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After a Globe review found police pay surged over the past decade, Mayor Walsh says overtime is a necessity

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said there are "lots of reasons for the higher overtime numbers.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said there are "lots of reasons for the higher overtime numbers.”Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

In the wake of a report detailing a surge in police pay over the course of the past decade, Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Thursday acknowledged the need for continued scrutiny on city spending, but said police overtime is often justified and a necessary part of the department’s work.

Walsh declined to address specific cases of extraordinary police spending, including one officer — the highest paid city employee in 2019 — who was cited previously for payroll abuses and nearly lost his job over a decade ago.

“On the surface, obviously, it bothers you, and as mayor, certainly, you would like to get overtime down in a lot of different places,” Walsh said in an interview. But, he added, “my focus is to make sure that we’re keeping our residents safe.”

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A Globe review of police records this week found that employee pay within the Boston Police Department had jumped by $125 million, or 43 percent, in the past nine years, while overtime pay had grown by $35.5 million, a 84-percent increase since 2011. Last year alone, state records showed, 26 officers collected more than $300,000 through a combination of salary, overtime, and detail pay.

The revelations came amid a roiling national debate regarding police funding, with protesters across the country calling on municipalities to redirect funds away from law enforcement and into initiatives that will directly benefit long-overlooked communities.

Walsh said there were “lots of reasons for the higher overtime numbers.” He cited large events, such as protests, that require many officers. He noted that retiring officers can’t be quickly replaced, putting a demand on personnel. Shifts must be filled, and many times, he said, officers are forced into overtime they’d rather not be working.

“They don’t have a choice,” he said. “They have to be at work.”

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Walsh, who recently announced a move that would reallocate $12 million from the police overtime budget, said he wished overtime pay wasn’t necessary, but called it a reality for the city.

“Listen, I’m not defending overtime here,” he said. “I do take some pride in . . . being responsible. This is not my money, this is the taxpayers’ money, and while I’m the overseer of it, and they put me here, I want to be able to spend their money responsibly.”

The Globe found that several of the city’s highest-paid BPD officers had checkered histories — including Lieutenant Timothy Kervin, a department veteran who consistently ranks among the highest paid each year.

The police department sought to fire Kervin in 2007 after an internal investigation turned up nearly 200 instances of pay abuse. He collected $237,272 in 2005 — more than any other city employee. He was eventually able to retain his job, however, and last year was the highest-paid city worker, making $355,538, which included $115,361 in overtime pay.

Boston police spokesman Sergeant Detective John Boyle said Kervin had previously reached a settlement with the BPD that allowed him to retain his job in exchange for serving a six-month suspension. He ended up serving only four months, however.

Additionally, Boyle said, Kervin was subject to a three-year probationary period in which any violations would’ve resulted in his firing, without the ability to appeal.

“He still works here, so I think it’s safe to say he didn’t do anything wrong in those three years,” Boyle said.

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Walsh declined to comment Thursday on Kervin’s case, saying he wasn’t familiar with the details.

Later in the day, a spokeswoman for the city provided an additional statement: “This is a personnel matter that occurred several years before Mayor Walsh came into office. Mayor Walsh takes any allegations of wrongdoing at the Boston Police Department very seriously and he expects every officer who serves the people of Boston to do so with the utmost integrity.”

Details on Kervin’s past are not secret. The BPD issued a press release in 2007 announcing his impending firing. Years later, he appeared again atop city pay records.

Kervin’s case was specifically discussed earlier this week in a town hall video conference hosted by For the People, a local organizing group, and attended by several city councilors.

“My first response is: ‘That’s disgusting,‘ ” said City Councilor Lydia Edwards in response to a question from a meeting attendee who provided details of Kervin’s history.

In the same meeting, City Councilor Kenzie Bok contended it was too difficult to rid the department of problematic officers. She blamed a state-level process that regularly reinstates terminated officers to their positions.

“If somebody is terminated within the Police Department for something that they did wrong, whether it’s . . . detail pay or it’s something they do in action, the agreement basically kicks the question of whether they were legitimately terminated up to a state board,” she said.

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And that board, Bok said, “has again and again and again overturned our decisions to terminate officers. And not only that, has reinstated them with a right to back pay for the . . . time that’s spent in litigation.”

In highlighting the difficulties of the state-level hurdles, Bok publicly questioned whether the four Minneapolis police officers charged in the killing of George Floyd — all of whom were fired — could have been terminated in Boston.

“I think there’s actually a really open question about whether — if what happened in Minnesota had happened here in Boston — we would have been able to even terminate the officers as the police department there did,” she said. “We probably could’ve done it, but then they might, through the process, have eventually gotten reinstated.”


Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com.