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Independent Report: Create Citizen Review Board, End Civil Service for WPD

By Tom Marino | March 19, 2024
Last Updated: March 19, 2024

WORCESTER – An independent report by the non-profit research and analysis organization CNA, which was commissioned by the City of Worcester, recommends three actions to recognize and address any negative impact of bias, improve diversity, and include community voices in shaping public safety strategies. These recommendations include creating a Citizen Review Board, removal from the Massachusetts Civil Service system, and creating a Citizen Advisory Council.

The report, “Racial Equity Audit of the Worcester Police Department,” makes 34 total recommendations in its conclusion. This piece covers three recommendations in the report.

The report will be presented to city council during its meeting on Tuesday, March 19, inside the Esther Howland (South) Chamber at Worcester City Hall,  starting at 6:30 PM. The meeting is available on Zoom or a local public access channel. The report is item 8.39 B on the meeting agenda.

Citizen Review Board

In the report’s conclusions related to “Complaints and Professional Standards,” in finding 32, the report says, “Both WPD staff and community stakeholders perceived bias and favoritism in how complaints and disciplinary actions are handled.” It recommends that, “The WPD should engage in formal conversations with the City of Worcester to discuss the establishment of a civilian oversight body.”

Some residents have supported citizen oversight of the police department for several years. The Worcester City Council and multiple city managers have ensured those efforts have gone nowhere.

A search of city documents through the city website shows the following related to civilian review boards:

  • June 1, 1999: A petition to city council to establish a civilian review board, with nearly 50 signatures, placed on file (To place on file means to take no further action.);
  • Sept. 1, 2000: A communication from the Committee on Public Safety relative to Civilian Review Panel. The communication was placed on file;
  • Sept. 20, 2000: An order from the City Council Committee on Public Safety which recommends city council place on file a request for one signatory of the June 1, 1999 petition to speak regarding a civilian review board.
  • Dec. 23, 2008: An adopted request by city council for reports on standing committee hearings in 1998 from the Research Bureau on the topic of a civilian review board.
  • Nov. 14, 2012: An order by the City Council Committee on Public Safety recommending a petition of Dec. 23, 2008 to establish a civilian review board be placed on file.
  • April 15, 2015: An adopted city council order requesting a report on the feasibility of establishing an independent Civilian Police Review Board.
  • August 16, 2016: A petition for city council to hold public hearings on improving transparency, community oversight, and the use of body cameras placed on file.
  • June 20, 2020: An order passed unanimously by city council to request a report from the police chief on creating a civilian review board/commission with subpoena power.

The search did not produce any result that any of the requested reports were ever produced.

Leadership of both police unions have previously voiced strong opposition to civilian review of police misconduct. Detractors of citizen-led oversight of police is biased and without the expertise needed.

The current disciplinary system within the Worcester Police Department involves an investigation by the Bureau of Professional Standards (BOPS), a unit within the department, which makes recommendations to leadership on the culpability of police officers when accused of misconduct or other policy violations.

Massachusetts Civil Service System

In finding eight, the report finds that, ” Both WPD staff and community members raised concerns that the WPD’s current promotion process may be lacking.” In its description of the finding, it says, “The WPD’s leadership, rank-and-file officers, and community stakeholders generally agree on the need to give other factors more consideration.”

The report provides two recommendations with this finding:

  • The City, in consultation with WPD stakeholders, should consider removal from the Massachusetts civil service system, enabling the department to tailor its hiring and promotion policies more effectively in order to advance equity and diversity; and
  • The City, in consultation with WPD stakeholders ,should consider revising promotions criteria to give additional weight to experience and other valued characteristics.

The Massachusetts Civil Service system is a standardized testing system that determines hiring and promotions eligibility based on a multiple-choice test. Few other factors are allowed for consideration, which primarily prioritizes memorization of test material over all other characteristics.

Worcester City Manager Eric Batista has submitted to the Worcester City Council a request for authorization “to file a petition with the General Court which would exempt the positions of Chief of Police and Deputy Chief of Police in the City of Worcester from Civil Service law.”  In the letter accompanying the CNA report, he says, “this will allow me to choose candidates who will best serve the City based on their experience and background, not their score on a test.”

Batista does not address why he has only sought to exempt leadership from the standardized testing system.

The report notes that, “Many other organizations across Massachusetts and the county have transitioned away from civil service in promotions for executive leadership,” including Boston and Cambridge.

The city’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Committee recommended the city opt-out of the civil service system in December 2021. At least 36 police departments in Massachusetts have elected to opt-out of the civil service system.

Community Advisory Council

In the section on Community-oriented policing engagement and practices, in finding 25, the report says, “There are no active formal mechanisms to regularly gather community input on WPD policing strategies, priorities, operations, and current practices.” In the description of the finding, the authors say that “Both external and internal stakeholders have expressed that the WPD would benefit from a citizen advisory council (CAC)”.

The report recommends that, “The City and the WPD should establish a CAC at the commander level to address specific local issues in the community.” It also recommends, “The WPD should ensure that the selection process is transparent and completed by an outside party.”


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