Under acting Mayor Kim Janey’s administration, Boston’s new budget once again plans to slash the city police department’s overtime.
Former Mayor Marty Walsh reduced the overtime budget from $60 million to $48 million — with the $12 million reallocated to social services — in 2020. This time, Janey will be dropping the budget by another $4 million.
However, Walsh’s attempt didn’t work: The police department is projected to spend $65 million — almost $20 million over budget — on overtime by the end of this fiscal year. In fact, the very protests against the police and systemic racism last summer have directly led to almost $5.8 million in overtime profits for Boston police.
Who’s to say Janey’s plan will go any better?
The problem is in the police union contract and the laws surrounding policing. Legally, the department is protected from any consequences of running over on their budget. The recently expired contract also rounds up any overtime shift longer than half an hour to a full hour of pay, which can accumulate to be equal to or more than their base salary.
There is not enough supervision and oversight into the use of overtime, which has led to overtime fraud and false slips in the past — a former Boston Police Captain was arrested for it as recent as last month.
Any further accountability has to come from a third party as well, not internally, because blatant problems arise when the police are able to protect their own. For instance, despite knowing of former officer Patrick Rose’s sexual assault on a child, the Boston Police Department kept it under wraps, allowing him to stay on the force for 21 years, rise to power, continue molesting a supposed five other children and even work on sexual assault cases involving children.
However, it isn’t even about accountability or training at this point. Implementing third-party oversight probably wouldn’t be feasible or realistic for such an extensive system and for a government that has proven an “all bark, no bite” pattern of response to the issue of policing.
We aren’t hopeful the proposed infrastructure will even improve the policing system — the police commissioner has executive power over final decisions and punishments made by the new Office of Police Accountability and Transparency.
Furthermore, the planned budget doesn’t appear to redistribute the $16 million in cut overtime funds to anti-racist programs and social services, like Walsh’s 2020-2021 fiscal proposal. Instead, the city’s budget will also be funding 30 more officer positions, plus the return of injured officers.
Why would we work to hire more officers and push them back into the force faster? Black, Indigenous and other minority communities are already disproportionality policed, and the effects of this have proven to be deadly. Less policing doesn’t mean more officer positions or more training, which has been proven ineffective. Rather, it means reducing the funding, responsibilities and number of positions.
It means that we can’t have Boston’s budget cut “deep” into the vast pockets of police overtime without addressing the system that allows them to face basically zero penalization for their behavior. We need a way to permanently cap the overtime budget — with no wiggle room. If the department goes over, that money should be taken out of their funding, or better yet, their weapons budget, since they evidently can’t tell the difference between tasers and guns.
The recent killing of Daunte Wright in Minnesota, miles from where George Floyd was killed almost a year ago, proves we have learned nothing. Our police remain the same, hold the same power and are allowed to continue repeating the same dangerous, traumatic, violent loop.
We need a swift and far-reaching cultural shift to deprioritize the policing system, which cannot happen until local governments express they are serious about defunding or reform.
As of now, this is not the case, despite empty, half-hearted attempts to appease us. It’s apparent in their overtime rights — the nearly $40,000 salary difference between urban police who typically spend only about 4% of their time responding to serious violent crime and public school teachers who are actively working to educate the youth — and our involuntary reliance on a system we can’t trust.
Let’s be honest: 911 is the go-to emergency dial number, even for non-emergencies. Every issue is directed to the police — whether it’s a minor injury, a trip to the hospital, a fire, a mental health crisis, domestic abuse or sexual abuse — before being either redirected to the correct authorities or dealt with by officers who can mishandle and escalate the situation.
We need to not only dismantle the BPD through effective, lasting budget cuts, but also promote and uplift alternative resources and social services that don’t require submitting vulnerable people and especially BIPOC and other minorities to the police.
The lack of follow-through on the overtime cuts and the expansion of the police force is especially frustrating given that such policy changes are coming from Janey, the city’s first Black mayor, who has built her platform on confronting racial inequities.
We now look toward the other mayoral candidates for their responses to policing, and a commitment to their word, as the race unfolds.
It’s time we stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars paying the criminals, abusers, child molesters, killers and bystanders who “protect” us.
Correction: An earlier version of this editorial identified the most recent overtime fraud incident as last month, rather than the most recent overtime fraud arrest.