How a commissioner changed the culture within the Boston Police Department

As the BPD faces a new credibility crisis, there are lessons from the corruption crisis of the 1970s.


By Chuck Wexler



The Boston Police Department is facing a credibility crisis. Many are wondering what can a police department do to regain credibility. What does it take to change police culture? Where should city leaders go for guidance?

For answers, look no further than the Boston Police Department of the 1960s and 1970s.

In November 1961, CBS broadcast “Biography of a Bookie Joint,” a documentary that revealed illegal gambling operations, payoffs to police officers, and organized corruption in the police department. Police commissioner Leo Sullivan resigned, but problems in the department persisted.

In 1972, Mayor Kevin White was able to select a new police commissioner, and he chose a reformer: Robert di Grazia, a little-known police superintendent from St. Louis County, Mo. I can report what happened next, because I was a graduate student at MIT doing an internship in the BPD. (The internship led to a full-time job overseeing investigations of racially motivated crimes.)


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