Saturday, 2:15 PM
Police protest civilian flaggers in Woburn
(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
A flagger directed traffic as a police officer watched and protesters picketed.
By David Abel, Globe Staff
WOBURN -- About 50 off-duty police officers surrounded civilian flaggers directing traffic around a road project, heckling the workers as part of continued protests of the governor's new rules curbing paid police details at road projects.
"I hope you sleep at night," shouted Stoneham Patrolman Joe Ponzo at the workers in neon vests and hardhats. "You should be ashamed of yourself -- you're union. This is a travesty."
Off-duty officers from Arlington, Medford, Everett, and Woburn lined Lexington Street, a two-lane road where traffic backed up in both directions because of the protest. At one point, the workers for Mass. Highway had to stop cleaning catch basins because of the demonstration.
Several uniformed Woburn officers responded to the scene after one of the off-duty officers drove the wrong way between traffic cones, saying the civilian flagger sent him in the wrong direction.
Woburn Police Chief Phillip Mahoney came to Lexington Street and warned the off-duty officers to stay behind the white line at the edge of the road.
At a press conference later at a Massachusetts Highway facility in Arlington, Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky said the state would consider pressing charges against any police officer who interferes with the flaggers' work.
"I believe some of their actions were unlawful," Paiewonsky said. "It's too early to speculate on what steps we'll take. But clearly you cannot walk into an active work zone."
New regulations enacted by Governor Deval Patrick allow the use of civilian flaggers at some road projects instead of paid police details. The administration estimates that the new policy will save the state between $5.7 million and $7.2 million.
Police union officials are angry over what they say was unfair treatment during the administration's drafting of the law. Last week, police union members protested two work sites, forcing state workers to abandon the projects on the first day under the new regulations.
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