The long-running dispute between Massachusetts State Police and the Boston Police Department over who patrols the Seaport District flared up Thursday as Boston Commissioner William B. Evans asked legislators at the State House to grant shared jurisdiction.
“I don’t think you’d appreciate your local police not being able to go into a major section of the city over a foolish jurisdictional issue,” Evans told the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Security during a public hearing. “I always ask people, ‘Give me one good reason why we shouldn’t be down there?’ and nobody can answer my question.”
Currently, State Police are legally responsible for patrolling the Massachusetts Port Authority-owned Seaport District, which runs from B Street to the Fleet Pavilion and has grown rapidly in recent years, adding restaurants, hotels, and soon, General Electric.
While Boston firefighters and emergency medical technicians can respond to home calls in the Seaport District, Boston police officers cannot.
Evans was speaking in support of a bill sponsored by state Representative Nick Collins , a South Boston Democrat, that would allow Boston police concurrent jurisdiction in the area to assign police officers, respond to emergency 911 calls, investigate crimes, and make arrests. Evans said he has spoken in favor of shared jurisdiction several times in the past, but no change has been made.
“As has repeatedly been established in numerous past hearings, the State Police by statute are responsible for protecting the Massport-owned properties of the Seaport District,” said State Police spokesman David Procopio in a statement after the hearing. “Just as clear is the fact that the people who live and work in and visit those areas receive excellent police services.”
But Evans said his request was not aimed at taking any responsibility away from State Police. Rather, he said, he simply wanted to give the taxpaying residents of the Seaport District the same services that residents in the rest of Boston receive.
The Seaport District is bustling, he said, and will only become more so when General Electric moves its headquarters there, and the already difficult traffic is amplified.
“To carve out a small section of the Seaport and essentially eliminate the Boston Police Department is a clear disservice to the public who pay taxes,” he said. “In a time when the safety of the public is paramount, we should be putting as many resources as possible into ensuring safety, not restricting police resources.”
In an interview after the hearing, Evans said the request for shared jurisdiction also had nothing to do with a desire to secure paid details in the area for Boston officers. The department already has thousands of details it can’t find officers to fill, Evans said. State Police would be welcome to keep all the details in the area, he said.
“It’s not about details; it’s not about money,” said Evans.
Before Evans gave his testimony on the Seaport District, he spoke briefly about an act promoting the use of body cameras by law enforcement, asking legislators to wait until the department conducts a pilot program. Starting around May, he said, 100 officers will be equipped for six months with body cameras, to test whether implementing the cameras department-wide is feasible.
There are issues surrounding cost, privacy, and data retention, Evans said, that must be worked out.
“I ask that the police department be given time to implement this program and analyze it before an unfunded statewide mandate is adopted,” said Evans.