Why Does Boston Police Bypass Qualified Minority Candidates?

Employment, Racial Justice

If the Boston Police Department Truly Values Diversity, Why Does It Bypass Qualified Minority Individuals Who Apply To Be Police Officers?

Despite its claims to value diversity on the police force, the Boston Police Department (BPD) continues to stand in the way of diversity by improperly “bypassing” candidates of color who apply to be police officers — i.e. removing them from the civil service list in favor of lower-ranking candidates.

To combat this closed-door process, the Lawyers’ Committee and our Board Member David S. Godkin, from Birnbaum & Godkin LLP, filed a complaint for judicial review in the Suffolk Superior Court on behalf of Keon Finklea, a Black man and a native Bostonian, who was bypassed when he applied to be a full-time police officer for the City of Boston.

Mr. Finklea is exactly the kind of person BPD should want on the force. When he applied to become a Boston Police Officer and BPD conducted a background check on him, his current and prior employers — including the Boston Public Works Department — described him in glowing terms (“a great guy who works hard and has nearly perfect attendance,” “great asset to the company … great leadership skills,” “[did] a phenomenal job … and demonstrated maturity and idealism.”). His personal references similarly vouched for his integrity, noting that he mentors youth in the community, helped care for his younger sister after his mother passed away, has a keen sense of right and wrong, and is skilled at de-escalating volatile situations.

Nonetheless, BPD denied Mr. Finklea employment because of an incident that occurred 14 years ago when he was a teenager, involving a stolen tire that a friend gave to him, and his driving record which included a handful of minor infractions.

Mr. Finklea appealed the bypass decision pro se to the Civil Service Commission (CSC), which upheld the bypass based on his driving record. One of the Commissioners, however, issued a vigorous dissent, objecting to BPD’s “rote disqualification of otherwise well-qualified young men and women, such as Mr. Finklea, based entirely on hearsay evidence of a BPD’s ’roundtable’ review.” The dissenting Commissioner concluded that “with all of the positive attributes that commended him, and no lawful reason for his bypass, basic merit principles require that Mr. Finklea receive another consideration for appointment.”

The subjective nature of BPD’s employment processes, the lack of transparency, and the lack of commitment to diversity are unfortunately nothing new.  Just last year, the Civil Service Commission conducted an investigation into BPD’s hiring practices, finding numerous irregularities and ordering remedial measures.  Other BPD efforts to stymie diversity include pouring millions of taxpayer dollars into defending a scientifically unreliable and discriminatory hair drug test that disproportionately generates false positives for Black officers, and fighting against a federal court ruling that found discrimination in the BPD promotions process.

The complaint filed last Friday asks the Court to remand back to the Civil Service Commission for another hearing, during which Mr. Finklea will be represented by counsel.

This case was featured in the Boston Globe and the Bay State Banner.