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‘Utterly unacceptable’: Boston police union wants more cops after some officers worked 24-hour shifts

Larry Calderone, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, called the staffing decisions "reckless."

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Boston Police headquarters. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The city’s largest police union is denouncing decisions that required over 120 officers to work long overtime shifts last weekend, with the majority of those officers mandated to work at least 16 hours and some officers made to work for 24 hours straight.

The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association slammed the department in a news release on Monday, calling the practice unsafe and indicative of the agency’s “gross understaffing.”

The union, which boasts 400 members, including police officers, paramedics, and EMTs, is now calling on the city to immediately hire more officers to alleviate the need for the marathon overtime shifts and tailor the number of simultaneous events the city permits.

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“The BPPA has been calling on the City to hire more cops for years. The chronic understaffing of the BPD is now resulting in the unsafe situation of officers being order to work 24 hours straight,” BPPA President Larry Calderone said in a statement. “This is utterly unacceptable; the City is gambling with the safety of our community and our members by these reckless staffing decisions. We demand that the department cease unsafe staffing, and hire more officers!”

According to the union, Saturday’s long overtime shifts were due to the need for officers to staff several events: a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, a festival in the Seaport, and the city-sponsored “block party” in Jamaica Plain.

The vast majority of officers working on Saturday were ordered to work overtime or, in other words, had no choice in taking on the longer shifts, according to the union. The group called the long hours “physically and psychologically draining.”

“A number of officers were actually ordered to work three shifts in a row — or 24 hours straight,” the release reads, adding at least five officers were also ordered to work 24-hour shifts on Saturday, June 25.

“This is simply unsafe and cannot be allowed to occur,” the union said. “Officers simply cannot work for that many hours and still be expected to make split second decisions in life-threatening situations.”

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The union’s release continued by calling the city’s decision to permit multiple events on the same day “irresponsible.”

The organization also said the problem “demonstrates why the city spends so much on overtime — there simply aren’t enough officers working for the BPD!”

A spokesperson for the Boston Police Department did not return a request for comment on Tuesday.

Understaffing woes on the force have come into focus in recent years as city officials have tried to rein in the department’s overtime pay spending, particularly amid the push to redirect portions of law enforcement budgets into other city-funded, community-centric programs in the wake of the racial justice movement in 2020.

Two years ago, then-Boston Mayor Marty Walsh cut the overtime budget by $12 million.

And last year, then-acting Mayor Kim Janey sought to cut the overtime budget by $21 million of what the agency was expected to spend.

Keeping costs down can be tricky for City Hall: Under state law, the city must pay all overtime for public safety agencies regardless of whether those expenses exceed their allotted budgets.

This year, the council initially sought to cut $10 million from the overtime budget, but Mayor Michelle Wu rejected that offer, arguing the move would de-stabilize the city’s financial plan and put Boston in a position to repeat a pattern of overspending.

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Notably, many city leaders understand, and agree on, the need for more sworn officers — at least as a way to keep costs down.

City Council President Ed Flynn has previously called for the city to hire as many as hundreds of new officers, as the department anticipates more retirements in the years to come.

Last year, Janey’s budget sought to increase the department by 30 officers as well as the number of cadet recruits by 20 cadets, or 50 percent.

This year, Wu’s budget, passed by the City Council last month, does more of the same by expanding the cadet class by 50 percent, or 30 people, up to a total of 90 cadets.

The council passed the city’s $3.99 billion operating budget last month.

However, through the amended operating budget, Wu re-allocated $1.2 million from the police budget in part by delaying the next recruit class by two months.

“Should net state revenues come in higher than currently budgeted over the next few months as the state budget is finalized, this will be a top priority to restore and accelerate our recruit class,” Wu wrote to councilors in June.

Asked about the BPPA’s immediate call for more officers on Tuesday, a city spokesperson, in a statement, said: “We’re grateful for the service of our Boston Police officers every single day to keep residents and visitors in Boston safe.”

During a hearing with city councilors in July 2020, Boston police officials highlighted several options they were considering to lower costs to meet Walsh’s overtime budget goals.

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One of those long-term options was hiring civilians to work administrative positions that are currently staffed by approximately 80 to 100 sworn officers.

Department representatives said doing that, however, would require negotiations with the city’s police unions.

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