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Police Department to add 90 officers
By Suzanne Smalley, Globe Staff | February 24, 2005

Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole said yesterday that she has authorized adding about 90 police officers this year, but that the department would still be down about 150 officers, or 11 percent, from five years ago, after the new hiring.

Despite the lower staffing levels, 911 response time citywide has improved slightly over the last three years, according to figures released by the department yesterday. In part, O'Toole said, that was because thousands of nonemergency calls have been diverted from 911 dispatchers to the mayor's office.

She also said that she is beefing up patrols downtown and that a new policy will require officers to work overtime outside downtown nightclubs where there have been recent shootings and stabbings.

Even with the hiring O'Toole has announced, police union officials say that the smaller force could imperil public safety. In a highly critical article in the union newspaper, they presented data showing Boston has fewer officers on the street per person than Washington, Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia.

O'Toole acknowledged in an interview that the department has been hamstrung by city budget cuts and the loss of federal funding to hire additional officers. In 1996, O'Toole said, the city received $13 million in federal money and $9 million in 1997, but has received none since. Hiring the 90 officers -- 40 who are to graduate from the police academy in April and 50 who are to go on the streets in October -- will cost $4 million a year in salary alone.

She pledged to try to recruit more officers beyond those 90, a process that would begin after city officials assess the budget this summer, at the start of the new fiscal year.

"We're trying to catch up with the attrition that has occurred during the past few years," the commissioner said.

Last year, the department increased the number of homicide investigators from 15 to 18, but the unit still resolved only about one-third of the year's 64 homicides by making arrests, issuing warrants, or identifying suspects, a rate that was the lowest in at least a decade.

O'Toole said she is happy with the improvement in 911 response time, but said she hopes that newly promoted Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Fong can fix what she called lingering "customer service" problems in the 911 division. O'Toole has said she is troubled by a recent survey showing a decline in public satisfaction with 911 service, because conversations with 911 operators are often the only time residents interact with the department.

O'Toole said she hopes to find more staffing solutions like the one that helped to ease the burden on 911 operators. The commissioner said that 911 calls have been reduced by "several hundred thousand" in the past few years, after a public awareness campaign reminding residents to call 911 only in emergencies and after the launch of the mayor's help line, which absorbed many nonemergency calls.

"I'm working very closely with the command staff to figure out how we can operate more effectively and efficiently and do more with less," she said.

The staffing and response time figures were obtained by the Globe through a public records request. The figures provided by the department show that police had fewer sworn, uniformed officers working last year than in any year since 1996, when 1,949 officers were working. Last year, 1,956 sworn officers were working, compared with a high of 2,195 in 1999.

Still, the city's average response time to 911 calls improved by 2 percent citywide this year over last. In some districts, however, 911 response time worsened, including in East Boston, where it took police an average of seven minutes instead of six to respond to the highest priority calls. In many parts of the city, 911 response time stayed the same.

A police spreadsheet obtained by the Globe shows that slightly more than 39,000 calls were placed to 911 last month. More of those calls came from people in the downtown area than from anywhere else.

While 14 percent of the total 911 calls came from people in the downtown police district, 10 percent came from District B-3, which includes particularly violent sections of Mattapan and Dorchester.

The fewest calls, only 5 percent of the total, came from West Roxbury and Roslindale.

O'Toole said Superintendent Robert Dunford, who is the new commander of uniformed officers, is studying deployment and is expected to alter some of the district staffing levels in the coming months.

Last week, Dunford transferred four officers to patrol downtown, where a recent series of late-night shootings and stabbings has raised concerns among residents and business owners. A couple of hundred officers are now assigned to that district.

O'Toole said a patrol initiative launched in the theater district is designed to assuage the concerns of residents and business owners.

A department memo, obtained by the Globe, that was sent to all officers working in the downtown area orders one supervisor and four police officers to work overtime on weekend nights and early mornings to control crowds spilling from the bars dotting the alley at Boylston Place and the intersection of Tremont and Stuart streets.

Twelve nightclubs are participating in the initiative, which is unpopular with many officers who don't want to work mandatory overtime on weekend nights and early mornings.

The nightclubs had been patrolled by officers working voluntary paid-detail shifts, but sometimes not enough signed up.

Union officials are critical of the department's routine use of forced overtime, which they say exhausts officers, to keep enough officers on the street.

They say the department hasn't been hiring needed officers because it wants to avoid paying benefits.

"When uncontrollable, ordered overtime is a constant, one would expect the logical response; the hiring of the requisite number of officers," Ron MacGillivray, the patrol officer union's vice president, wrote in an editorial that appeared in the most recent edition of the police newsletter "Pax Centurion."

O'Toole said she is talking to union officials and expects them to be satisfied with her new pledges to hire more officers.

"Of course, we're always concerned with the health and safety of our officers," O'Toole said.

"We're up against some very significant public safety challenges. . . . Frankly, we all have the same end goal in mind. It's just a matter of managing that within the context of the current city fiscal situation," she said.

Suzanne Smalley can be reached at [email protected].
 

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I have heard rumors of another academy class in the fall. They are to be taken from the April 2005 test. There is a class slated to start in a month or so and go until October. The fy2006 budget will kick in on July 1st and hopefully have the funding for the new fall class. Anyone else hear anything similar?
 

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soxrock75";p="57546 said:
I have heard rumors of another academy class in the fall. They are to be taken from the April 2005 test. There is a class slated to start in a month or so and go until October. The fy2006 budget will kick in on July 1st and hopefully have the funding for the new fall class. Anyone else hear anything similar?
My co-worker who is in the process right now for the BPD says the academy should start in April or May.

quincyma";p="57626 said:
I can't believe they can find 90 people that can afford to meet the residency requirments for Boston.
My co-worker is having problems with the residency thing. His parents live in NY near Albany and he's in the Marine Reserves in NH But he lives in Boston But on his paparwork for the marines he listed his Parents Address as his home address so incase anything happened to him while he was previously Deployed overseas they wouldn't go to his apartment and notify his Roommates. He has all the lease agreements and letters from landlords and stuff and they made him go to a hearing cause they said he was living in NY he was like yeah I commuted 4 hours a day to come to boston to go to school then work at night then drive home 4 more hours :p BPD has to come back to reality on that policy.

Scott :rock:
 
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