The union representing Boston police officers ratified a new five-year contract with the city on Monday night that, in addition to raising officers' pay, includes several reforms pushed by Mayor Michelle Wu.
"Historically negotiating these contracts has been about compensation and compensation alone," Wu said at a press briefing on Tuesday. "But because of the many voices we all listened to throughout this process, the city, the department and the [Boston Police Patrolmen's Association] took a different approach, recognizing the potential for bargaining to serve as a tool to deliver the highest standards of community policing anywhere in the nation, while securing resources for the health and well-being of officers and their families."
The deal marks the end of 18 months of negotiations.
Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association President Larry Calderone said the contract was overwhelmingly ratified by union membership.
"This is a contract that is fair and equitable to the men and women in uniform that are answering those calls for service," Calderone said.
The contract is estimated to total $82.3 million, which would be a 21% increase over its five-year period, which retroactively begins in July of 2020. That includes annual pay increases and cost of living adjustments.
The contract’s long-awaited resolution spurred a sense of relief, if at times halfhearted, among some reform advocates and law enforcement groups.
“We, at [the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers], commend Mayor Wu for championing this landmark contract and the BPPA for their commitment towards reform and advocacy for the law enforcement workforce,” said Jeffrey S. Lopes, the group’s president. “Mayor Wu’s efforts, and the contract itself, speak volumes both about her commitment to safe communities, and her visionary approach to developing a much needed inclusive recruitment and retention strategy for a department in need of more officers and more diversity.”
Wu said the operational reforms in the contract make it unlike any the city has reached with police before.
"Our highest priority is and always will be our residents safety," Wu said. "And we must hold all we entrust with that responsibility to the highest of standards."
That's why, she said, the new contract "eliminates the pathway to overturn disciplinary action or termination through arbitration" if an officer is found to have committed one of several serious offenses. Those include rape, kidnapping, attempted murder, use of firearms while committing a felony and a range of violent acts against children.
Officers could be fired without arbitration if they were indicted for one of those crimes, or if a sustained internal affairs finding upheld allegations.
"There should be no loophole for those who commit grave criminal acts to wear a badge," Wu said. "And this also just gives that predictability so that the process doesn't drag on and on with arbitration."
Wu cited the case of former BPD union head Patrick Rose, who was convicted of child rape, saying arbitration in cases like that delay resolution.
"That gives me hope," said community activist Jamarhl Crawford, who served on a city task force focused on police reform. "During the Boston Police Reform Task force, I was pushing for what I called a zero-tolerance policy on certain offenses, much like these."
Crawford noted, though, that the list of crimes he wanted to see excluded from arbitration also included domestic violence and drunk driving, which were not included in the contract agreement. He also raised concerns about how rarely the BPD's internal affairs process sustains complaints against officers.
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The new contact says disagreements over eligibility for medical leave will now be settled by an independent medical examiner, rather than an arbitration process, and includes salary adjustments for officers who participate in continuing education — as well as expanding the universities that qualify, to include the University of Massachusetts System, Northeastern University and Boston University.
The contract also reforms how the city handles paid police details.
“Currently, 40% of all details go unfilled,” Wu said. “And the highest priority details have serious impacts on safety and traffic flow, but often go unfilled and are compensated at the same rate as any other detail on a quiet residential side street. This has resulted in many of these unfilled, high-priority detail shifts covered by mandated overtime at significant cost to the department, the city, and the taxpayers.”
The contract creates a separate designation of high-priority details that must be filled first and will be compensated at a higher hourly rate. It also expands the personnel who can fill those details. Boston police will have the first choice, and unfilled details can be filled by BPD retirees, Boston Housing Authority police officers, university police officers, Boston Municipal Protective Services officers and civilian contract personnel.
For Crawford, that raised concerns about equitable awarding of those potentially lucrative private contracts.
“I think it would be very difficult for a person of color — Black or Latino, from the very same inner city communities that would be patrolled — to be able to start that business and compete fairly with other high-pocketed, maybe well-connected former law enforcement personnel,” Crawford said. “I think that could create an uneven playing field.”
Among the local companies offering private security services is one run by former BPD Commissioner Ed Davis. Crawford likened the competition for those contracts to what he’s observed in the market for police body cameras.
“We don't see a bunch of startup companies in that industry,” Crawford said. “It's pretty much been monopolized by the same forces that have monopolized the tech industry as a whole. And those are primarily white and male.”