Boston's city council is set to vote Wednesday on a now-unified proposal to create a police civilian review board and another measure that would limit the use of chemical agents by cops. The city council had been mulling two competing police-reform proposals, one from Mayor Martin Walsh this fall and the other from City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Julia Mejia and Ricardo Arroyo from the summer, that agreed in broad strokes but sparked frustrated exchanges over the details. City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who chairs the committee on government operations, said she plans to pull the unified ordinance out of committee for a vote Wednesday, during the council's last meeting of the year. "I think there's a true, genuine attempt by all sides to get things done," Edwards said. The final proposal -- the details of which were still being hashed out Tuesday afternoon -- keeps the mayor's preferred structure of separate boards for civilian complaints and internal-affairs oversight, but will create both by ordinance, rather than executive order.
Several city councilors looked askance at a proposal to get rid of the possibility of a special election for Boston mayor this year, saying it would have poor optics. "This vote, this action, would certainly benefit some," City Councilor Matt O'Malley said. "I would hate it to seem that we're putting the thumb on the scale for anyone." The legislation, from City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, would specifically eliminate the possibility of a special election for Boston mayor in 2021. As a home-rule petition, it would need the sign-off of the council, Mayor Martin Walsh, the Legislature and the governor to go into effect.
Calls for police reform by way of budget reallocation and massive revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns are on a collision course around the country, but Boston averted a fiscal disaster as the City Council voted to pass Mayor Marty Walsh's annual budget yesterday. It was a squeaker, but the budget passed 8-5. Compromise seemed to be off the table going in to the vote -- several councilors had already publicly discussed rejecting the budget as it didn't fund major police reforms. Councilor Michelle Wu on Tuesday announced that she intended to vote against the budget, saying, "This proposal makes insufficient progress in creating accountability, appropriately funding public health and making investments in housing stability, education equity and economic access, particularly for communities of color." Rejecting the budget would have triggered a 1/12 budget -- which would level-fund departments but not allow for contractual increases in spending.
Boston would become the largest U.S. city east of San Francisco to ban the use of facial-recognition technology by any city agency if a local law proposed by two city councilors is adopted. "It would mean that the Boston city government, including Boston police and any other department, could not use any state surveillance system," City Councilor-at-Large Michelle Wu said at a press briefing before a hearing that drew more than 100 people to weigh in on the proposal. "To be clear, Boston police already … have said that they do not use it today." The ban would prevent any city agency from using face surveillance software and ensure that people are not subject to unregulated, mass surveillance in public spaces, such as at protests like the ones that have roiled Boston and other cities since last month's killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer. The technology some police departments use when looking for suspects furthers racial inequity by identifying people of color at a higher rate, City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo said.
Boston will become the second largest city in the US to ban facial recognition software for government use after a unanimous city council vote. Following San Francisco, which banned facial recognition in 2019, Boston will bar city officials from using facial recognition systems. The ordinance will also bar them from working with any third party companies or organizations to acquire information gathered through facial recognition software. The ordinance was co-sponsored by Councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Michelle Wu, who were especially concerned about the potential for racial bias in the technology, according to a report from WBUR. 'Boston should not be using racially discriminatory technology and technology that threatens our basic rights,' Wu said at a hearing before the vote.