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Tougher rules sought for Boston police, fire jobs

3-year residency proposed for fire, police positions

Councilor at Large Michael F. Flaherty is pushing a measure that would require applicants for Boston fire and police jobs to have lived in the city for at least three years.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Councilor at Large Michael F. Flaherty is pushing a measure that would require applicants for Boston fire and police jobs to have lived in the city for at least three years, a mandate designed to cut down on newcomers snaring coveted positions.

Under current rules, job-
seekers hoping for a spot with the police or fire department are required to have been residents for only one year.

“What I am looking to do is to extend that one-year residency requirement . . . to three years, so that the incentive is there and continues to be there for city residents,’’ Flaherty told members of the City Council in making his proposal at the council’s weekly meeting Wednesday. “It is a disincentive for those who move into the city for a year . . . in the hopes of becoming a police [officer] or firefighter.”


Massachusetts law grants residency preference to anyone who has lived in a city or town for at least one year before taking the civil service exam, required for public safety jobs. But cities can choose to have even tougher residency rules.

Flaherty and other Boston residency advocates said many applicants move into the city for a year, then apply for the civil service test, thus competing with home-grown residents seeking Boston fire and police jobs.

Complaints about Bostonians being edged out of construction jobs have been bubbling for years, but now public ire is mounting over the dwindling number of local residents picked for fire and police jobs, advocates and city officials said.

Advocates of a tougher residency law maintain that many fire and police applicants are veterans from other municipalities taking advantage of a state law that gives them preference in hiring. They are mainly white men, said advocates of a tougher residency law.

These advocates cite what they say is growing evidence of Bostonians being denied fire and police work despite scoring high on the civil service test and growing up with deep family connections in the city’s neighborhoods.


“It’s a loophole that . . . is happening year in, year out, where people who didn’t grow up here are taking advantage of the residency law by living here for a year . . . and denying jobs for kids who grew up in the city of Boston,’’ Councilor at Large Stephen J. Murphy said during the council meeting. “This will close that loophole.”

Flaherty told the council Wednesday that the proposed ordinance would give preference to Boston residents and increase the likelihood of a more diverse pool of applicants, one more reflective of the city.

Councilor Tito Jackson, who represents Roxbury, said Flaherty’s proposal is fair and sound. It will help “diversify the fire and police force, but also help make sure that the Boston Police Department and Fire Department . . . actually adhere and abide by the residency policy,” Jackson said.

Fire Lieutenant Rayshawn Johnson, president of the Boston Society of Vulcans, agreed that applicants who live in Boston and whose families have deep ties here deserve the edge.

“I have nothing against people from other communities coming here, but you have kids who are born and raised in this city who no longer have that many options in getting a fire job,’’ said Johnson, whose group advocates for the hiring, retention, and promotion of black firefighters. “The three-year window is a start of a process that keeps city jobs for city residents.”


In addition to Murphy and Jackson, five other councilors signed on to the proposal: Councilors Frank Baker of Dorchester, Salvatore LaMattina of East Boston, Mark Ciommo of Allston-Brighton, Bill Linehan of South Boston, and Tim McCarthy of Hyde Park.

The proposal has been assigned to the council’s Government Operations Committee, headed by Flaherty. He is expected to call a public hearing soon, followed by a vote on the proposed ordinance.

Two-thirds of the council must approve the measure before it is sent to Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who must give his approval before it takes effect. Walsh's office did not respond to a call late Wednesday afternoon seeking comment on the mayor's stance on the residency rule.

More coverage: Boston firefighters would see 18.8% pay hike | Boston police unions approve labor deals worth about $34m

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.