After two years in a small building at 170 Hancock St., the Boston Police Department's Youth Violence Strike Force and bicycle unit are moving out, part of several other cutbacks - including 60 layoffs - designed to trim the department's budget in a low-revenue year for the city.
"It is more cost effective to move units out of Hancock," said BPD spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll. "Most likely the Youth Violence Strike Force will go back to its old location at Special Ops on Warren Street. [Commissioner Ed Davis] feels strongly that at the end of the day, it does not matter where their roll call is taking place. This is about patrolling the right areas."
The strike force moved to the building in early 2007, when the surrounding Cape Verdean community was blowing up with tit for tat shootings. According to Boston Police Patrolmen's Association president Thomas Nee who patrols in Dorchester, the building was even strafed with bullets once, thought to be a reaction to the strike force's presence there.
The future of the bike unit is still an open question, but Driscoll said it might be split up and sent back to the district station houses all over the city.
In addition to the move from Hancock, the department is laying off 40 police cadets and disbanding the mounted unit and the Operations Division Neighborhood Interaction Unit. Ten who cared for the horses and their equipment will also be laid off, as well as 10 civilians from the ODNIU, which took calls on minor property crimes. The responsibilities they covered and the officers they employed will be sent out to the districts.
Mayor Thomas Menino is including the Police in his request to the city's 40 plus unions for a citywide wage freeze by March 14 to help cover a projected $140 million budget shortfall. Menino said the city could save $55 million and avoid layoffs with the freeze, but so far the BPPA isn't playing ball.
"A one-time wage freeze isn't going to fix it," said Nee. If he agrees to a wage freeze this year, Nee reasons, the union may be bullied into agreeing to a further freeze next year as well.
But Nee's not ignoring the problem. Even Menino is giving the BPPA a tip of the hat for helping lobby the White House for a chunk of a $3 billion earmark in the federal stimulus bill for police departments across the country, Nee reportedly goes "way back" with Vice President Joe Biden. So far, some $3.9 million is coming to Boston via a federal Department of Justice grant.
"The mayor knows we've been working hard," said Nee. "And this thing's far from overâ€¦We're working on a very difficult situation in difficult circumstances."
Eight other unions, including the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation, have accepted the freeze. The mayor and his cabinet, have also agreed to take a 3 percent wage cut.
Last month, the Boston Finance Commission, a two-man team appointed by the Governor but paid by the city, supported the mayor's wage freeze initiative but suggested several other cost-cutting measures. Prime among them was the need to slash overtime costs at the BPD and the Boston Fire Department. Driscoll confirmed that BPD was $17 million over budget in 2008, but added that the department is already tightening the belt on OT this year. Both Driscoll and Nee said the current layoffs would not affect the overtime budget.
"I don't know that the cadets would have any impact at all," said Nee. "But we'll probably pick up the slack on that end."
Instead, Nee pointed to yet another sore point for the bean counters in City Hall, Payments In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT). Colleges and universities submit PILOT payments instead of property taxes, and the rates they pay vary widely but are often much less that property taxes would be.
Nee argues that college row near Kenmore Square is one area where officers on overtime are sent quite often, including every time the Boston Red Sox play the New York Yankees at Fenway Park.
"We gotta call out almost the whole police department because of all the nonsense," said Nee. "At the very least they should be paying us a per capita for each student because these kids are causing chaos."