Thousands of Mass. police disciplinary records released to public
The new database will allow the public to look into the backgrounds of their local police officers via a PDF document or spreadsheet
By Chris Van Buskirk
The state’s police licensing board released thousands of disciplinary records Tuesday for law enforcement officers across Massachusetts as part of a long-awaited database that they were required to create under state law.
The database, available in PDF and spreadsheet formats, fulfills a requirement in a 2020 police reform law and offers the public an easily accessible look at the backgrounds of their hometown cops. The publication of the database also clears from the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission’s plate a challenging project that took years to make.
Regulators published 3,413 disciplinary records from 273 of the 440 law enforcement agencies under the POST Commission’s purview. The Boston Police Department has the third-most disciplinary records in the database behind the Springfield Police Department in second and the Massachusetts State Police in first.
The remaining agencies not represented in the database are those that confirmed to regulators they have no historical sustained disciplinary records that are reportable to the POST Commission.
The Springfield Police Department is the third-largest department in the state with roughly 500 officers who respond to more than 260,000 calls for service each year, said Springfield Police Department Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood, whose department came in second in the number of disciplinary records available in the database.
Springfield police have implemented a number of measure to increase the public’s trust, which has reduced complaints, Clapprood said, and the department holds “our officers accountable for their actions whether a complaint stems from an on or off-duty incident.”
“There is an underlying issue in that there is shortage of quality candidates applying to be a police officer,” Clapprood said in a statement to the Herald. “This has led to individuals who would not have been hired in the past being disciplined and or terminated early in their careers for their off-duty behaviors. Unfortunately that trend may continue until the pendulum swings back to where this is a highly sought after profession. ”
If Boston, Springfield, and the State Police are removed from the database, each agency averages about eight disciplinary records per department, a spokesperson for the commission said.
The version of the database released early Tuesday morning represents a first draft that came after roughly two years of difficult work, said POST Commission Executive Director Enrique Zuniga. The commission is hoping to update the database each month and eventually add a business intelligence tool to make it more user-friendly, Zuniga said.
The first template sent to law enforcement agencies to submit disciplinary records by Sept. 30, 2021 made it difficult for regulators to aggregate information to build a database, said Zuniga, a former member of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission who started at the POST Commission just over a week before that initial deadline.
But after a few stumbles — including not collecting dates of births or social security numbers that would allow data experts to differentiate officers with the same names — the POST Commission released more than 3,400 records of sustained complaints against police officers.
“We feel that this is a crucial, central part of our mandate, something that the statute talks about, something that we believe furthers the mission of police accountability and transparency because people will see that this data is out there,” Zuniga said in an interview with the Herald. “You can look up anybody, any agency.”
The PDF version of the database, a version of which was reviewed by the Herald Monday afternoon, lists officers’ names and any sustained allegations and disciplinary actions against them.
In one instance, an officer with the Boston Police Department — whose name was redacted in the preview version seen Monday but will be visible in the public version on Tuesday — had two alleged counts of misconduct unbecoming of an officer with an incident date of Jan. 14, 2021.
The database shows the officer is currently not certified and the disciplinary outcome for the alleged conduct was “termination or similar,” according to the database.
Another officer, who is currently certified with the Boston University Police Department, had an allegation of “truthfulness or professional integrity – other form of untruthfulness ” against them. The incident date is listed as June 4, 2009 and the officer was suspended for between one and five days, according to the database.
Zuniga said the database also lists officers who have engaged in criminal conduct, including those charged with felonies. The particulars of the crime were redacted in the preview of the database and will remain so in the public version.
In one example, an officer with the Methuen Police Department was charged with a felony but the specifics are redacted. The incident date is listed as February 10, 2005 and the disciplinary outcome is listed as “not applicable.”
State law calls for the database to contain all different kinds of officer records and be “publicly available and searchable.”
Anyone can submit a police misconduct complaint to the POST Commission via an online form, including those that fall under discrimination, excessive force, serious injury or death, improper use of a weapon, or unprofessionalism.
But only complaints the POST Commission deemed “sustained” were included in the database. That means there was enough evidence to support the allegations against the officer or officers.
Law enforcement agencies handed more than 36,000 complaints and disciplinary records to the POST Commission by the end of December 2021. Just over 12,000 were later considered sustained.
The commission had to go back to agencies in February and ask them to submit records because too many were either not properly identified to the correct officer or considered not reportable to the POST Commission.
“We also asked them not to resubmit information on people who have since retired or resigned in good standing because those are not going to be necessarily reportable,” Zuniga said Monday. “And that’s how we get from the 12,000 to the 3,400.”