Boston City Council set to vote on combined civilian review board legislation

Boston’s city council is set to vote Wednesday on a now-unified proposal to create a police civilian review board and another measure that would limit the use of chemical agents by cops.
The city council had been mulling two competing police-reform proposals, one from Mayor Martin Walsh this fall and the other from City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Julia Mejia and Ricardo Arroyo from the summer, that agreed in broad strokes but sparked frustrated exchanges over the details.
City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who chairs the committee on government operations, said she plans to pull the unified ordinance out of committee for a vote Wednesday, during the council’s last meeting of the year.
“I think there’s a true, genuine attempt by all sides to get things done,” Edwards said.
The final proposal — the details of which were still being hashed out Tuesday afternoon — keeps the mayor’s preferred structure of separate boards for civilian complaints and internal-affairs oversight, but will create both by ordinance, rather than executive order. Some of the members would be chosen by recommendation of the council, and the board would have a youth seat, as some councilors wished.
The Office of Police Accountability and Transparency — OPAT, which would include both boards — would have subpoena power.
City Councilor Andrea Campbell, the public safety chairwoman — and current mayoral candidate — had been critical of the mayor’s ordinance, but said the fusion would “provide consistent and effective oversight over our police department.”
“Passing this will be a major step forward toward eliminating racial disparities in policing, establishing greater transparency and accountability all while ensuring justice in this system, both of which require systems of accountability,” Campbell said.
Boston spokeswoman Samantha Ormsby said Walsh “will review the final language once voted on by the Boston City Council.” She added that the ordinance “reflects the incredibly hard work and shared goals of the Boston Police Reform Task Force, community members who continue to advocate for change, and police reform experts who helped craft these recommendations.”
Arroyo said in a statement that he supports this proposal, adding, “I am keenly aware that a Civilian Review Board is ultimately only as empowered as its staffing and budget allow it to be. I will continue to advocate for those resources and for continued systemic changes that directly address systemic inequities and racism.”
These changes come after a summer filled with protests pushing for changes to policing following several high-profile deaths of Black people at the hands of officers.
The council is also set to vote on a proposal that would heavily limit Boston Police Department’s allowed use of chemical agents as crowd control, including pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas.
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross panned that proposal in a letter to councilors, saying the makes of the ordinance appear to have given “little to no consideration” to the police department’s comments in hearings about it, and that the ordinance would create an “unacceptable risk to public safety.”
Gross urged the council to vote against the change, writing in the three-page letter that “arbitrary and poorly considered limitations would only serve to put peaceful demonstrators, bystanders, local businesses and police themselves at much greater risk of harm.”
Campbell and Arroyo, the original sponsors of this proposal, said in a statement, “Chemical Crowd Control Agents and Kinetic Impact Projectiles are indiscriminate weapons that have caused critical injury and deaths. This ordinance creates necessary restrictions, accountability, and transparency that are currently not in place and should be required if the Boston Police Department seeks to continue their use.”

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