Boston police unions sue city, council over tear gas, rubber bullet restrictions

The council’s passage of the 2021 rule was “unlawful interference with police procedures and tactics," officials said


By Sean Philip Cotter
Boston Herald

BOSTON — Two cop unions are suing Boston in an effort to cuff the city and its council’s ability to implement the controversial rule restricting less-lethal measures such as pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets.

The Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society say they filed suit on Monday over the ordinance, which went into law last year.

Police prepare to move out on Charles Gate near the Boston Common garage, Sunday May 31, 2020, in Boston.
Police prepare to move out on Charles Gate near the Boston Common garage, Sunday May 31, 2020, in Boston. (Photo/Jim Michaud for Boston Herald via MediaNews Group)

In a statement, the unions, who have been at odds with the Wu administration since shortly after the mayor took office, slammed in particular the council’s passage of the rule as “unlawful interference with police procedures and tactics.”

The Wu administration declined to comment as it waited to review the lawsuit.

The complaint from the suit lists Mayor Michelle Wu, City Council President Ed Flynn and Acting Police Commissioner Greg Long as defendants and claims that there’s a decades-long legal history of the council passing ordinances to change departmental policy — and courts going against them, including rules from as far back as the 1970s over shotgun use, minimum force size and a requirement that all cruisers be constantly staffed.

All of those, the unions say in their legal complaint in Suffolk Superior Court, are allowed to be ignored. The department has hundreds fewer than the 2,500 required by statute, all cars are not staffed round the clock and they don’t all have shotguns with them, per the complaint.

This latest rule was signed into law last year, and was prompted by the protests around racial issues in summer 2020. Activists said cops were too aggressive in deploying tear gas and pepper spray at a protest turned riot downtown on May 31, 2020. The council then passed the rules heavily restricting the chemical agents’ use — and the use of rubber bullets and other less-lethal kinetic projectiles — in late 2020 on an 8-5 vote, but then-Mayor Marty Walsh vetoed it and the council didn’t have the votes for an override.

But after Walsh left to become U.S. Labor secretary, the council passed a slightly amended version of it, and then-Acting Mayor Kim Janey signed it.

The unions are looking for declarative relief from a Suffolk Superior judge about whether the 2021 ordinance and the other older ones are all valid — and it also expands the issue to the recently created Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, seeking a declaration on whether that organization is able to investigate officers.

BPSOF president Jeanne Carroll said in a statement that there is “no excuse for politicians to interfere with the operations of our members” and that the ongoing “anti-police narrative is reckless and dangerous.”

And BPDBS president Donald Caisey said, “This is an issue that affects not just our officer’s safety, it affects the communities we serve, those that work and visit our great city.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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