Patrick Rose, convicted child molester and former Boston police union official, represented everything that was wrong with a system of police discipline unworthy of this city. It was a system that allowed a long-suspected abuser — the subject of a sustained Internal Affairs complaint — to remain on the force for more than 20 years.
But he wasn’t the only bad cop who brought disgrace to the department. Even when the department tried to fire officers for egregious or even criminal conduct, some were restored to the police payroll by a binding arbitration process mandated under the union’s contract.
It was the kind of outrageous system that during her 2021 mayoral campaign Michelle Wu vowed would not be allowed to stand — that the next police contract would have to make “significant” reforms in a way of doing business that was the antithesis of modern policing.
The contract ratified this week by the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association fulfills that promise by carving out a laundry list of offenses and provides that “if an officer is indicted or has had charges sustained through Internal Affairs and upheld at the trial board or appointing authority hearing” that officer’s dismissal will not be subject to arbitration. The list includes crimes against children, assaults, drug trafficking, and hate crimes.
“The one thing that a police officer dislikes probably the most is a dishonest police officer,” BPPA President Larry Calderone said at a City Hall news conference Tuesday. Including that provision in the new contract, he said, was “a no-brainer” and it “clarifies that we can never have an incident like Pat Rose in the future.”
As Wu told the editorial board Thursday, the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman in 2020, the country’s demands for change in police practices that followed, and the Police Reform Act that responded to those demands in Massachusetts, all pointed to the need for “operational reforms that could only come through the [police] contract.”
Easing the path for jettisoning bad cops wasn’t the only win for Wu in the $82.3 million five-year deal with a union that has been working without a new collective bargaining agreement since June 30, 2020. The administration scored at least a partial victory in a new approach to those lucrative paid detail assignments, with the BPPA agreeing to share some of the work, largely with other local law enforcement units, including retired Boston police, Boston Housing Authority police, and local college police officers (in that order). And while it opens the door to civilian flaggers, it’s unlikely they’ll be on street corners any time soon.
But it does “improve” the system, as Wu put it, where currently some 40 percent of requested detail assignments go unfilled. Under the new contract the city will be allowed to implement a “technology-based platform” rather than the existing paper-based system, and jobs will be divided into Type 1 events and activities “that pose a substantial risk to public safety,” such as utility work at major intersections, emergencies like a water main break, or major events “with anticipated attendance greater than 5,000 people.”
BPD officers will get first dibs on the privately paid for Type 1 assignments at a rate rising to $85 per hour by the end of the new contract, compared to $60 per hour for Type 2 details. So sure, there’s a reason Calderone was smiling — in addition to the contract’s salary hikes.
Yes, that’s the way collective bargaining works — give a little, get a little. Let’s not forget that 10 months ago Calderone wanted to take the whole contract process to binding arbitration. By Tuesday he was crediting the mayor’s personal intervention as “the turning point” for “closing the deal.”
And Wu did score an important operational reform in the way the department will deal with medical leave and disputes over an officer’s fitness for duty. She noted that when she first took office, some 10 percent of the police force — 155 officers — were out on medical leave, more than 100 of them for more than a year — a situation that only added to the department’s overtime costs.
Under the new contract, disputes about an officer’s fitness to return to light duty will go to an independent medical examiner whose opinion “will be final and binding.”
That could make a dent in the department’s overtime budget — which has routinely topped some $70 million a year and has long been on the minds of the City Council, which will have to approve the money to fund the new contract. The contract does not make changes to a system that awards officers at least four hours of overtime for court appearances no matter how brief, a policy labeled “wasteful” by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts in a 2020 report.
“Ultimately we decided it was to the benefit of the city to move quickly [on the contract] rather than go to arbitration,” Wu told the editorial board.
And it’s hard to argue with her logic on that score. Keeping control of the negotiating process was a good thing. Besides, with this new contract set to expire June 30, 2025, the city will be back at the bargaining table in no time at all.
Meanwhile, as Commissioner Michael Cox told the board, this is ultimately about leadership. The critical elements of this particular contract will require a level of focus by the Wu administration on the needed technology upgrades and the follow-through that can bring real change. It will also require a level of transparency about disciplinary processes that have rarely been the department’s strong suit. With this contract, though, the department is off to a strong start.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.