the face at a Baltimore bar. Davis weighed moving to kick Murphy off the force, knowing that if he did, Murphy almost certainly would appeal to civil service. The BPD’s legal department told Davis the fight could stretch on for years, cost tens of thousands of dollars, and most likely be “a loser,” Davis says, because Murphy had agreed to probation before judgment (meaning his record won’t show a criminal conviction if he stays out of trouble during his 18-month probation). So instead, Murphy is back on the force, making him one of 11 Boston cops suspended by the department for domestic violence allegations over the past two years who got to keep their jobs.
The case of Michael LoPriore illustrates a further layer of protection for cops, no matter how badly they perform. In 2004, LoPriore was investigated for allegedly forging signatures on detail slips, defrauding taxpayers of more than $1,100. And that was two years after he got caught using a police cruiser to pick up a drunken woman outside a bar and deposit her in Charlestown without radioing in that he was transporting a civilian. Yet neither of those offenses was enough to get him fired, not after the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association got involved on his behalf. It wasn’t until LoPriore forced a 19-year-old Chinatown prostitute to have sex with him in his car (with his child’s car seat strapped in the back), that serious action was taken. During the encounter, the hooker snatched LoPriore’s badge while his pants were around his knees. She went to the FBI, who bugged her phone in the hopes that he’d call to get his badge back—which he did. This time the union stayed out of it, and LoPriore was forced to resign. But for the department, it was too late: It had already suffered another major embarrassment.
Of course, the protection afforded by both the union and the Civil Service Commission is, by its nature, after the fact. The trick is to prevent cops from breaking the law in the first place, and that comes down to basic standards. In the wake of the arrests of Ortiz and the Three Amigos, some officers have been quick to blame what they believe were affirmative-action hires. But Mancini thinks the issue is poor training, not hiring quotas. He says the key is to encourage instructors to root out risky candidates while they’re in the academy, when the department can dismiss a rookie without union or civil service interference. Such a step would involve implementing more-rigorous background checks and psychological screening while the cadets are in the academy, which instructors currently don’t have the resources to do. The NYPD, by contrast, tails questionable new recruits during their off time, in barrooms and in the neighborhoods, to look for any telltale behaviors.
Then there’s the matter of time. In response to Boston’s surge in violent crime—and the BPD’s homicide clearance rate of 35 percent between 2003 and 2007, far below the national average of 62 percent—City Hall is under political pressure to put more officers on the street. In turn, say department sources, there’s pressure on the academy to push candidates through. It’s a recipe for trouble. “The research states if you rush someone through the training process,” says Mancini, “you are going to miss something.”