Report: Boston police broke weapons policy
By Donovan Slack
The Boston Globe
BOSTON — In retrospect, Boston Police Department officials said, they should never have allowed Officer Leonard F. Brown to carry his gun.
Brown, they said, shouldn't have had it last summer, while his former wife had an active restraining order against him. Specifically, he shouldn't have had it July 26, when he was accused of flashing his department- issued .40-caliber Glock to a former in-law during what has been described as a vodka- infused tirade, saying, "Do you know who you're [expletive] with?"
"We missed him," Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said in an interview.
But while Brown may be the most egregious example, he is hardly alone. The Boston Police Department - unlike the State Police - has repeatedly allowed officers accused of domestic-related threats or violence to continue carrying guns, a Globe review has found. The department allows the practice, usually with more restrictions than Brown had, so that officers can continue working regular patrol shifts and detail shifts at nightclubs and construction sites.
Yet that policy runs counter to a recommendation from an internal Police Department committee, which said in 2005 that all officers subject to restraining orders should be stripped of their weapons for the duration of the orders.
The internal committee also found that the department's in-house counseling program for officers accused of domestic violence was lacking.
But since 2003, only one officer was sent to an enhanced counseling program, and the department forfeited $40,000 from a federal grant it received to set up the improved counseling. Officers are sent to the old, in-house program that the committee had viewed as inadequate.
After learning of the Globe's findings, Davis said last month that he planned to launch a fresh review of the department's policies for handling officers accused of domestic violence. He said he also planned to revise Police Department regulations so that no one is allowed to carry guns when they are subject to restraining orders.
The department has recently grappled with domestic violence controversies within its ranks. Davis came under fire in December when he punished a police lieutenant found to have punched his girlfriend in a Baltimore bar with a five-day suspension, rather than termination. The commissioner said at the time that he felt firing Lieutenant David Murphy would spur a protracted court battle with the officer that would cost taxpayers too much money, and ultimately Murphy would win his job back.
Last week, Randolph police arrested a Boston police officer, Windell Josey, and charged him with assaulting his girlfriend in their Randolph home. Josey is a detective in the Boston Police Department's domestic violence unit.
When judges issue restraining orders against Boston police officers, the officers' guns are immediately confiscated and stored at the Police Department range. But officers typically appeal to get their weapons back so they can continue working, on duty and on details, private jobs that can add tens of thousands of dollars a year to their income.
Boston police officials have authorized 10 officers out of 26 who were the subjects of domestic violence-related restraining orders since January 2005 to continue patrolling city streets with their weapons. Nine of the allowances came with a restriction: the officers were required to turn in their guns to supervisors before heading home. They were supposed to sign them out at the beginning of their shifts, and sign them back in at the end.
In the 10th case, Brown's, Davis allowed him to carry his gun without any restriction.
Some departments, including the State Police, have regulations strictly barring any officers from carrying weapons while they are subject to restraining orders. Others, like Boston, New York City, and Chicago, make determinations on a case-by-case basis.
Critics say stricter policies are needed.
"Without a coordinated community response across the board, with no exceptions, including police departments, we risk creating and supporting a culture where abuse is tolerated and ignored," said Tony Burns, coexecutive director of Common Purpose, a Boston-based domestic violence intervention program that would have provided more intensive counseling for Boston officers.
Paul Evans, former Boston police commissioner, formed the special internal review committee to study how domestic violence charges were handled within department ranks in 2002. The goal: address "the growing numbers of officers involved in off-duty and on-duty instances of battering their partners," according to an internal Police Department memo obtained by the Globe.
The committee quickly concluded that the department needed better counseling. But by 2005, a program for enhanced counseling had fizzled.
Police Department lawyer Amy Ambarik said she had a hard time getting police unions to agree to the new counseling, so she stopped referring officers. Union officials say they don't remember being approached about the program.
Kathleen M. O'Toole, Evans's successor as police commissioner, in 2005 rejected the internal committee's recommendation that all officers subject to restraining orders surrender their weapons for the duration of the orders. O'Toole, who is working at a police agency in Ireland, declined to comment.
Davis decided to continue O'Toole's policy. Department lawyer Ambarik said taking officers' guns away significantly cuts their income because it makes it impossible for them to work details. "The fact is, we are taking away someone's ability to earn a living," she said.
A recommendation on Brown's request to keep his gun hit Davis's desk in June. It was a favorable one, despite a trail of incidents involving Brown that is contained in Police Department internal affairs investigation reports.
In 2002, police responding to a 911-hangup call from his Randolph home found a belligerent Brown and a fully loaded Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum tucked under a living room chair cushion. The department ordered him to serve four days of desk duty.
In April 2005, Brown was found to have lied to a Police Department doctor about having an MRI done for an on-duty injury, according to the reports, and he received a three-day suspension.
In May 2005, a patrol supervisor found Brown drunk on duty and he failed a Breathalyzer test, according to the reports. A year later, Brown entered his former mother-in-law's apartment, uninvited and drunk, urging his former wife to take out a restraining order against him, according to investigative reports.
Brown served a 45-day suspension last year for both incidents, but a restraining order taken out by his former wife remained in place.
Five days after he finished serving his suspension, in May 2007, he retrieved his gun on a sign-in, sign-out basis.
The commissioner gave him unrestricted access to his gun in June.
Brown is facing trial March 13 in Quincy District Court on charges of violating a restraining order, assault with a dangerous weapon, and threatening to commit a crime for allegedly displaying his gun to a relative of his former wife in the parking lot of a Sudbury Farms in Randolph on July 26.
The charges are false, said Brown's lawyer, Anthony Ellison, and trumped up by the family of Brown's former wife to get him in trouble. Brown told police at the time that he had not been drinking.
He said he had the gun because he was planning to work a detail.
Copyright 2008 The Boston Globe
Full story: Report: Boston police broke weapons policy