Globe Editorial

Too easy on rogue cops

July 9, 2009
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BOSTON POLICE Commissioner Edward Davis sent a weak message on police misconduct last week -- all the more so because it was timed to generate minimal publicity. The disciplining of officers in a steroid-use scandal deserves greater scrutiny, especially given the city's recurring problems with rogue officers.

Davis parceled out punishments ranging from written reprimands to a 45-day unpaid suspension to 11 officers who were involved in steroid use or had frequented an afterhours club in Hyde Park where drugs, alcohol, and prostitutes were present. The punishments are a byproduct of a federal investigation in 2006 that culminated in the arrest and lengthy imprisonment of three former Boston Police officers for protecting a large shipment of cocaine arranged by federal agents posing as drug dealers. The head of that protection racket, former officer Roberto Pulido, was a steroid user who also guarded parties at the after-hours club frequented by police.

Davis acknowledges that termination, not suspensions, would have been a more "appropriate punishment" for some of the officers who not only used illegal drugs but also lied about such use to the department's anti-corruption investigators. But like his predecessors, Davis says he is handcuffed by an aggressive union, contractual language that metes out light punishment for first-time drug violations, and labor arbitrators who overturn long suspensions and terminations.

Police work often involves shades of gray. But the need to establish brighter lines, including routine steroid testing of police officers, is clear from this case. A 45-day suspension is hardly sufficient, for example, in the case of Officer David Juba, who illegally obtained and used steroids, lied initially about such use, and visited the "Boom Boom Room" after-hours club while in uniform and on duty. Davis should have terminated the officer and dealt with whatever consequences arose from appeals or union grievances.

Announcing the punishments on the eve of a July 4 holiday weekend was also a disservice. The public was focused more on backyard barbecues than on a group of cops baked on drugs. Then again, the timing was appropriate in another way: It coincided with the publication of a new book that shows the terrible consequences of cops who forsake their oaths.

"The Fence: A Police Cover-Up Along Boston's Racial Divide" by former Globe reporter Dick Lehr penetrates the events surrounding the 1995 beating and abandonment of plainclothes Boston Police officer Michael Cox, who was mistaken by fellow officers for a murder suspect. Lehr describes the frantic police chase that preceded the beating and the calculated lies of many police officers at the scene who erected "a blue wall of silence" around the incident. The book exposes the world of cops who "stick together at all costs . . . turning a blind eye to any misconduct" by fellow officers.

To a lesser but still disturbing degree, the same pattern can be observed in the latest case. One of the officers received a three-day suspension for having knowledge of steroid use by other officers and failing to notify the department. Another received a written reprimand for dropping off her on-duty partner at the after-hours joint.

Davis says that being untruthful should disqualify officers from the force. But it rarely does. And the public is left wondering about the credibility of such officers whose police reports and sworn testimony are key to just outcomes in Boston's courtrooms. "The Fence" should be required reading in Davis's expanded integrity training courses for Boston Police supervisors. Without clean and credible cops, the entire justice system is in danger of collapse.

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