Two unions representing upper-ranking police officers in Boston filed a multipronged lawsuit in state court Monday that seeks to reverse a 2021 restriction of police use of non-lethal weapons at protests and scale back the authority of the city’s new police oversight office.
The suit also seeks to clarify whether a 1973 City Council ordinance mandating a minimum staffing requirement of 2,500 sworn BPD officers is enforceable.
The suit names the city, Mayor Michelle Wu, City Council President Ed Flynn and Acting Police Commissioner Gregory Long as defendants.
In a press release, the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society, accused the city council of “unlawful interference” with the department by legislating rather than negotiating the non-lethal weapons restriction over the bargaining table.
“The latest overstep by the City Council comes in the form of restricting the use of non-lethal tools of police officers including but not limited to the use of chemical agents such as pepper spray,” the release said, noting the council’s 2021 approval to restrict police use of tear gas and projectiles during protests.
The policy was previously vetoed by then-Mayor Marty Walsh, but passed a second time on an 8-5 vote after Walsh resigned to join the Biden administration. Former acting mayor Kim Janey supported the ordinance and signed it into law.
“We asked Acting Mayor Janey and Mayor Michelle Wu to correct this overreach,” the unions’ release said.
The legal filing comes just days after Mayor Michelle Wu announced her pick for Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox, who came up through the ranks of the BPD and expressed general support for reforms like diversifying the department and changing its internal culture.
Wu has signaled an intent to pursue further reforms to the department like changing the long-held contractual overtime provisions and removing tasks like mental health crisis response and routine traffic stops from police purview.
The mayor, through a spokesperson, declined to comment for this story.
The pair of unions also accused the city council of violating a 1960s state law that gives the BPD commissioner broad authority over the department.
The unions pointed to a 1974 case where the council attempted to mandate shotguns for all BPD vehicles. The mandate was later dismissed by a judge who declared it unenforceable.
The rule remains part of the municipal code despite that ruling, one of the invalidated rules that has not been removed.
The commissioner statute, the union argued, should not only bar the council from crafting legislation to regulate the department, but also bar the new Office of Police Accountability and Transparency from compelling a commissioner to revisit cases.
The city’s law enforcement unions have a long history of resisting reforms through court battles. A ruling in the union’s favor could have long-reaching implications for City Council and its ability to craft further legislation related to the police department.
The Superior Officers Federation and the Detectives Benevolent Society have previously sued the Wu administration over a COVID-19 vaccination policy which mandated that city workers get vaccinated, or risk termination.
In that case, the two unions and the Boston firefighters union ultimately won a victory through a state appeals court judge who ordered a halt to the policy.
The Wu administration has appealed that decision to the full appeals court.