Commissioner Evans Honored to Appear Before the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism & Intelligence in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, September 13, 2017, Commissioner William Evans was invited to appear before the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence in Washington, DC, to discuss lessons learned and best practices developed in the years after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. The focus of the hearing was to reinforce the importance of suspicious activity reporting and better understand and assess the role of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI). Specifically, Commissioner Evans was asked to talk about the BPD’s highly acclaimed relationship building expertise and its incontrovertible impact on our nation's counterterrorism efforts. Said Commissioner Evans: “If you want community members to say something after they’ve seen something, they have to trust the officers entrusted with keeping them safe. Without trust, there will be no sharing. And, there’s no question, we are a safer nation when the community is seeing suspicious activity and immediately sharing that information with our law enforcement agencies.”

Commissioner Evans' full remarks are listed below: 

On behalf of Mayor Martin Walsh and myself, I want to thank the Committee for asking me to participate in this hearing today. As I reflect on the incidents of September 11, 2001, the importance of partnerships with law enforcement agencies, public and private partners, and the public, is only reaffirmed.

In my 37 years with the Boston Police Department, I have seen policing strategies evolve significantly and can state with certainty that given recent world events police-community relations have never been more important than they are today. To that end, as the Police Commissioner for the City of Boston, I continue to focus on strengthening our relationship with the community through the expansion of community policing efforts, including proactive prevention and diversion for at-risk youth and their families, partnerships and collaborations with service providers, non-profits and community based programs, and expansive participation in neighborhood activities. Only through continued and persistent engagement with our community can police build trust, leading to increased cooperation from the community.

It is imperative that an officer’s role as a relationship-builder be ingrained from the start.  For a Boston police officer, community engagement and dialogue starts in the Boston Police Academy. While historically police training was focused on military style training, times have changed and so has the policing curriculum.  Knowing appropriate policing tactics is an important part of police training, but so is learning to positively and respectfully engage and interact with the community we serve.  While in the Academy, recruit officers interact with a community partners’ panel, perform a full week of community service projects, and complete community policing case studies.  As part of the community service project, recruit officers are sent out into the community to identify and address a current community concern. At the conclusion of the project, recruit officers report out to the Command Staff on the problem-solving process, including a description of the problem, their recommended solution, and their overall experience with the community.  I am a firm believer that officers are community problem solvers at all levels, and these types of interactions serve as the foundation for a well-rounded and effective police officer. 

In addition to the community interaction, the recruit curriculum now includes significant procedural justice and bias free policing training.  Ensuring that officers are aware of their inherent biases, and how those biases may affect their ability to do their job only further enhances their relationship with the community.  In addition to the recruit training, bias free policing has been stressed to all members of the Department.  In July 2015, the Department issued its Bias Free Policing policy and required all officers to complete an e-learning course as part of in-service training. The policy was issued to clarify the circumstances in which officers can consider personal characteristics, such as race and gender, when making enforcement decisions and to identify ongoing efforts to ensure that biased policing does not occur within the Department.   In addition to stressing community engagement and non-biased policing, Departmental training also focuses on de-escalation tactics.  I could give countless examples of times when a Boston Police officer would have been justified in using deadly force, but given the situation determined deadly force was not necessary.  Boston Police officers are instead trained to use de-escalation techniques and less lethal, or non lethal, force when confronted with the most difficult scenarios.  The Department’s focus on de-escalation has only served to increase the public’s trust in the Department, and has been a key component to building confidence with our community. 

After completing the Academy, Boston Police officers continue to engage the community once out on the street, which encourages the community to “See Something, Say Something.”  Members of the Department participate in neighborhood Peace Walks in the neighborhoods most impacted by violence.  In addition to police officers, these walks include members of the clergy and community partners, and provide an opportunity for citizens to personally interact with the officers assigned to their community. Similarly, each of the Department’s eleven (11) neighborhood stations run community outreach and youth activities through their community service offices including the Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway, the Senior Citizens Ball, sports leagues, arts programs, youth/police dialogues, community service projects, neighborhood block parties, junior police academy, neighborhood “flashlight” walks, “Coffee with a Cop,” safety briefings, neighborhood watch, and collaborations with local non-profit and faith based partners. During the summer months, the Department deploys “Operation Hoodsie Cup” into our neighborhoods. Through the use of an ice cream truck, officers deliver free ice cream to children and community residents, again fostering one on one interaction with officers and the community.

Additionally, the Department has many programs focused on youth engagement.  The Boston Police Teen Academy helps students connect with officers in their community, while also building character and learning life skills, all with a major focus on conflict resolution. Participants earn minimum wages for their program attendance and receive gift cards provided by local businesses to help with the purchase of back to school clothes and supplies. Through Operation Homefront, a collaboration with the School Police Unit, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Police, School Safety, Social Service Agencies and Faith Based Organizations, the Department furthers the idea that family is the first line of defense against gang activity and truancy. With information provided by our local schools regarding concerning behaviors that may affect school safety, officers and clergy members work together to conduct home visits for at risk youth. This collaboration provides a crucial link to parents in our neighborhoods and offers various resources for parents, students and teachers to utilize when preventing problems for students in the public school system. Officers also participate in P.A.L. to PALS, a monthly visit to local Boys and Girls Clubs in Boston. The visits include a dialogue on the officers’ assignment followed by a physical activity, such as officers playing basketball with the children. Similarly, the Department partners with the Boy Scouts of America to provide young men and women who have an interest in the field of law enforcement with career orientation experiences, leadership opportunities and community service activities. The Boston Police Academy also hosts an annual “Big for a Day” in partnership with the Big Sister’s Association. The program matches “little sisters” between the ages of 7 and 15 with women in the Department. Over the course of the day, Department personnel and the “little sisters” participate in a variety of police related activities. Earlier this year the Department unveiled the “Bigs in Blue” program, which connects Boston youth with current police officers to build strong, trusting, lasting relationships between law enforcement, the City’s youth and their families. Also, in 2014, Mayor Walsh established Operation Exit - a program which places at-risk residents, including those with a criminal background, into a trade apprenticeship program. Through career readiness and occupational skills training, the program provides hands-on learning experiences with peer-to-peer mentorship to prepare participants for successful careers. This program has proven to be enormously successful as the vast majority of those who have completed the program have left their criminal pasts behind, and are now thriving, productive members of our community.   The Department’s participation in these youth focused events, as well as others throughout the City, further helps to break down walls between youth and police, support our community policing efforts, and foster an ongoing dialogue with our officers.

In addition to the extensive interactive community engagement, in August 2015, I created the Social Justice Task Force. The Task Force is comprised of Command Staff members and various community leaders, advocates, educators and members of the clergy, all of whom meet on a periodic basis to discuss current issues facing the Department and the community.  The goal of the Task Force is to engage community leaders and receive feedback on various Department initiatives and plans, develop solutions to current concerns, and ensure the right information is getting out to the community.  The Task Force has provided feedback on recruitment efforts and the hiring and promotion process, re-instituting the Cadet program, and the Body Worn Camera Pilot Program, to name just a few topics. Members of the Task Force have assisted with summer violence prevention efforts, encouraged the community to participate in Peace Walks, and participated in meetings in our neighborhoods to discuss the public’s concerns and further improve our relationships with the community.  Outside of the periodic meetings, I personally call on these trusted partners to seek guidance and feedback on emerging issues and concerns.

The Department’s relationship with the community is further strengthened by our strong social media presence.  In the days following the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013, the Department used social media to inform the public without inciting fear, to instruct the residents on what to do, and to instill a feeling of safety within the community. This method of communication proved invaluable during such a difficult time in Boston.  Since 2014 the Department has seen a steady increase in the number of social media followers, and currently has 496,000 Twitter followers, 190,000 Facebook followers (and has received 200,000 “likes”), 21,500 Instagram followers and receives an average of 2.46 million page views per year on the Department’s website, BPDNews.com. Social media has allowed me to increase transparency and information sharing by posting the results of internal affairs investigations, seeking the identity of persons of interest and suspects in criminal activity, and seeking the community’s assistance in locating missing persons.

While calling 9-1-1 remains the most commonly used means to share information with the Department, our constant physical presence in the community, as well as our on-line presence, affords members of the public with additional avenues to share information with police officers. To that end, the Department also operates an anonymous tip line that allows people to confidentially send information, either by phone or text, directly to the Department if they observe a crime or other suspicious activity.

Not only does the Department coordinate with the community to solve crime, but coordination with our law enforcement and private partners is an integral part of our success.  The Department participates in Urban Shield Boston - a multi-agency training exercise funded by the Department of Homeland Security designed to enhance the skills and abilities of our region’s first responders, as well as those responsible for coordinating and managing large scale incidents, and other members of the community.  This exercise identifies and stretches regional resources to their limits and strengthens incident command systems, while expanding regional collaboration and building relationships. Similarly, in June 2016, the Department, in collaboration with the Boston Red Sox, the Department of Homeland Security, and the United States Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, conducted a multijurisdictional counterterrorism exercise at Fenway Park. The objective of the training exercise was to prepare law enforcement officials, first responders, and Fenway Park personnel in emergency procedures and protocols in the event of a mass emergency. This exercise was the first of its kind across the nation and included various threats (i.e., suicide vests, drones, and active shooters), as well as the testing of various security technologies (i.e., vapor dogs, anti-drone technology, and remote precision robotics).

All Boston Police officers also receive training on suspicious activity and characteristics reporting, led by members of the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), the 2013 Fusion Center of the Year recipient. During this training, officers are given examples of suspicious activities, including weapons collection, surveillance, recruiting and testing or probing of security, and are reminded of behaviors to look for during major public events. Officers have multiple options for reporting suspicious activity, including in a police report or by contacting the BRIC directly. Analysts assigned to the BRIC can provide additional information when such a report is received, through open source research and information sharing with other law enforcement agencies. Additionally, Homeland Security Analysts assigned to the BRIC are able to track the event as a Suspicious Activity Report, which enables them to identify trends and patterns, as well as share information with other law enforcement agencies.

In addition to training with our partners, the Department has developed a comprehensive information sharing partnership with our public and private sector stakeholders called BRIC Shield, based in part on the NYPD Shield program. There are more than 1,000 stakeholders from the private sector and non-governmental organizations across the Metro Boston Region registered to receive and share information through BRIC Shield for public safety and homeland security purposes. The information shared includes the latest crime bulletins, pattern and trend analysis of criminal activity in the region, international, national and regional analysis of homeland security incidents and threats as they relate to the region, real time alerts and situational awareness updates. The BRIC also houses the Department’s Real Time Crime Center, which allows analysts to monitor events in real time and provide officers with timely information, often as the incident is unfolding.

To further ensure the continuous flow of information, the Department has officers assigned to the National Network of Fusion Centers, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the International Association of Chiefs of Police Committee on Terrorism, the Major City Chiefs Intelligence Commanders Group, and the National Operations Center. The Department’s representation within these organizations and committees further supports the continuous flow of information among our law enforcement partners. The Department also works with its local, national and international partners to provide training and ensure the safety of those in these communities. For example, the Department partners with local hospitals in the “Run, Hide, Fight” training exercise to prepare employees in the event of an active shooter situation, and has provided active shooter training to countless schools, businesses, and agencies.

Information sharing with public and private partners has served as an invaluable tool in combating crime in our City. For example, in August 2015 the BRIC received an email from security personnel at a local convention center regarding a possible threat made on social media to the Pokémon World Championship.  The information was evaluated by the BRIC and analysts were able to identify the suspects and send out a request for information to Boston area hotels. Upon the suspects’ arrival at the convention, the two individuals were stopped at the door by law enforcement and a search warrant was later executed on their vehicle.  The men were taken into custody after officers found assault weapons and ammunition in the trunk of their car. Both men ultimately plead guilty and were sentenced to two years in prison.

Similarly, through collaboration with multiple agencies across the country to understand the dynamics of MS-13, a BRIC analyst identified a possible connection between a MS-13 member wanted in a series of assaults and an individual wanted for questioning in a New Jersey homicide investigation. Working with its network of partners across the United States to share criminal intelligence, along with an investigation by Boston Police Youth Violence Strike Force officers, the Department confirmed that these suspects were in fact the same person and coordinated with representatives from the New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office to conduct a series of interviews with the suspect in Boston. This information and investigation ultimately resulted in the arrest of the suspect following his admitted involvement in the New Jersey homicide.

The success of the Department is directly attributable to increased trust with the community through relationship building, information sharing, and increased awareness and training.  The ongoing dialogue with our community and law enforcement partners, coupled with the targeted and strategic deployment of resources and an increase in training, has led to a steady decrease in Part 1 Crime over the last ten years, with a 38% decrease from 2007 to 2016. Similarly, arrests have seen a 51% decrease during the same time period.  This reduction clearly demonstrates that we are not arresting our way out of a problem, but instead focusing our efforts where they need to be - community engagement and strategic deployment.  Our positive relationship with the community has also helped the Department handle our many large-scale events of the recent past.  From Occupy Boston to our Boston sports teams’ victory parades to the Free Speech Rally a few weeks back – without the community’s support and assistance we would not have been able to keep each of these events controlled and violence free.  Police need the trust and faith of the community they serve to effectively prevent, respond to and solve crimes. That trust is built through the tireless efforts of each officer, from the recruit officer to the Police Commissioner, to engage people in the community: one conversation at a time.