Maura In The News

Historic moment for police
O'Toole takes reins, promises a 'team effort'
By Michael S. Rosenwald and Andrea Estes, Globe Staff, 2/20/2004

Kathleen M. O'Toole pledged to dedicate herself to community policing, homeland security, and improving officers' morale, as she was sworn in yesterday as Boston's 38th police commissioner, becoming the first woman to lead the nation's oldest police department.

During a ceremony at a Dorchester middle school replete with bagpipes, drums, and officers in their official dress uniforms, O'Toole promised that a department known internationally for its success in fighting street crime would not "rest on our laurels."

Community policing, a key to curbing violence in the city during the last decade, will be reinforced, and new partnerships in the city's neighborhoods will be formed, she said.

Calling herself an "eternal optimist," O'Toole said she hoped the department would one day boast about officers' high morale. "This will be a team effort, with the best input coming from cops on the beat and those living and working in our neighborhoods," said O'Toole, a former Boston police officer, state public safety secretary, and most recently a law enforcement consultant.

Department observers said O'Toole's comments, which she has aired informally in forums across the city since Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced her appointment nearly two weeks ago, were in some ways a direct reaction to criticism of her predecessor, Paul F. Evans, who resigned last November to take a job in the British government.

Some officers have said the department has floundered in recent years, despite experiencing some of the lowest crime statistics in the city's history, because of Evans's poor relationship with the rank and file and his command staff's unwillingness to listen to innovative ideas from those on the front lines.

"I want the real focus to be where it belongs, on the Boston Police Department, on the men and women, sworn and civilian, who work day in and day out to make this city a safer place," O'Toole said.

Then she asked officers Scott O'Brien and Kevin Ford, both recently shot in the line of duty, to rise, saying, "I can't tell you how honored I am that they're both here today."

The officers received a standing ovation from the 250 people in the auditorium at the New Boston Pilot Middle School.

In attendance for the approximately half-hour ceremony were Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, Suffolk Sheriff Andrea Cabral, several Boston city councilors, community leaders, and law enforcement officials from around the state. Former Suffolk district attorney Ralph C. Martin II officiated.

Sitting in the front row was O'Toole's mentor when she joined the Boston police force in 1979, former commissioner William Bratton, now the police chief of Los Angeles, who was mobbed by reporters before the ceremony.

"I think at this point in time, she's extremely well suited for the challenges of this organization," Bratton said. "Her greatest quality is that she is inspirational. People respond to her spirit, her enthusiasm, her creativity."

Bratton said it was important to point out that O'Toole is joining a growing number of women leading major police departments. She is the fourth woman in recent months to be named to lead a big city department, following appointments in San Francisco, Detroit, and Milwaukee.

Menino has said he didn't pick O'Toole because she is a woman, but in the nearly two weeks since she was chosen community leaders say O'Toole has brought a new sensibility to the job that people are responding to quickly. As he put it yesterday, "We've not only made history today, we're preparing for the future."

"She was different, " said Kathy Gabriel, a Dorchester activist who met O'Toole at a community policing meeting this week in Mattapan. "We have a very tough group, but I felt reassured. She listened to our concerns and seemed to care."

"It was the first time I saw the commissioner at our monthly meeting," said Andre Smith, another Dorchester activist who attended the same session.

Marnie Schultz, co-president of Boston National Organization for Women, said O'Toole has shown qualities common in women leaders.

"She's looking at building consensus," Schultz said. "She's asking for opinions and looking to people who have the knowledge and isn't afraid to hurt people's feelings and shake things up. These are qualities we have seen in women politicians in general. Women and men are concerned about the same issues, but the way they approach them isn't always the same."

Councilor at Large Maura Hennigan, a vocal Menino administration critic, said O'Toole has done everything right so far. Since she was appointed on Feb. 8, O'Toole has let patrolmen vent over stalled contract talks, visited an officer who was shot, reached out to community groups throughout the city, and consoled families of murder victims.

"I've been impressed with every step she's taken," Hennigan said. "She's gone out to the community and been with people. Given the horrible murders we've had recently, it makes a big difference."

O'Toole said she recognizes the significance of her appointment and hopes she will be a role model for young women thinking about a career in law enforcement. "It is certainly a privilege not only to be the Boston police commissioner, but also the first female Boston police commissioner," she said. "I hope I can live up to the expectations people have and I hope I can be a good role model for young people, particularly young women."

Before Menino swore her in, O'Toole sat between her husband, Dan, a retired Boston police detective, and their daughter, Meghan, a junior at Trinity College in Ireland.

O'Toole was also flanked on stage by the department's command staff, including two of the candidates for her job: Superintendent-in-chief James M. Hussey, who was the interim commissioner, and Superintendent Robert Dunford. O'Toole has promised to install her own command staff within a week or two, and many on the current staff, most appointed by Evans, will probably be demoted or reassigned.

In recent days, department insiders have indicated that O'Toole is leaning toward naming James Claiborne, the popular captain of the East Boston district and a finalist for the commissioner's job, as her superintendent-in-chief. For undisclosed reasons, Evans demoted Claiborne from the command staff in 2000 during a departmentwide shakeup. Officers at every level, as well as union officials, say they would welcome his appointment.

Among her first acts will be assembling a transition team made up of police officers from every rank in the department to help her develop her agenda.

"They will be the eyes and ears out there," she said. "I'll chair meetings at every district station and let police officers vent and put ideas on the table. I'll take their ideas and determine if they make sense. I'll call it a `transition team' for the time being. It's not only a good opportunity to enhance communication, but it's also an opportunity to groom the next generation of leaders."

O'Toole will also seek details about stalled police union contracts.

Union officials said they are confident O'Toole will act to ease the impasse. To that end, one sign that the department's relationship with unions may be about to improve was this: Thomas Nee, the vocal president of the patrolmen's union, and O'Toole shared a hug after the ceremony.

? Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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