Goal 2: Depoliticize the Police
On 5/25/20, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man. A 17-year-old passerby, Darnella Frazier, took a cell-phone video of the prolonged police abuse of Mr. Floyd as he was undergoing arrest by four Minneapolis police officers. This video clearly showed Officer Chauvin using his knee to pin Mr. Floyd by his neck while Mr. Floyd was heard repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” The Frazier video, and others, were used to refute the initial dishonest account by the Minneapolis Police Department, an account which was titled “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction” and which gave no description of the prolonged police abuse. On 6/25/21, Mr. Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years for the murder of Mr. Floyd. It is doubtful, however, that Mr. Chauvin would have even been fired from the police force, much less convicted of murder, without the existence of the Frazier video.
On 5/18/20, exactly one week before Mr. Floyd’s murder, there was another murder of a 49-year-old black man, Derek Fitzpatrick, in Dorchester. Mr. Fitzpatrick was shot multiple times at noon while sitting on a porch in what Suffolk County D.A. Rachael Rollins characterized as “a brazen daytime shooting.” On 5/22/20, the Boston Police Department reported to the public that, on 5/21/20, the Boston Police Department Fugitive Unit had located and arrested a Mattapan suspect in the Blue Hill Avenue area of Dorchester for the 5/18/20 Fitzpatrick murder.
No mention of Newton appears to have been made to the public in connection to the 5/18/20 Fitzpatrick murder before 6/1/20. That would abruptly change on 6/1/20, however, when longtime Newton resident Tim Duncan released a YouTube video describing how he and his wife were stopped at gunpoint by Newton police officers in Newton on 5/20/20 and how he felt that they were racially profiling him as a black man who fit the description of a suspect they were looking for. In the video, Mr. Duncan made repeated references to Mr. Floyd’s murder in connection with his being racially profiled in Newton and said that this was part of systemic institutional racism that must be stopped. The suspect that the Newton Police were seeking was the suspect in the 5/18/20 Fitzgerald murder. According to the Newton Police, this suspect was subsequently arrested on 5/21/20 by the police in a Newton neighborhood without further violence.
George Floyd Murdered 5/25/20
Derek Fitzpatrick Murdered 5/18/20
Unfortunately, the Tim Duncan incident was so politicized by several parties that Tim Duncan's three minute encounter with the Newton Police became far more important to the public than Derek Fitzpatrick's violent murder and the arrest of the alleged perpetrator by the Newton Police. I personally feel that the Newton police did a good job in apprehending the Fitzpatrick murder suspect in a crowded residential Newton neighborhood and should have received praise, not condemnation, for their actions. There are two simple specific steps that I would strongly suggest for future Newton Police encounters, however, based of the 5/20/20 Tim Duncan incident and the 1/5/21 police shooting of Michael Conlon.
These two simple steps are as follows:
Weapon Drawn / Cameras On Policy - If at least one officer draws their weapon in an encounter, then all the officers present must turn on their body cameras. Body cameras have many privacy issues (primarily for the public) and their general use would have to be negotiated with all parties, including the public and the police union, which might take some time. I believe that almost everybody, however, would support this initial minimal body camera use in instances when an officer's weapon is drawn. There have been two controversial "Use of Force" Newton Police actions (5/20/20, 1/5/21) in seven months, where camera use would have greatly aided police oversight and accountability.
Mayor's Pursuit of Non-Newton Records Policy - Effective oversight of Newton Police actions sometimes relies on access to non-Newton records, such as inconsistent Boston Police reports or delayed county-level District Attorney reports. In the event that these inconsistent/delayed non-Newton records interfere with effective police oversight, Newton's mayor or law department should actively pursue getting these reports, including putting pressure of the D.A.
Newton Police Response to Tim Duncan Video
The Newton Police responded twice in a credible manner to Mr. Duncan's video. On 6/4/20, the Newton Police released a “Tim Duncan Timeline Statement” that directly connected the Newton police officers’ armed encounter with Mr. Duncan to the Fitzpatrick murder – and made the Newton police’s actions appear far more reasonable than on Mr. Duncan’s video. On 7/22/20, Newton Interim Police Chief Howard Mintz gave a more extensive briefing and answered questions regarding the Tim Duncan Incident with Newton's Public Safety and Transportation Committee. This briefing was an undocketed "Chair's Note" item that can be heard at the 01:08:40 mark on the 7/22/20 audio tape and can be read beginning on page 6 of the 7/22/20 meeting report.
[Neither one of these Newton Police versions (6/4/20 or 7/22/20) received much publicity from Mayor Fuller or the City Council, and neither version was cited at all in the politics-heavy/evidence-lite "Newton Police Reform Task Force Recommendations" document which appears to have used Tim Duncan as its sole source of information about the 5/20/20 Tim Duncan incident. This is why the links are given here.]
In his video, Mr. Duncan states that, on 5/20/20, he and his wife were stopped while walking to grocery store, one block from their Newton home, by four police cars and six policemen with guns drawn - because Mr. Duncan fit a profile. In their timeline and briefing, the Newton Police state that they had a Newton house under surveillance for a suspect wanted for the 5/18/20 Boston homicide, and that this house was in the immediate vicinity of where Mr. Duncan was stopped. The Newton Police version also states that only one gun was drawn by the police and that the encounter lasted 3 minutes. Finally, the Newton Police timeline states that the Boston homicide suspect was arrested at the home under surveillance the next day on 5/21/20.
I compared the Newton Police timeline with a public record (5/18/20-5/19/20) Newton Police incident report in which both the surveillance location and the representation that the suspect was dating someone at the surveillance location are communicated to the Newton Police by the Boston Police. Based on the Newton police incident report, it appears that the house under surveillance and Mr. Duncan’s house were a few houses apart, within sight of each other, on opposite sides of the street. This close proximity makes it appear reasonable that Mr. Duncan was stopped by the Newton Police one block from where both houses are located. The Boston Police representation to the Newton Police that the suspect might be located in the home of someone he was dating, also makes it appear more reasonable that Mr. Duncan was stopped by the Newton Police with his wife. Finally, the fact that the suspect being sought had allegedly shot Mr. Fitzgerald two days before in a “brazen daytime shooting” also makes it more reasonable for an officer(s) to approach Mr. Duncan with a drawn gun(s). Besides drawing a gun to defend themselves, it might have been important for the officers to maintain control in a confrontation with a potentially armed suspect that was occurring in a heavily populated Newton neighborhood, especially as many people were at home during the COVID lockdown. [I have been unable, so far, to obtain any Newton police reports after 5/19/20. Requests for any records from the Boston Police/Suffolk D.A. on the 5/21/20 arrest were refused because the case is still open.]
There was a serious Newton Police reporting error, however, that was acknowledged by Chief Mintz during the 7/22/20 meeting. Because a weapon was drawn, a "Use of Force" report should have been filed. Neither this Use of Force report, nor an Incident report, were filed right after the incident - as they should have been in accord with existing police department policy. These reports were eventually filed later; letters about the late reports were placed in the personnel files of the two officers; and the Newton Police Department has taken steps to insure this doesn't happen again.
Suggested Change A - "Weapon Drawn/Cameras On" Policy
There is a discrepancy between Mr. Duncan's account of six guns being drawn as opposed to the Newton Police account of one gun being drawn. There was also a question as to whether the responding officer simply had the gun out of its holster or whether he was pointing it directly at Mr. Duncan during the 5/20/20 encounter, as stated by Mr. Duncan in his video. This position of the drawn gun was debated by Interim Chief Mintz and Councilor Jake Auchincloss at the 7/22/20 Public Safety and Transportation Committee - with Chief Mintz maintaining through-out that A) the responding officer had submitted a written statement that the gun was not pointed at Mr. Duncan, and B) legally, the responding officer would have had the right to point the gun. Somewhat nonsensically, Councilor Auchincloss kept insisting that it was unacceptable that there was no firm answer about the gun position two months after the incident. Chief Mintz re-iterated that he was giving a firm answer based on the officer's written statement.
While "firm," Chief Mintz's answer is never going to be more "certain," no matter how many more months will pass, because there is no video of the encounter. Just as the Frazier cell phone camera played a crucial role in accurately capturing the George Floyd murder events, police body cameras would have probably resolved this discrepancy about the gun(s) in the Tim Duncan encounter. Body cameras would have been even more crucial in resolving the controversy of the 1/5/21 police shooting death of Michael Conlon in Newton.
Consequently, I am suggesting the new "weapon drawn/camera on" policy for the Newton Police Department, described above. Of course, sometimes an officer has to respond so quickly that he would not have time to turn on his body camera. But this was not the case in the either the Duncan or Conlon cases. In both the Duncan and Conlon cases, there were four officers present, meaning that there would have been multiple camera views of the scene, even if one officer failed to turn on his camera.
Suggested Change B - "Mayor's Pursuit of Non-Newton Records" Policy
In reviewing the "Tim Duncan incident" records, one item leaps out. There is a major discrepancy between the "arrest" part of the Newton Police's “Tim Duncan Timeline” and the Boston Police's 5/22/20 public statement about the arrest of the suspect in the Fitzgerald murder on 5/21/20. The Newton Police timeline says that the arrest of the suspect occurred in Newton at the home under surveillance, while the Boston Police public statement says that the suspect was located and arrested in Dorchester. The Boston Globe also did not mention Newton at all in reporting the 5/21/20 arrest.
It is hard to reconcile these two accounts of a Dorchester arrest vs. a Newton arrest of the same suspect. It is possible an error was made in which the Boston Police mistakenly took credit for the 5/21/20 Newton arrest. The Boston Police Department was very overwhelmed at the time, because, as reported by the above Globe story, there had been four murders in Boston in six days. If this error in arrest location happens often, however, then this would seriously affect Newton's crime statistics, making Newton appear safer than it is.
The published Dorchester arrest claim also greatly confused the initial public understanding of the Tim Duncan incident because Tim Duncan's video appeared to be the first time that Newton residents, including apparently Mayor Fuller, had even heard of the Newton Police Department's involvement in the events of 5/18/20-5/21/20. Unfortunately, this lack of information lead to some immediate public reactions by a few of the Newton officials who would later be charged with questioning the Newton Police's actions. In my opinion, these premature public reactions resulted in a later bias in asking the right questions about what happened.
If the Dorchester arrest claim is false, then it should be publicly corrected by the Boston police so that more future misinformation does not occur. As it is, while the Boston Globe did include the Newton police account in its earlier coverage of the the Tim Duncan incident, later recent coverage has dropped these references, implying that the Newton police were just randomly stopped a black man in Newton because he looked like a (far away) Dorchester suspect. This is a non-Newton record, however, so it might be difficult for the Newton Police to get it corrected.
This problem with Non-Newton records is even worse when it comes to the 1/5/21 shooting death of Michael Conlon during an encounter between Mr. Conlon and four police officers (two from the Newton Police and two from the Massachusetts State Police.) A brief summary statement was issued by immediately on 1/6/21 by Middlesex D.A. Marian T. Ryan. According to the Boston Globe, this initial statement was that "police fatally shot a Newton man a day earlier after he had attacked officers with a knife and a fire extinguisher, and shortly after he had threatened the owner of a candy store." D.A. Ryan's final report, including, the ballistics report, has yet to be released, however, even though it has been over 7 months since the incident. This is way too long for Mr. Conlon's family and the police officers involved for this case to be resolved.
In both of these non-Newton records cases, the erroneous Boston arrest representation and the delayed D.A. report, I am suggesting that the Mayor's office, and possibly the Law Department, be responsible for fixing the records problem - since the Newton Police may not have the power to do this. In the case of the erroneous Boston Police report that the Fitzgerald murder suspect was arrested in Dorchester, rather than Newton, Mayor Fuller should reach out to the Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey to get the Boston Police public statement corrected.
Systematic Record Problems, but not Systemic Racism, in the Tim Duncan Incident
There may be systemic institutional racism in Newton and in the Newton Police Department, but the Tim Duncan incident itself gave zero evidence of this. There were, however, FOUR separate record problems related to the incident, and these systematic record problems should be fixed. Three of the problems have been mentioned, as follows:
- Failure to file Use of Force and Incident reports in a timely manner. This appeared to be a violation of existing Newton Police Department Policy.
- No video record of incident. This was NOT a violation of any policy, but points out the immediate need for the use of body cameras, at least in instances when a weapon is drawn.
- Discrepancy between Boston Police account and Newton Police account of suspect arrest location (Boston vs. Newton). This was also NOT a violation of any policy but contributed to both the initial government uninformed public reaction and the continued public view of the incident. The Mayor's office should resolve this discrepancy.
A fourth record problem is the issuance of the March 2021 "Newton Police Reform Task Force Recommendations" document. This document was viewed by the public and the press as an official "investigation" into the systemic institutional racism in the Newton Police Department with the most quoted part of the document being the Task Force recommendation that the Newton Police need to "expand the transition from a 'warrior mindset' to a 'guardian mindset' in operations and training." This transition away from an unproven police "warrior mindset" was considered far more important by the Task Force than the use of body cameras, which was relegated to the following footnote in the Task Force document:
- The task force acknowledges that community members and at least some members of the NPD would like body cameras. The Task Force agrees that acquiring body cameras should be a goal for the future, but body cameras should not be a top priority. The Task Force recommends that the NPC review the feasibility of body cameras within the next several years. [Footnote 34 in Newton Task Force document.]
Given the specifics of both the 5/20/20 Tim Duncan incident and the 1/5/21 Michael Conlon shooting, it is surprising that Task Force concluded that an undocumented police mindset is the problem rather than undocumented police Use of Force actions. In reading the complete "Newton Police Reform Task Force Recommendations" document, however, it is apparent that the Task Force did not look at any of the specifics of the 5/20/20 or 1/5/21 events, before making their foregone conclusions about those events:
- "The work of the Newton Police Reform Task Force has been motivated by an effort to identify, understand, and actively combat the effects of systemic racism and other forms of bias in law enforcement and public safety. Very specifically, the Task Force has sought to contend with the forces that led to an encounter between members of the Newton Police Department (NPD), and a Newton community member, Tim Duncan. Mr. Duncan’s encounter, in which he was stopped with one officer’s gun drawn and 1 pointed at him, was a traumatic experience that could have been avoided, and was subsequently handled poorly by the NPD. In the months since the Task Force commenced its work the Newton community experienced the first fatal police-involved shooting in the City in more than 50 years. The death of Michael Conlon was a horrible and traumatic event which also resulted in acute public scrutiny of police practices. Task Force recommendations reflect the seriousness of these events and offer strategies that will reduce the likelihood of similar events in the future." [Page 4 in Task Force document.]
The Task Force can't just say that the Tim Duncan Incident "could have been avoided, and was subsequently handled poorly by the NPD" without giving ANY evidence of this or even a basic description of what happened.
Similarly, the Task Force emphasized that it conducted a poll of Newton resident opinions about Newton Police performance, but then discounted the poll's results because the poll's demographic was not acceptable to them:
- "While we received a total of 436 responses, the survey results were not randomly collected. Most survey respondents likely received the survey link through engagement with public meetings and other municipal information outlets, and so the survey results represent an oversampling of civically engaged members of the Newton community. We also note the oversampling of Newton residents over 60 (see the table below), which may correlate with results "showing a positive bias toward police. On the other hand, Black residents are also oversampled, which for the purposes of this survey is a strength."
From this, it appears that the "purposes of the survey" were to also support the foregone conclusions of the Task Force that there was systemic institutional racism in the the Newton Police Force.
The Tim Duncan incident and the Michael Conlon shooting called for a formal written response from the Mayor giving clear evidence, conclusions as to right or wrong, and immediate corrective actions if needed - about both specific incidents. The Newton Police Reform Task Force Recommendations document did not come close to satisfying this responsibility. Instead they have taken a problem which demanded some immediate specific changes (body cameras, better records) and used it to further a political agenda.