After Failing to Publicize a Rape, State Police Fix Press Procedures

A 10 day delay in reporting a rape was a result of State Police policy that's now being changed.

After taking flak for keeping the alleged rape of a 21-year-old in Newton under wraps for 10 days, State Police said Friday they will now promptly alert the public to assaults on the property they patrol.

The Boston Herald reported this morning that, even as Southie was reeling from a series of scary assaults on women—including the kidnap and murder of 24-year-old Amy Lord—Massachusetts State Police for 10 days failed to tell the public about a concerning incident in their midst. On August 6, a young woman told authorities she was picked up by “a gypsy cab” driver in the Seaport District, taken to a Daly Memorial Rink on Nonantum Road in Newton, and raped. Although the investigation is ongoing, police told the Herald that they think the incident is “isolated.”

State Police spokesman David Procopio said in an email the decision to keep details of the case unpublicized was in keeping with how the office traditionally works with District Attorney’s offices. Typically, they defer all comment to the D.A.’s office once prosecutors get involved, as prosecutors did almost immediately on August 6:

That is changing from this point forward. In retrospect, I realize we should have issued a public alert regardless of the involvement of the DA. In the future, we (my unit, the State Police Media Relations Unit) will take responsibility for issuing timely public statements for any assaults on state property of which we are aware, regardless of whether a prosecutor’s office is involved, so that the public can make an informed decision as to whether there is a threat to their safety. That is the right thing to do.

The Herald reported that the rape wasn’t publicized “in part because of a simmering turf war between staties and Hub cops” over jursdiction in the Seaport, where the victim was picked up by her attacker. Procopio denied that jurisdiction issues had any involvement in the delayed public notification. State Police Colonel Timothy P. Alben eviscerated the focus of the Herald’s article, and their decision to interview Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis for the story, in a statement posted to MSP’s Facebook page:

Obviously, the Herald’s questions to the Commissioner and the resulting article were not about the seriousness of an alleged sexual assault. It was not about the progress of the investigation; nor was it even really about the question of publicly reporting allegations of sexual assault in a contemporaneous manner. Rather, this article is about a baseless Seaport jurisdiction issue and an out-of-context interpretation of Procopio’s remarks, construed by the newspaper to fit the unrelated issue (the Seaport) that the Herald wished to sensationalize. Unfortunately, this article (and others by the Herald in recent years) appears to be little more than a continuing effort to search for examples that fit their preferred narrative and generate controversy about the Seaport, arguably one of the safest and well patrolled areas of Boston.

Its relevance to this investigation aside, the statement speaks to the sensitivity with which State Police approach the jurisdiction issue, which certainly has been simmering in recent years. Concerned over a history of feuds, South Boston lawmaker Rep. Nick Collins has filed legislation to clarify the roles of state and local cops patrolling the Seaport, where the victim was picked up, calling the region “no-man’s land” for Boston’s finest. And according to the offending Herald article:

The feud has led to disputes over the handling of sexual assault and domestic violence cases, as well as delays in hitting bars with licensing sanctions. In one glaring example, a dead body sat on a boat for hours while troopers and Boston cops argued over who would handle the case.

In 2011, Davis questioned State Police claims of gang activity at South Boston’s Carson Beach. What’s more, reported that Mayor Thomas M. Menino wasn’t thrilled with the way State Police behaved while patrolling Carson Beach crowds. In a statement today, city spokesperson Dot Joyce reiterated that the city wants concurrent jurisdiction:

Policing works best when it’s in cooperation. We continue to push for concurrent jurisdiction on the Waterfront. Public safety is a top priority, and having officers work hand in hand is in the best interest of our residents and the City.

Even beyond Boston, State Police are tangling with municipal police over who has jurisdiction at lucrative road detail sites. A billboard paid for by the State Police Association of Massachusetts over Route 146 announces to Sutton residents that “Troopers are your best protection,” according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. The State Police Association insists the billboard reflected statewide confusion over who had authority over Route 146. Local police chiefs took a darker view:

‘‘It’s very disappointing that the state police would advocate that they provide a better service than other law enforcement in the state,’’ he said. Millville Police Chief Ron Landry called the billboard “insulting” to local police. Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association executive director A. Wayne Sampson called it “a vicious attack on a local community.”

But in his email, Procopio reiterated that jurisdiction issues didn’t play a factor in the recent reporting snafu. “This has nothing to do with jurisdiction on the Seaport. It involved a rape in Newton and standard operating procedures for how we handle cases involving district attorney’s offices,” standard operating procedures that, going forward, will look a little bit different.