By Chief Daniel C. O’Leary, Brookline Police Chief
Recently, two Brookline Police Officers reported at a public meeting that a number of racially charged incidents they have encountered at work have made them feel unsafe. The Town of Brookline maintains strong anti-discrimination and workplace safety policies. The foremost purpose of these policies is to promptly address conduct that occurs in the workplace and take appropriate steps to ensure that inappropriate or unlawful conduct stops and does not reoccur. I am deeply concerned about these Officers’ reports, and have taken steps under these policies to ensure that they are promptly investigated and that appropriate action is taken.
Both Officers have been informed that their reports will be investigated and that race based discrimination and related retaliation will not be tolerated in the Brookline Police Department. Following the completion of internal investigations, these reports will be investigated by a qualified investigator who is independent of the Town. All involved individuals will be afforded due process, and appropriate standards of fairness will be respected. Should the incidents leading to these reports be substantiated, swift and appropriate discipline for those who are responsible will be imposed, and prompt action will be taken to address any necessary changes in the workplace. Once these Officers return to work, they will be assured of their personal safety. To be absolutely clear, there will be no tolerance in the Brookline Police Department for discrimination or related retaliation against any employee of the Police Department on the basis of their race or other protected class or characteristic.
Looking past these Officers’ reports, we are currently reviewing the Racial Climate Review of the Police and Fire Departments that was recently concluded, and have engaged a highly respected consultant to independently review the workplace climate among employees of the Police Department and advise us on specific ways to make improvements as necessary. This is not a new commitment by this Department. For many years, we have been a leader in the area of civil rights. Although we are certainly not perfect and are open to improvement, we are proud of our efforts to protect the rights of all persons through fair and even-handed law enforcement and the public safety work that is performed on a daily basis by the excellent Brookline Police Officers that I have the privilege of working with.
In recent years, the national debate about race in law enforcement has focused on the use of force by police officers, and several high-profile examples of excessive and in some cases egregious, use of force have been publicized. Despite our involvement in a number of high profile investigations, the use of force by Brookline Police Officers has rarely been criticized. I believe that this is not only because of the professionalism of Brookline Police Officers, but also the regular and consistent training they receive in the use of force. Recently, I traveled to Scotland with other police officials from the United States to study how Scotland’s police handle critical incidents without resorting to deadly force. As a result, members of our Department are participating in the development of procedures that will be used in police training throughout the United States.
In addition to regular training in the use of force, all Brookline Police Officers are trained extensively in the protection of Constitutional rights, in understanding cultural differences and diversity, and in handling difficult and potentially dangerous situations with minimal risk to civilians and officers. This training extends to the most vulnerable members of our community, including the mentally ill. Officers are trained to handle individuals in distress with compassion, respect, and the minimal use of restraints. Because of this commitment to respect and dignity for every person and specialized training, Brookline police officers regularly save lives. In most cases, these incidents are not publicized, and we make efforts to keep it that way to protect the privacy of those who are involved.
Ironically, the recent reports of the environment in the Brookline Police Department attracted attention from the news media, partially because of our reputation for upholding civil rights. To be clear, we will not rest on our excellent reputation. We are humans and we are not perfect. We are also not satisfied. Our police mission – to protect and to serve – requires constant attention to our policies, our practices, and our personnel. I believe that we can learn from our experiences as well as from constructive criticism, and that we can always do better. My commitment to the Town of Brookline is that we will.