“That is the charge that I was given by the residents across the city.”
Mayor Michelle Wu said Monday the city will not sign any contract with the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association unless it contains provisions on police reform.
“We continue to have conversations and our firm position is that we will not sign a contract that does not include reform,” Wu said on WBUR’s “Radio Boston.” “That is the charge that I was given by the residents across the city.”
Last month, the BPPA, the city’s largest police union, said it reached an impasse at the bargaining table with city officials and indicated the matter may end up in arbitration. Contract negotiations began in June.
City officials, however, disputed that characterization, with a Wu spokesperson saying at the time the city “is working urgently to negotiate with our unions while bringing community to the table to ensure their voices are heard and represented.”
And Wu made clear Monday a lack of reform measures within a new contract is a deal-breaker.
“The legal language that goes into this document will be a key part of the operations, the function, the accountability, but also the health and wellness of our officers as well to be able to serve the health and wellness and safety of our larger community,” Wu said. “And so that’s what we continue to pursue.”
The reform element is a campaign promise for Wu, who as a candidate last year, touted an 11-step reform plan aimed at bringing structural reforms to the Boston Police Department through union contracts.
On Monday, Wu said she sees a few categories of needed reforms, including discipline, accountability, and health and wellness.
The mayor also elaborated on the need to have a “real conversation” about staffing strains on the department’s rank and file, as officers often have to work mandatory overtime shifts to cover vacancies of personnel who are out on, for example, sick or medical leave.
The phenomenon regularly drives up the department’s overtime costs, which, in turn, has made restructuring the city’s police budget difficult in past years.
“We are adding more recruit classes who really represent the full diversity of the city in our communities,” Wu said. “But there are also more than 150 officers at this moment who have been out on medical leave for more than a year.”
Wu said she often hears from officers and the department’s civilian staff who want to work fewer hours.
“I was just up with our 911 call center as well,” she said. “They are so challenged in terms of staffing levels — and we’ve done a lot of work to try to boost that and get folks into the pipeline and training but — they’re regularly having to do multiple times a week, what are called doubles: doing two shifts in a row because of vacancies or staffing levels. And so there are a lot of places across the city where staffing levels are a challenge and here we want to get at every factor that is affecting that.”
One sticking point so far in negotiations is a push from Wu and other city leaders who say Boston should consider changing its policy for police details, or instances where officers work overtime supervising traffic safety. Details are often stationed at construction sites.
Supporters of shifting detail duties from police to civilians say the move would provide more jobs and help the department as it struggles to cover those shifts.
But BPPA leaders have argued only officers have the proper public safety training to provide the necessary protection at detail sites.
BPPA President Larry Calderone, last month, called the proposal “misguided, hugely insulting, (and) reckless.”
“Civilian flaggers possess neither the authority or the training to maintain the peace and safety currently enjoyed by all of you here who live, work, or visit our great city,” he added at the time. “This may very well be the worst idea in the history of bad ideas.”
Calderone also alleged the move “would steal away the work from police officers just to punish them.”
But Wu highlighted on WBUR Monday the city has “tens of thousands of details shifts that go unfilled every single year because, again, we don’t have the bodies to take them up.”
The BPPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday afternoon.
Asked if she anticipates the BPPA contract negotiations will go to arbitration, Wu said she could not say at this moment in time, but said she believes there is common ground between the two parties.
“We are sticking firm in some of the needs and what we’ve clearly heard from community members as well,” Wu said. “We wanted to ensure that in this process wouldn’t just be a complete black box, and so we have had some conversations with community members who have done a lot of thinking on this and other experts. I continue to believe and see that there is really important common ground here around how to ensure that this is a more sustainable, healthier, more supportive job for officers who are putting in so much and for their families.”
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