Boston Police Department Community Disorders Unit (CDU)
1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.
The Departmentís Community Disorders Unit (CDU), which is based in the Office of the Police Commissioner, is responsible for the coordination of the Departmentís investigative activities relating to reported bias motivated criminal incidents, also known as "community disorders," within the city of Boston.
The Police Commissionerís special order that created the CDU established departmental policy regarding the handling of community disorders, and outlined procedures to be utilized in the identification, classification and investigations of such incidents. The purpose of the CDU is to reinforce the departmentís policy that all citizens, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, disability or sexual orientation can be free of violence, threats, or harassment in living, working, worshipping and traveling throughout any neighborhood in Boston.
A community disorder is defined as a conflict which disturbs the peace, and infringes upon a citizenís right to be free from violence, threats or harassment and intimidation. These disorders can be classified into the following two areas:
The CDU duties include:
2. When was the program created and why?
In the mid-1970s Boston had a major problem with racial assault and it seemed to be getting worse. Much of the problem was centered around the newly integrated neighborhoods or public housing developments. Harassment of African-Americans living in predominately white public housing developments became a major public issue in 1978. Racial assaults took many forms: racial epithets painted on the outside of homes, broken car windows, threatening phone calls, intimidation, physical attacks and even arson. Local media, community leaders and activist groups played a significant role in focusing attention on the problem. In the summer of 1978, internal and external forces combined to bring about significant changes in the way the department dealt with racially motivated crimes. What had been unacknowledged and ignored became officially visible and a high priority for investigation.
An inquiry requested by the police commissioner revealed a persistent and compelling pattern of racial violence. Victims felt that the police were insensitive to their plight and by their indifference sided with the attackers. The characterization of racially motivated incidents as mere "vandalism" ignored the symbolic and aggregate impact of these crimes Ė creating ill-will among racial groups and strengthening the image of Boston as a racially troubled city. Fear and actual violence from the attacks, coupled with police inaction, had the effect of forcing many minorities to move from areas that were predominately white and kept still others from moving into these areas. It was clear that police response to this problem was inadequate and something had to be done (Crime and Delinquency, April 1986).
Moved by these findings, the Police Commissioner officially created the Boston Police Departmentís Community Disorders Unit (CDU) in April of 1978 to coordinate the departmentís investigative activities related to reported bias motivated criminal incidents within the city of Boston. The CDU was the first police unit in the nation that specialized in the investigation of bias motivated criminal activity.
3. How do you measure the programís effectiveness?
The CDU measures its effectiveness both quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitatively, the CDU has seen a decrease in the number of reported bias related crimes. Additionally, the CDU has a high conviction rate of cases brought to trial. Qualitatively, the CDU looks to the community for ongoing assessment. CDU detectives maintain an extremely high level of professionalism, fairness and concern for victims that translates into high community approval. City residents know that the CDU investigates potential civil rights violations very thoroughly before making a determination or charge. They are fair to both the victim and the offender, not downplaying minor incidents or dismissing victimís concerns and feelings, nor quick to bring a civil rights violation charge against an offender. The CDU is effective because it is a "color blind" unit. Minority investigators can work in an all-white community while on the flip side, white investigators can work in minority communities with the ability to be sensitive to the communityís cultural, ethnic and racial differences. 4. How is the program financed?
The CDU is comprised of one (1) lieutenant detective, three (3) sergeant detectives, twelve (12) detectives, one (1) civilian clerk, and two (2) part-time civilian interpreters. Presently, the CDU is funded through the departmentís operating budget. Additionally, during 1998, the CDU received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that paid for proactive and reactive investigations of civil rights related crimes on Boston Housing Authority property and for community outreach.5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?
Proactively, the CDU will address any community group, church group or community-based organization that invites the CDU to speak to them. The CDU will give an overview of the unit and the purpose of its existence, define what a civil rights violation is, give an overview of peopleís rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution, outline what a civil rights violation investigation looks like, and explain what they can and canít do as it relates to the law and their investigations. Additionally, the CDU has created a civil rights curriculum that CDU detectives teach to middle and high school students. Reactively, the CDU will address the community after an incident has taken place in the hopes of educating the community about civil rights violations, gather information about that specific incident, and inform the community about the investigation, without jeopardizing the integrity of the investigation. 6. What are the major lessons learned that would be helpful for others trying to implement a similar program?
The department has learned many lessons since the inception twenty years ago of the Community Disorders Unit.
7. What specific advice do you have for mayors interested in replicating a program such as yours?
See above major lessons for ideas on replication.
For more information, please contact:
Lieutenant David R. Aldrich
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
1620 Eye Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006
Telephone (202) 293-7330, FAX (202) 293-2352