A statewide organization that counts both the Boston and State Police departments as members is backing BPD in the agencies’ long-standing turf war to patrol the Seaport District, arguing that the state department’s claim to sole jurisdiction is an outdated model of policing.
In a letter to Governor Charlie Baker’s public safety secretary, the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs argues that Boston police should be given shared authority in the rapidly changing area because it is “in the best, most suitable position to provide the optimum level of policing services.”
“As local police chiefs, the concept of so-called ‘sole jurisdiction’ is a policing dictum of the past,” reads the three-page letter, signed by the organization’s officers and addressed to Secretary Daniel Bennett.
“It lends itself to significant delays in the delivery of public safety responses, leads to miscommunication/misunderstanding, increased frustration, and endangers overall officer safety and all to the detriment of the residents who are entitled to the highest quality of policing services available.”
The organization’s comments mark a rare foray into a dispute between two of its 38-member departments.
But the 15-year-old organization decided to weigh in because several chiefs viewed the conflict as an “unfolding issue in the Commonwealth” that could, at some point, affect their own communities, said Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan.
“It’s not about BPD or MSP,” Ryan said in an interview. “It’s about the policing profession as a whole and whether we should be carving out portions of any city.
“As soon as it becomes about Boston or State [police], it gets clouded with nonsense,” he said of the debate. “This is a macro-level policy issue.”
State statute gives State Police sole authority to patrol the area largely made up of parcels owned by the Massachusetts Port Authority. Troop F, which also patrols Logan International Airport, is responsible for policing the neighborhood.
Boston police have for years sought shared jurisdiction to respond to calls in the Seaport, with a renewed push in recent months amid questions about overtime spending at Troop F and separate scandals elsewhere in the 2,200-officer State Police department.
Baker, amid a series of proposed changes to the State Police, had ordered State Police Colonel Kerry A. Gilpin to consider “a plan for the Boston Police Department and State Police to work together” in the Seaport.
But Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said last week that talks were at a “standstill” following an unproductive meeting earlier this month.
Neither Bennett nor Gilpin appeared at a Boston City Council hearing on the issue last Friday, drawing the ire of city councilors, and efforts in the Legislature to change the statute have, to date, also fallen apart. The City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to send a home-rule petition to the Legislature that, if approved, would establish concurrent jurisdiction.
In its letter, which was dated Wednesday, the Major City Chiefs organization said it recognizes that it is “venturing into what appears to be a potentially volatile situation” with internal discussions it may not be totally aware. But while the organization has the “highest level of respect” for the State Police, it said the agency is a paramilitary organization that lacks the community-based resources that Boston police can provide to the neighborhood.
‘As local police chiefs, the concept of so-called ‘sole jurisdiction’ is a policing dictum of the past.’
“In today’s world of policing, [with] information sharing, formidable partnerships, creative collaborations, and high levels of spirit of cooperation, the concept of sole jurisdiction under any set of circumstances has no place,” the letter reads.
“The Boston Police Department and the Massachusetts State Police, as the two premier police organizations in the Commonwealth, should share in concurrent jurisdiction of the Seaport District.”
Felix Browne, a Bennett spokesman, said officials “respect the Major Chiefs and their commitment to public safety” but did not specifically address whether the letter would affect the State Police’s stance on shared jurisdiction.
David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, said Gilpin intends to continue discussions with Boston Police.
“We value our partnerships with local police departments, with whom we share the vital mission of protecting our citizens,” he said. “We have frequent communication with agencies represented in the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs Association.”
Ryan, the Arlington chief, said the organization’s decision to interject itself into the debate was generated by its board and not by a request from Boston police.
Evans applauded the group for stepping into the issue.
“They’re the voice on a lot of law enforcement issues,” Evans said. “When they take a stand like this, I’m encouraged. They know how dysfunctional this set up is.”Matt Stout can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout