Walsh declares racism a public health crisis in Boston, reallocates $12M from police OT budget

BOSTON — Boston Mayor Marty Walsh declared racism a public health crisis in the city Friday morning.

The mayor announced the city would immediately transfer $3 million from the police overtime budget to the Public Health Commission.

Mayor Walsh described racism as “a slow-moving disaster that hurts communities and individuals over the course of a lifetime.” He said this would be initial set of actions for racial equity in the city that would be followed up on in the coming months.

“This is the beginning, not the end,” he said. "On May 25...the public conversation changed...young people refused and still refuse to accept the injustices of the past.”

The Public Health Commission will begin by tracking health data of minority communities to find ways to close inequities in the greater Boston community.

“I’ve been listening to that movement. I’ve been listening to black Americans and people of color in my life, on my team,” Walsh said.

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Walsh said the city would also begin by taking steps to reform police oversight. The city will review all use of force policies, review police protocol, present findings to the community and implement reform.

“[This plan] is designed to sustain change,” Walsh said.

Earlier this week, police announced a new program with new use of force policies. The department said their current rules and procedures include most of the “8 Can’t Wait” reforms by Campaign Zero, but they’ve clarified some policies including a review of the use of chokeholds.

“Since the mayor has come in, we’ve reviewed policies, procedures, rules and regulations,” Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said. “Since the death of George Floyd, it is the responsibility of every one of Boston’s citizens to make sure that kind of cowardly murder doesn’t happen here...that means [police] working in partnership with the community to create a better quality of life for all...This is a community policing model."

“I would like to thank Commissioner [William] Gross for taking quick steps to address this,” Walsh said.

The Boston Police Department has also eliminated its use of the “hair test” for evidence of drug use.

A total of $12 million of the police overtime budget will also be reallocated. In addition to the $3 million for the Public Health Commission, money will be allocated for the following uses:

  • The initial $3 million to implement our Public Health declaration.
  • $1 million to support trauma response and counseling at the @HealthyBoston Commission.
  • $2 million for community investments through other @CityofBoston departments, including violence prevention, language access, food security, immigrant advancement, elder support, and the Human Rights Commission.
  • $2 million for programs supporting minority and women-owned businesses.
  • $2 million for housing security and ending youth homelessness.
  • $2 million for emergency clinicians and mental health supports provided through @BostonPolice when they respond to residents in crisis.

"This will help police officers,” he said when asked about reallocating money from a police department he says has done a good job of reviewing its policies.

Boston 25 News asked how they’re going to operate with 20% less overtime budget.“So, we’ll get the jo done. Quite frankly, what I’ve heard in the community is we wear too many hats anyway.

A child doesn’t want to go to school, you call the Boston Police.

A child on the bus being unruly, you call the Boston Police. There’s an emotionally disturbed person in a home, you call the Boston Police.

How many hats do you want us to wear? So I think that responsibility should be spread out.”

Commissioner Gross said police “will get the job done" and that they’ve heard from the community they “wear too many hats anyway.” He said people call Boston police for things that aren’t police responsibility.

“A child doesn’t want to go to school, you call the Boston Police. A child on the bus being unruly, you call the Boston Police. There’s an emotionally disturbed person in a home, you call the Boston Police.”

“How many hats do you want us to wear?” Gross asked.

Gross said he wants to see the responsibility of caring for the community spread out.

“We don’t want to respond to every single call when it doesn’t require a uniform...maybe it requires mental health support. That will cut overtime right there,” he said.

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