ProPublica and Boston’s legendary PBS station WBUR have a piece up about a problem I didn’t even know existed: state and local laws which require police forces to hire new police chiefs from within the often scandal-plagued departments they will lead.
With police departments facing demands for reform nationwide, some experts say that one way to address problems such as racial discrimination, poor training or use of excessive force is to bring in an outsider. But Revere’s mayor, Arrigo, didn’t have that option. In 2017, he tried to change the ordinance so he could look at external candidates, but he was rebuffed by the city council.
“We absolutely welcome the help of [U.S. Attorney] Rachael Rollins to make these changes going forward,” Arrigo said in a statement to WBUR. “I have been and always will be in support of this change and am willing to work with anyone able to provide help and guidance. The work of improving a toxic police department culture cannot be done alone.”
It’s not known exactly how many cities and towns around the country are constrained to choose police chiefs who already work in the department. In New Jersey, state law requires most municipalities to choose a chief from the ranks. The city of Bakersfield, California, will hold a ballot referendum this November on whether to remove its insiders-only requirement. Bakersfield agreed to the referendum as part of a settlement with the California state Department of Justice, which had been investigating alleged civil rights abuses by city police officers. In 2020, after a sweeping overtime pay scam that implicated more than 45 troopers, the Massachusetts legislature dropped a requirement that the head of the state police be hired from within.
Police unions and local elected officials often support these insider-only ordinances to reward veterans of the force for their service and to keep political allies close. Brandon Buskey, head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project in New York, said that these requirements should be abolished because they limit cities from finding the most qualified candidates for chief, but that unions are standing in the way.
“That’s a problem that really is national in scale because we see police unions and the lobbying effort of police groups being used to really thwart necessary reforms in so many jurisdictions,” he said.
This is just crazy, but it just goes to show you how elected officials often claim to support good policing, but then go along with corrupt police unions in passing laws which virtually guarantee the opposite. These laws also maintain the racial status quo for majority Caucasian police departments.