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Police seek to extend authority

Want jurisdiction over waterfront

By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / June 2, 2011

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Following a Memorial Day weekend melee that caused authorities to swarm Carson Beach, city officials are seeking to claim police authority over Boston’s waterfront, territory that now belongs to State Police.

Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said yesterday that city police are better equipped to respond to crimes in areas such as the Seaport District and Carson Beach that technically are part of Boston but that fall under State Police jurisdiction.

“What I’m looking for is to have Boston police police neighborhoods in Boston,’’ Davis said in an interview. “It just makes sense, because we have the contacts in the community, the relationships in the community, and the day in, day out interaction. It’s logical.’’

Davis’s call comes as state and city police work on how to patrol areas such as the burgeoning Seaport area and Carson Beach in South Boston, where state troopers said they were overwhelmed by a crush of teenagers who gathered over the holiday weekend.

Police jurisdiction is a hotly debated issue in Boston, where city and state investigators have long disputed who should have control over a given crime scene. There is also a financial benefit to patrolling the once-faded Seaport area, which in recent years has been transformed into a hot spot for bars and restaurants. Those new venues provide potential for police security details that could mean extra money for officers.

Davis said yesterday that his call is not driven by a desire to provide his officers more opportunities for details.

“I’m concerned about ensuring that the Seaport community receives the community policing services that they are entitled to,’’ he said.

Davis said he would like to sit down with representatives from State Police, state agencies, and the Legislature to discuss the proposal. Davis said he was not calling for city jurisdiction over other areas considered state property, such as the Esplanade, which tend to draw people from across the state.

A State Police spokesman referred comment to the Executive Office of Public Safety.

Governor Deval Patrick said he is still examining the issue and spoke to Mayor Thomas M. Menino about it yesterday.

“We talked about how important it is that we have as much cooperation and as much ability to leverage the respective law enforcement resources that we have,’’ Patrick said.

A spokesman for the mayor said Menino supports the commissioner’s position.

Rick Brown, president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, referred questions to a spokesman.

“The Seaport is under the control of [the Massachusetts Port Authority] and the State Police,’’ said the spokesman, Scott Ferson. “It works well and has for years. If the Boston police are needed in an incident, we call them.’’

Any changes would need approval of the Legislature. A bill sponsored by state Senator Mike Rush would give Boston police and State Police joint jurisdiction in the Seaport area.

But some legislators who represent South Boston have expressed reservations about the proposal, citing concerns by residents who worry police in South Boston are understaffed. Boston police said they have enough resources to handle any expansion.

State Police have had control of the beaches along Day Boulevard in South Boston since 1992, when they merged with the Metropolitan District Commission Police. State Police have stood guard over the Seaport for more than 50 years.

Davis said that as condos and entertainment venues have sprung up around Seaport Boulevard, Boston police are often called to the area for domestic violence reports and other crimes. But they can do little, other than respond to the area and wait for State Police, he said.

“There have been reports of fights down there at night, reports of overcrowding at some of the bars,’’ Davis said. “As it stands right now, we have no jurisdiction there. That’s a huge problem for us.’’

If city police pursue a criminal into the Seaport area, they must give up the chase, police said. Although the city licenses restaurants and clubs, Boston police are powerless to investigate any violations.

The melee around Carson Beach ended with State Police blaming rival gangs, but city police disputed that assertion, saying the fights were started by young teenagers. The disagreement underscored some city leaders’ contention that Boston police have a deeper knowledge of the city’s crime scene.

“They’re perfectly suited to do a lot of important jobs in policing,’’ Davis said of State Police. “They’re not as well suited to doing community policing in the neighborhoods in Boston.’’

City and State Police have tussled over jurisdiction before.

In 2007, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley placed State Police in charge of all homicides on the beaches and on MBTA buses, trains, stations, and platforms, which had once been the domain of Boston police homicide detectives.

At the time, Conley said the move was made to help relieve overtaxed Boston police detectives, who were dealing with a rise in homicides. But it infuriated detectives, who accused Conley of playing politics after the demotion of a supervisor in the homicide unit whom he admired.

Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.