Editorial: Police communications must improve

The Boston Police Department flubbed badly in waiting days to warn the general public about brutal armed robbers lurking at Jamaica Pond.

Anyone will mess up now and again, but the really troubling issue is BPD’s persistent communications problems that are undermining its supposed community-policing strategy. Public trust is crucial, and things like this don’t help.

BPD flubbed again by responding to community concerns about the lack of notice with dismissive platitudes instead of a real explanation and solutions. Let’s be clear: It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to know these robbers were unusually dangerous, and that it was just plain crazy not to warn the public immediately.

Unlike most muggers, these robbers confronted large groups. They sadistically kidnapped a man, tied him to a tree, and tormented him at their leisure. The only surefire safety tip was to avoid their hunting grounds. But the public could not, for days.

BPD’s public relations arm is chaotic. It is unclear who, if anyone, is actually running its communications strategy. A small, overworked staff handles media and public relations. Much of that work consists of postings to BPDNews.com, a blog that haphazardly mingles crucial information with newsletter material. As the Gazette has seen first-hand, it is increasingly hard to get other valuable info out of headquarters—including about the pond robberies.

At the local level, BPD tends to be much better. JP’s District E-13 Police Station has an excellent Community Service Office staff that regularly communicates with such organizations as crime watches—which were the first to alert anyone to the robberies. But often it is hamstrung by police hierarchy, which demands that info requests go through headquarters—which then doesn’t respond.

BPD often announces crimes promptly, and public impatience shouldn’t be the sole reason to release potentially sensitive info. But communication goofs are becoming a pattern. A year ago, BPD had a similar controversy in Mission Hill, where it failed to warn the public after a woman was choked unconscious by a maniac on the street. And there’s controversy in Mission Hill once again after BPD took time (much less time, however) to warn folks there about very similar gang robberies—and an apparent homicide—in a public park.

BPD officers deserve praise for catching two Franklin Park robbery suspects after a daring and dangerous chase. That’s the crucial work that BPD often does well. But it can’t always find suspects to chase on its own.

BPD knows that the public is its best partner in crime-fighting. But that takes trust, which comes from communications. BPD needs help on that front—whether it wants it or not. Either way, our elected officials should ask for a plan and offer the resources to carry it out.

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