Boston city council looking to change police department’s ‘system of forced overtime’
An officer can be disciplined for not working ordered overtime under the department’s rules and procedures, such as receiving a verbal warning or suspension
By Gayla Cawley
BOSTON — City Council President Ed Flynn is seeking changes to the Boston Police Department’s “system of forced overtime” after its largest union said three officers were ordered to work 24-hour shifts over the weekend.
The Boston Police Department denied the allegations, with a spokesperson stating that “no officers were ordered to work 24 hours” last Friday evening. Rather, officers were offered additional hours; a few volunteered and were approved to work beyond the department’s cap on overtime, which limits them to working 18 hours per day, the spokesperson said.
Still, Flynn said he requested an “immediate” meeting with Police Commissioner Michael Cox to discuss the matter, and plans to file a hearing order “on this troubling situation” for the next City Council meeting, set for July 19.
“Recently, at least one Boston police officer was ordered to work 24 hours straight,” Flynn said in a Monday statement. “Working 24 hours without time off for rest is not only unhealthy for the police officers and their families, it is also harmful to the residents and our neighborhoods.”
He added, “It is also illegal to work that many hours without needed rest. Mistakes are made when an officer is sleep deprived.”
Flynn said he spoke directly with Commissioner Cox following a similar situation last year, when it was reported that officers were working 24-hour shifts, and was “assured it would not happen again.”
“However, this recent incident is confirmation that we have a significant problem in the department with mandatory overtime,” Flynn said. “The current system of forced overtime is a failure and it cannot continue.”
Larry Calderone, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, the city’s largest police union, said three officers were ordered to work so-called “triple tours” over the weekend, but only one officer fulfilled the entire 24-hour shift.
The other two officers were relieved of duty by the duty supervisor when it became known that the officers were in violation of the department’s rules and procedures, which limit individuals to 90 hours of work per week, Calderone said.
A union representative assigned to the shift had raised the 90-hour violation, and the two officers were sent home early, he said. Having police officers work excessive hours presents a public safety risk, he added.
Officers are being asked “more than ever to make split-second decisions” on people’s health, welfare and the ability to use all of the tools at their disposal. This means continuing their use of force, including the deployment of pepper spray, use of a service baton, or “unfortunately having to reduce themselves to lethal interaction,” Calderone said.
“All of that will be second-guessed from the minute it happens moving forward,” he said. “And having an officer that works 24 hours straight be held accountable for making that split-second decision is unacceptable.
“Nobody should be put in that position and no member of the general public should have to worry about how tired the officer is responding to their need — and that need is usually at their most dire time.”
Mariellen Burns, a spokesperson for the Boston Police Department, disputed the union’s statements, saying that 24-hour shifts were not ordered.
“Friday evening, officers were offered overtime to support a district that was short-handed,” Burns said in a statement. “For a few officers who volunteered, this meant that in this instance, they were approved to work more than the allowable 18 hours in one day.”
She added, “Officer wellness is fundamental for public safety, so we continue to prioritize taking steps to fill vacancies on the sworn and civilian side, and to boost our numbers in order to meet minimum staffing levels, and to ensure that officers and their families can have the rest and health they deserve and need.”
Burns pointed to plans to add officers from a recruiting class currently going through the police academy, the largest in “more in than a decade,” and efforts to actively recruit additional officers.
She said short-staffed BPD districts are also able to request additional officers from other parts of the city, or utilize mutual aid agreements in place with the state and surrounding departments.
“We are carefully reviewing any situations of individual officers working untenable hours and believe the cap on hours is an important protection for officer health and for public safety,” Burns said.
A 24-hour shift is not common in the city’s police department, but it did happen “a few times” last summer, Calderone said. What is common, however, is that officers throughout the city are being ordered to work double shifts, or 16 hours per day, every week they come in, he said, often for multiple days.
An officer can be disciplined for not working ordered overtime under the department’s rules and procedures. This could include a verbal warning or suspension, Calderone said.
Lengthy shifts are especially prevalent in the summer, Calderone said, as officers take on more hours to account for the increase in tourism, the uptick in special events and permitting through City Hall, and to cover their colleagues’ vacations.
“What it really boils down to is we’re short hundreds of cops,” Calderone said, putting that number at 400. “But it’s also a mismanagement of personnel and that falls on the management of the department.”
Calderone pushed back on recruitment efforts, saying that while the department hires one police academy class per year, at 100 to 125 officers, there’s only a net gain of a “couple dozen” per year, when accounting for the “80 to 100” officers lost per year through attrition.
He also spoke favorably of Flynn’s call for allocating funds to hire 300 additional officers every year for the next 10 years.
“The City of Boston needs to allocate monies to hire double classes for years to come or the overtime budget is going to continue to suffer,” Calderone said.