Suing Boston Police Department For Diversity Data
Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) and pro bono counsel, David S. Godkin, of Birnbaum & Godkin LLP, filed a lawsuit against the City of Boston and the Boston Police Department (BPD), seeking public records regarding diversity in BPD and demanding timely compliance with the Massachusetts Public Record Law. Access to public records helps maintain transparency and accountability in government, but according to the lawsuit, the City’s law enforcement agency regularly flouts statutory deadlines by months when requests from the public are made.
On January 4, 2019, LCR submitted a request for public records related to the racial impact of BPD employment practices, specifically in relation to the hiring, promotion, discipline or termination of applicants and employees of color. Despite countless follow-up inquiries, BPD has not produced any records for 116 business days. While the Massachusetts Public Records Law default timeline for compliance is 10 business days, BPD regularly fails to respond to requests for months at a time.
“BPD cannot shirk scrutiny of their actions by failing to produce records that the public are entitled to view,” said Sophia Hall, Supervising Attorney at the Lawyers for Civil Rights. David S. Godkin, pro bono counsel from Birnbaum & Godkin noted: “Access to public records in a timely manner increases transparency and permits community members to hold government accountable on an ongoing basis. BPD is not exempt from that legal responsibility to the public.”
The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring BPD not only to produce the specific requested records, but to comply with the timelines set forth in the Public Records Law in the future for all requestors. BPD’s failure to comply with the law’s timelines in this specific instance is not an isolated event. A review of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Public Record Appeal Tracking System, the website that tracks complaints from requestors who have unsuccessfully sought public records, indicates that in 2019 alone, BPD was found non-responsive—failing to produce any records in response to a request—in at least 18 of 23 public record cases decided by the Supervisor of Records.
“The Legislature established timelines for public records compliance for a reason,” noted Attorney Hall. “When an agency delays in producing records, as BPD routinely does, by the time the information is released, it may already be stale and outdated. That harms the public’s right to know.”
LCR v COB Complaint