Current temperature in Boston - 62 °
Get access to a personalized news feed, our newsletter and exclusive discounts on everything from shows to local restaurants, All for free.
Already a member? Sign in.
The Bay State Banner
The Bay State Banner

Trending Articles

Former 1090 WILD-AM director Elroy Smith to host reunion for some of Boston’s best radio personalities

Breaking new ground: Break dancing debuts as sport at 2024 Paris Olympics

Eastern Bank and Cambridge Trust join forces


Patrick curbs talk on cutting police details

Glen Johnson

Gov. Deval Patrick last Thursday offered tepid talk about reducing police details at road construction sites after a backlash from law enforcement unions and local officials over his plan to start using flagmen in some instances.

“The more I think about this, the less certain I am that we can fix this top down, you know, by just saying, ‘Here’s the governor’s policy or the state government’s policy,’ because the conditions are so different at local levels,” Patrick told hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan during his monthly appearance on WTKK-FM.

“There’s a lot we can do about how we deploy the State Police at the state level, but I think we’re going to have to show some respect for the judgments at local levels and create some space when public safety permits and makes prudent the use of flagmen,” the governor added.

Gubernatorial aides insisted the comments were not a shift in policy.

“His statement on the radio is consistent with his message all along with cities and towns — give them the tools to better manage their budgets,” said Patrick spokesman Kyle Sullivan. “In terms of flagmen, we are waiting to see what comes out of the Senate and House, but we stand ready to work with them and develop regulations that determine when it is safe and cost-effective to use flagmen on roadside projects.”

Patrick himself said on the radio he expected flagmen to eventually replace troopers at projects on dead-end streets or other locales deemed safe.

Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi recently drew headlines when they announced they were united behind changing the state’s detail policy. They vowed to attach language requiring some changes to a must-pass bond bill being considered by the Legislature.

When they made that announcement, the leaders were deliberately vague, except to say they would require state transportation officials to develop language spelling out where it would be safe to substitute civilian flaggers for police officers.

The final language, which overwhelmingly passed the Senate last Thursday, said: “The secretary of the executive office of transportation and public works, in consultation with the secretary of the executive office of public safety, is hereby authorized to promulgate regulations and recommend guidelines for the use of police details at public work sites.”

The bond bill, which moved to the House for a final vote, also states that nothing in the section should supersede local labor contracts or the decisions of the local public works officials.

There is no state law mandating that police officers protect workers at road construction sites, but the practice has become commonplace and been fiercely protected by police unions. Some communities have labor contracts requiring that police staff construction sites.

In recent years, a backlash has built as some State Police troopers and Boston police officers have posted earnings over $200,000 annually — more than the governor or Mayor Thomas M. Menino — and utilities have said that using police officers has created an expense they are forced to pass on to ratepayers.

A 2004 study by the Beacon Hill Institute, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog at Suffolk University, concluded that municipalities would also save between $37 million and $67 million annually by replacing most police details with flaggers.

Officials recently suggested changing the policy would save municipalities $5 million annually, a relatively small amount.

Nonetheless, the specter of changes in the detail system prompted a furious response by police labor unions. They bombarded lawmakers with phone calls, and, last Thursday, huddled outside Murray’s office as senators considered the detail language change.

At the same time, Patrick was being asked about the subject on the radio.

“It turns out it’s not that simple. It feels simple, but there are public safety issues, and that has to come first, so we have begun to engage public safety officials, police, local officials, to help us craft the right way to do this,” the governor said.

On other subjects, Patrick said:

• He has been working on his autobiography for 10 years, despite inking a deal late last month on a $1.35 million publishing contract. He said that he will complete the book on nights and weekends, preserving his ability to handle his state tasks, “but there’s a place for one’s own hobbies, even as governor.”

• He rejected criticism he abandoned supporters of his casino gambling proposal by heading to New York to shop his book proposal while the bill was being debated — and defeated — on the House floor. He said he had known for weeks that the bill would fail.

“Now, had it have been an open and fair fight, I would have made a different judgment,” he said, a veiled criticism of DiMasi, who engineered votes against the bill.

• It’s a “crummy, crummy time” to be considering a hike in the state gasoline tax. Instead, Patrick has said he will continue to focus on generating savings from consolidating state transportation services and refinancing the debt on the state’s transportation infrastructure.

(Associated Press)