Weekly Wonder: Third party project flagged more than half of allegations against Boston Police officers and employees as “concerning”

By Devyani Chhetri
BU News Service

BOSTON — Police departments across the country have been under heavy scrutiny since the catalyzing event of George Floyd’s death back in May. Demands for reforms in the system have been at the forefront among protesters who haven’t stopped flooding the streets and demanding justice. 

During this time, Nathaniel Story, a Boston based software engineer, unveiled “The Woke Windows” Project, a compendium of data on Boston Police officers and employees conduct and their interactions with citizens. 

BU News Service looked at the 6,318 internal affairs cases opened between 2001 and August 2020 against active officers and employees. 

Fifty-five percent of the IA cases opened against active officers and employees were flagged as “concerning,” “very concerning,” and “most concerning.” These were cases that either had one serious allegation found to be true or some unique allegations clustered together.

More than half of the IA cases, about 63%, were opened in response to citizens’ complaints. The rest were part of an internal investigation.  

Roughly a third of the complaints flagged were for negligent duty or unreasonable judgment. In the little data available on the actions taken, most of the cases were resolved with an oral reprimand. 

Story, who released the database during the summer, cautioned that data analysis of the dataset is complicated and some disclaimers were in order. 

Several officers in the database, he said, might share the same last name, first name and sometimes even the same middle name. This means that numbers might be inflated considering repetitions in the database. 

Additionally, the rating scale that forms the basis of “concerning,” he said, was not scientific and was based on his interpretation while compiling the data, and could be subject to change.

As of publication, allegations classified as concerning included conduct unbecoming, use of force and abuse of process.

Story further cautioned that it is unclear what exactly “negligent duty” or “unreasonable judgment” might entail when it came to allegations. Likely, negligence manifests differently among civilian employees in the Boston Police Department as opposed to the officers. 

Hence, BU News Service’s data analysis was carried out on a case by case basis against officers who are still on the force. Since there were several instances of unavailable data, many cases have likely been left unrepresented. 

Correction: A previous version of the story misstated that Nathan Story’s project was affiliated with the ACLU. Story runs the project independently.

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