It’s War: Black Boston Police Sue City

Nine officers claim they and others have not received promotions because of a discriminatory multiple-choice exam.  

Posted: 02/17/2012 10:00 AM EST

The lack of racial diversity amongst superior officers in the Boston Police Department is far from representative of the city’s 30 percent minorities. 


Although approximately 27 percent of the force is Black, of the department’s 51 lieutenants, two are Black men and one is an Asian male. According to department personnel numbers, it’s been that way for quite some time and, now, nine Black police supervisors are suing the city, claiming they and others have failed to advance because of a discriminatory multiple-choice exam.  

“We believe that these tests are illegal because one, they have a significant, disparate impact on minority candidates, and they are not predictive of job performance,” Harold Lichten, attorney for the plaintiffs, tells BET.com.  

Dissimilar to many urban cities that rank based on performance reviews conducted at assessment centers, Boston’s police department still uses a multiple choice, pencil-and-paper test to move the public safety officials up the ranks.


Historically, African-Americans have scored among the lowest of all racial groups on standardized tests. Experts say the ability to read and perform well on standardized tests go hand-in-hand. Some African-Americans have not engaged in long-term pleasure reading since birth; studies have found that children living with one parent are less likely to be read to than children living with two parents, and it's been proven that during the summer, low-income students do not read as much as upper-income students. The effects of these inequalities often carry over into adulthood. 

The officers think the process of using a standardized test for promotions is not only unfair to them, but they also believe it is unfair to the city’s residents, who deserve a police force that reflects their community.

“My clients truly feel that a lack of minority representation in the ranks of the Boston police department makes for a worse police department because the ability to communicate with people in the community is lacking when you don’t have minority supervisors who are representative of the communities they are working [in].”

Just in the last month, the city of Boston isn’t the only force filing complaints, however. Last week, a fourth class-action lawsuit was leveled against the Capitol Police Department by approximately 50 Black officers and employees who claimed they were denied promotions, career-enhancing opportunities and faced age discrimination. Additionally, in January, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the NYPD, alleging Black officers were not promoted in the department’s intelligence division and that a “secret list” kept them from climbing the ranks.


“[Minority discrimination] has been a long-standing problem,” says Lichten. “This is not a new issue.”

The difference now, he says, is that the root of the problem causing the negative impact on minority candidates has been identified.

The Boston lieutenants are seeking a new, impartial promotion system, remedial promotions to compensate for the lack of minority promotions and back pay.

A spokesperson for the Boston Police Department and for the City of Boston has declined to comment.

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(Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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