Boston police officers once again failed to wear their badges or identify themselves at a public event, but this time one of the 23 top ranking department officials called the department’s “command staff” was on hand to step in. Sadly, when Deputy Superintendent William Ridge did involve himself in the incident, he joined in with his officers in their unlawful behavior and took it a step further by trying to intimidate me.
On July 4, the Boston police deployed outside of the Esplanade area where Boston’s Independence Day celebration is held. I was there to document the police checkpoints at the Esplanade itself, but on my way I noticed four Boston police officers standing in a doorway. Two of the rifle-toting cops were not displaying their badges, so I asked them to identify themselves. They refused. I then asked all of the officers to comply with the Massachusetts police ID card law that requires municipal police officers to carry and show a police ID upon lawful request. Three out of four of the officers refused and the fourth would only show his card to me off camera.
At the officer’s request, I turned off my camera and, to his credit, he began to take out his ID card. But Ridge, who had been standing nearby, suddenly walked up to us to intervene. He ordered the officer not to identify himself. I resumed recording as Ridge refused to show his own ID card, ordered all of the officers not to identify themselves, and then attempted to intimidate me by getting in my face and standing as close to me as possible without touching me. Ridge ordered me to leave, even though I was standing on a public sidewalk and had the right to be there. I chose to walk away at that point because I did not want to be falsely arrested or injured.
This blatant attack on my First Amendment rights to record came only two months after the Boston police publicly apologized for a similar incident. Sergeant Henry Staines got in a man’s face, told him not to record an incident, and flashed a realistic-looking toy gun at him to intimidate him. Boston Police Commissioner William Evans told the media that the Boston police would be retrained after the disturbing video went viral.
According to Evans, Boston police are not only aware that people have the right to record them while in public, they are also trained to always wear their badges and identify themselves to the public. After police in Ferguson were criticized for concealing their name tags, Evans told WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, “We have a clear policy that if anyone asks for our identity or our badge number, we clearly give it to them. We like to be transparent.” The policy Evans refers to is Rule 306A, which states in part: “While in uniform, sworn personnel shall wear their Department badges on the left breast of their outermost garment.”
Despite Evans' assurances, we caught numerous Boston police officers concealing their badges and refusing to identify themselves at an Eric Garner rally in December. We even asked a deputy superintendent who was on scene about why so many police officers were concealing their badges, but he claimed that all the police there were wearing badges and then began ignoring us.
After we released video of the rally, a concerned citizen called into Boston Public Radio, which was again featuring Evans as its guest, and questioned him about the officers' behavior. Evans, who claimed to have watched the video, responded by making erroneous statements about it. He incorrectly claimed that his officers mostly reacted to our questions by putting their badges on and identifying themselves. He called his officers' handling of our concerns “great” and doubled down on his claim that the Boston police always identify themselves properly.
This latest incident with Ridge is the second time in the last few months we have documented a member of the Boston police’s “command staff” failing to uphold department policy and the Massachusetts ID card law. Ridge’s participation in the misconduct and his escalation to intimidation encapsulate the failure of Evans' leadership. If Evans hasn't even gotten his command staff to follow extremely basic policies and laws the way he explains them to the media, he is either misleading the public or has lost control of his staff.