What a July it’s been for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu.
Fending off state takeover of the Boston schools? Check. New three-year deal with the Boston Teachers Union? Check. Budget passed, huge infusion of federal ARPA funds okayed – check and check. New fire commissioner – check.
And the cherry on top of this fortnight o’ results – last week’s naming of former Boston cop and police brutality victim Michael Cox to head the force, a political coup that both appeases the cops’ critics (for now) and pleases the rank-and-file. Larry Calderone, president of the Boston Police Patrolmens Association, called the appointment “a great thing’ in a MASSterList interview.
But in our grievance-saturated political culture, every silver lining comes with a cloud.
In this case, it’s a rift between the cops and the mayor over City Hall’s mishandling of their legitimate concerns over excessive overtime demands on the understaffed department. After a busy weekend in late June when at least five cops ordered to work mandatory overtime wound up logging 24 straight hours on duty, it happened again the weekend of July 9-10. According to an angry press release from Calderone, a spate of extra police details forced heavy overtime for “over 120 officers,” including some working three straight eight-hour shifts. “This is utterly unacceptable,” wrote Calderone. “The City is gambling with the safety of our community and our members by these reckless staffing decisions.”
The BPD brass seem to agree. Calderone says he has a commitment from Acting Commissioner Long that it won’t happen again. But he’s frosted that it happened at all after the department had asked the administration to be more careful about over-scheduling events that require police details.
An initially-dismissive response from the mayor’s office – an anodyne statement ignoring the issue – stood for two days before Wu acknowledged her people had created “a situation that is not safe or healthy for the members of the department, and…needs the attention of the department and all the leaders in collaboration.”
Yes, collaboration. That’s a goodwill bank Calderone thought he had made a major deposit in last winter when he – alone among police union leaders – skipped the grandstanding and cut a deal with Wu for benefits in exchange for mandatory COVID vaccination. The collaborative approach nearly cost Calderone the union presidency after a backlash from the BPD’s vocal anti-mandate minority. “I am surprised I have not heard from the mayor or staff,” Calderone says.
What’s up, City Hall? Phones not working?
The last thing Wu and her new police commissioner need as they try to build trust between the police and the public is a perception that the mayor harbors anti-cop animus, either personally or within her administration. As Cox put it last week “at a time when the public, rightly so, [has a] higher expectation as far as our service that we provide … it’s the exact same time that people seem to be asking for us to have less resources. Show me a scenario where there’s an institution anywhere in the world where it gets better when you don’t fund it.”
The mishandling of the OT episode is especially confounding after Wu made a donation in the goodwill fund herself during the budget debate, nixing an effort to divert funds from the police to summer jobs. But that’s what happens when you’re a big-city mayor, keeping multiple plates spinning simultaneously like a vaudeville act from the old Ed Sullivan Show.
Some breakage is inevitable. But with pressure for policing reforms coinciding with a dicey public-safety climate and the Supreme Court’s clueless green light for more guns on the streets, this is no comedy skit.
The new commissioner can use all the help he can get improving department morale. And that means Wu needs to treat her relationship with the police as an especially valuable – and fragile – piece of Wedgwood china.