Police Commissioner Gross Takes The Heat But Doesn’t Sweat

It appears that, in doing his job as he sees fit, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross has become a foil in the recent efforts by some members of the Boston City Council to challenge the executive authority and political power of Mayor Marty Walsh. Commissioner Gross was essentially forced to issue a statement last week in the wake of criticism and heated debate about his decision to meet with U.S. Attorney General William Barr after an impromptu request by the AG to do so.

In his statement, Gross acknowledged that the surprise visit would stir controversy, stating: “A meeting does not mean I agree with his policies in any way, but I hope he walked away knowing a little more about ours.”

“As Police Commissioner, I often have to put my personal feelings aside. The top law enforcement official in the country requested a meeting with the Boston Police Department and I would rather take the opportunity to educate someone on what we are doing in Boston on how we value and work with the community, and how we support our officers in this work, than close a door.”

The U.S. Justice Department tweeted about the meeting on Thursday, noting it is the first time a U.S. Attorney General has visited the Boston Police Department. “Thank you, Comm. Gross, for your wonderful hospitality and invaluable insight and advice,” the Tweet said.

Several Boston politicians condemned the meeting, including City Councilor Michelle Wu. In a Tweet, she referred to the visit as a “disgrace to our city.” Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell also tweeted about the visit, stating: “Defund whatever the hell this is.” Her tweet comes as cities across Massachusetts grapple with police reforms in the wake of the officer-involved death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis. Protests across the country have called upon leaders to defund police departments.

Attorney General Barr has become the ‘poster child’ of the Trump Administration and has been the target of Democrats ever since his office has begun to issue orders that they say have ‘politicized’ the Justice Department. Notwithstanding the fact that every one knows that every thing that happens in Washington DC is political, Barr appears to believe that his discretion is rooted in the rule of law, while Democrats and others, including former justice department lawyers and lawyers around the country, think otherwise.

Back to Commissioner Gross. Other members of the City Council, in addition to Councilors Wu and Campbell, aver that he put himself in a compromising ‘political’ situation, having taken a photograph with Barr that was ‘shared’ in a tweet by the Justice Department, and gave cover to a “person who upholds the racist policies of Donald Trump”. The Commissioner however, unlike his critics who believe that their obligation is to incessantly attack the Trump Administration, believes that he has an obligation to both protect the citizens of Boston from criminal brutality, including police brutality, and support the overwhelming numbers of dedicated and well-trained members of his Department.  

Sloganeering, as a shorthand way to push an ambiguous agenda such as “defunding”, is considered the politically lazy approach to messaging and is used by single-minded activists to buttonhole political leaders into one-word responses to a complicated question. Police department protocols surely need to be reviewed and, in some cases, reformed. Commissioner Gross has become a champion of community policing and civic engagement. He is also a leader focused on not only identifying and rooting out criminals and the criminal element they breed and helping to solve major crimes, but also directing what resources he can to help attack the underling causes of crime, such as mental health, broken homes and lack of job opportunities.

That being the case, it would seem to make a lot more sense to fund, not defund, a department that is in the trenches 24-7. Redeploying funds from a Police Department budget to other agencies, most of whom are 9-5 entities and have targeted missions, may not be a sound initiative unless it is well thought out and keeps the police as a key player in the equation. Having Willie Gross in the room, at the table and even leading the initiative, seems to be a prudent option. You see, when the heat is on, Willie Gross doesn’t sweat.