In his retirement announcement Monday Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said that the city should change the way that officers are hired and promoted in order to increase the number of police of color in the upper ranks of the department.
The Civil Service exam determines who will become a police officer and who within the ranks will be promoted to sergeant, lieutenant and captain. That’s the law. But at his press conference, Davis — who has promoted officers of color but has also been criticized for not promoting enough — said the Civil Service law should be changed.
"We are swimming upstream against the law here in Massachusetts," he said. "I would recommend that the media, and that all of the people in this organization, especially whoever succeeds me in this position keep diversity high on the list of priorities... by changing the law and making sure this police department is reflective of the community it serves."
Police Superintendent William Gross agreed. As the night commander of the Boston Police Department, Gross is one of the few African Americans in a leadership position with the BPD. Gross said the problem with the Civil Service Exam is that it does not measure street smarts.
"You read material, you remember it, and then you take a written exam," he said. "There's great leaders, and you can pick that without an exam process."
Gross credited Davis with promoting him and other officers of color but says the civil service exam system is outmoded and has left the upper ranks of the BPD nearly empty of blacks, Latinos, Asians and women. Davis leaves a department with white males occupying all 21 district captain and temporary captain positions and 42 of the 48 lieutenants.
The greatest beneficiaries of affirmation action within the Boston police department at the moment are not officers of color, but military veterans. A military veteran with a passing test score of 70 is weighed over and above a non-veteran score of 100 — no matter the non-veteran’s color, ethnicity or gender.
Davis said whoever succeeds him will need to take work hard to make the character and color of the Boston Police Department reflect the changing demographics of the city.