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Real police reform in Boston starts now

Wu needs to dispel the mythology that changing the way policing is done, and getting a handle on police overtime, will somehow make the city less safe.

Michelle Wu campaigned on bringing “cultural and systemic reforms” to the Boston Police Department. Boston Police are shown here on Boston Common on Nov. 7.Pat Greenhouse/Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Every word spoken and action taken by Boston’s new mayor will be scrutinized and analyzed as those of no other mayor before her — in part because she has broken the white, male mold. But also because she has pledged — often in exacting detail — that she intends to do things differently.

And nowhere will Michelle Wu’s words and deeds be watched more closely than by members of the city’s police department.

Wu, who was officially inaugurated on Tuesday, campaigned on bringing “cultural and systemic reforms” to the Boston Police Department, which she correctly noted, have for too long “been hindered by provisions in the collective bargaining agreement that deflect accountability and impede transparency. These changes will not happen by simply shifting a line item and expecting the police to fulfill the exact same role.”


What followed was no bumper sticker solution but a detailed action list for contract negotiations — which should finally begin in earnest — for police union contracts that expired in June 2020.

Wu is no naïf. Her seven years on the City Council have provided her ample evidence of the power of those police unions and the ability of the thin blue line to withstand the passing annoyance of political “reformers.”

So last week, after one police officer was stabbed and three others shot in two separate incidents — both ending in the police-involved killing of the suspects — it should have been no surprise that the head of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, Larry Calderone, would be quick to seize the moment.

Calderone issued a statement saying his union was “angered and outraged” by the spate of violence.

“The complete and utter disrespect and disregard for the safety of our officers has never been higher and the senseless violence needs to end,” he added.


No one questions that policing is a dangerous and often thankless job.

But Wu’s mission in the days ahead will be to dispel the mythology that changing the way policing is done, and getting a handle on police overtime, will somehow make the city less safe.

She made an attempt at that last week, noting in the wake of the shootings, “We have a police overtime line item that has been growing and growing and growing and taking up resources that are badly needed in other parts of community needs. And so, to get that line item under control, to make sure we’re using our resources in a way that matches what services are needed in the community, will in fact require investing more in public safety and health.”

The BPPA responded in a Sunday tweet, “When you hear elected officials talk about cutting police overtime, feel free to ask: ‘What causes the OT?’ The answer: ‘An understaffed workforce that NEVER sleeps and literally works round-the-clock 24/7/365.’ More cops equals less overtime.”

Wu knows better. She knows that routine overtime — not the kind generated by public safety emergencies — is tightly woven into the police union contract. It is the thread that previous administrations have never been able — or perhaps willing — to unravel. As Wu accurately noted on her campaign website, it includes a minimum four hours of court overtime, often for little more than dropping off papers, or use of overtime for attending community events rather than having that as part of an officer’s regular duties. It’s a contract that insists cleaning the evidence warehouse be done on overtime — which led to yet another scandal.


But reforming policing in Boston is more than a dollars-and-cents issue. It’s also about giving a new administration — and a new commissioner — the power to discipline or to rid the department of those who disgrace the uniform. Wu has said she wants to return to a contract that exempts certain decisions on suspensions and firings from binding arbitration — a right the city gave up in the 2007 contract, leading to a disciplinary revolving door that put offending officers back on the street.

That has to end, and it can only be ended at the bargaining table.

Wu also promised, “While the substance of union negotiations may remain confidential, the Mayor can and should share with the public the timeline for renegotiating and finalizing collective bargaining agreements . . . so that the City Council and community members have meaningful ways to weigh in.

That, too, is a promise worth keeping.

The new mayor will need all the public support she can muster to make the systemic changes she has promised. And being transparent about her goals and her timetable will be a good place to start building that support.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.