Monday, August 10, 2009

A Favorite Boston Story – Thomas and the Police Details

Boston’s Mayor announced last week that he was in favor of maintaining police staff at construction sites around the city whereas the Governor has advocated for the use of civilian flaggers on lower-speed road in an effort to curb the cost of police details. According to the Boston Globe article published last week, Menino pushing for police as flaggers, police details cost the state a whopping $20-25m per year (and that is only the state portion) and Patrick’s plan could reduce that number by about $6-7m. The Mayor however has used a – hum – original argument since he cited the tortuous nature of Boston roads to justify the need for cops in all situations (article says, “But city officials contend that Boston’s road infrastructure is far more complex than that of any other community in the state and that roads with low speed limits can still have heavy traffic volume that calls for a trained Boston police officer”).

I did not grow up in Boston and there are a number of “only in Boston“ things (that locals seem to take pride of actually) that irritate the hell out of me… Police details are one of those. The question that goes around in my mind about these “only in Boston” characteristics is, how do other cities manage safety around construction sites? Why only in Boston do we resort to cops as flaggers – bearing in mind actually that not all construction sites have an impact on traffic but still, you’ll find cops there?

A newspaper story about how much money cops can make on details came out about 2 years ago and the highest-paid police officers could actually double their salaries through details. On average, I believe that the extra pay brings an additional 20% to cops. So, yes, essentially, it is a way to increase cops’ compensation. This is what it comes down to.

The value to the community as far as police work is concerned is limited in my opinion. Let’s hear what the police union thinks… In that same article, the union rep said, “If you can put an additional 300 to 400 officers into every neighborhood [working details], it’s a great deterrent.” My first reaction is, do we have to rely on cops hanging out doing details for us to be safe? Is this how police work is going to be conducted from now on?

No later than yesterday, I saw two (why two btw?) cops doing details, their backs turned to traffic, chatting with each other and hanging out with the construction workers. In the meantime, a car ran a red light in front of me and they did not see it… And I won’t mention the number of times that I saw cops speaking on their cell phones even though the use of phones is banned during details. But maybe they were placing important calls – that’s probably what it was…

So, is it surprising that a couple of months away from an election that promises to be one of the most competitive in years for Menino, the Mayor has backed the police unions’ stance around the Governor’s plan? Let’s remember that Menino was not exactly the police force’s hero when in 2005 a number of disagreements arose during contract renegotiations.

In sum, I’ll ask the Mayor to respect our intelligence and not use bogus arguments while his move is clearly political. Thank you Mayor Menino, and yes, I’ll let you shake my hand next time you are on Tremont St…

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