Three years after its adoption by Boston officials, a residency rule that requires police officers hired before 1994 to live inside the city continues to rankle, and keeps courts busy with lawsuits filed by police unions seeking to dilute the ordinance or scrap it entirely.
In the latest legal battle over the rule, a Suffolk County Superior Court judge ruled recently that Boston police who leave the patrol officers’ bargaining unit for a new unit will be exempted from the rule, as long as they were on the Police Department payroll before the its April 1994 effective date.
The ordinance, which was proposed by Mayor Thomas Menino and approved by the City Council, required that all police officers hired after July 1, 1994, live within the city. Officers hired before then were exempt, but they had to live within 15 miles of Boston city limits. Supporters said the residency requirement would forge better relations between police and Boston residents.
Since its enactment, however, the ordinance has caused nothing but rancor among police officers, say officials of the city’s two main police bargaining units, the Police Patrolmen’s Association and the Superior Officers Federation. Both groups bitterly oppose the requirement and have waged an ongoing battle to rescind it, arguing that it would deprive non-compliant officers of promotional opportunities.
The latest twist in the dispute occurred with a ruling in a lawsuit filed by the city against the BPPA to scrap an arbitrator’s decision, which provided exemptions to patrol officers who were members of bargaining units other than the BPPA prior to the enactment of the ordinance. The city charged that the arbitrator had exceeded his authority in the matter.
The decision handed down by Judge Barbara Rouse on Aug. 21 said the requirement “shall itself remain in effect and its exemption shall also remain in effect, but will apply to incumbent patrol officers who are members of the patrol officers’ bargaining union, which is represented by the union,” the decision said. “As soon as a patrol officer is represented by a different bargaining unit, [he or she] will not receive the benefit of the exemption.”
However, the Superior Officers’ Federation put a different spin on the ruling, saying its collective bargaining agreement with the city means its members are unaffected by the decision. “The court found that when an employee leaves one bargaining unit and becomes a member of a new bargaining unit, that employee’s terms and conditions of employment will be governed by the existing collective collective-bargaining agreement in the new bargaining unit,” said a statement by the federation’s president William T. Broderick.
Broderick noted that the federation’s labor agreement contains the provision that “members who are on the department payroll as of the date of the execution of this agreement (April 1994) shall not be subject to the terms of the city residency ordinance during their employment” with the Police Department.
“There has been no appeal of the language, and the time allowed for such an appeal has long since expired,” Broderick said. “Consequently, no current member of the federation who was on the department payroll prior to April 1994 is subject to the residency ordinance. Furthermore, no such members may be denied promotion for not complying with the residency ordinance.”
Broderick told Law Enforcement News that, in a nutshell, the ruling means that federation members “on the city payroll prior to April 1994 don’t have to stay in the city once they’re promoted and they join the association. It doesn’t apply to those who come on after 1994.”
The decision will affect about 70 recently promoted sergeants who are BPPA members and will now be required to move to the city, said James Barry, legislative aide for the association. It also puts the city in an unenviable position, he added.
“The city doesn’t know what to do with them now. What do they say to the guys they just made? ‘Oh, we made a mistake, now you’ve got to move back into the city because we won the appeal.’ They don’t have the political fortitude to do that, and they shouldn’t do it because it’s wrong. It’s wrong that they didn’t grandfather in somebody from the beginning of their career right on through, and it’s wrong to require these new recruits to remain residents throughout their career,” he told LEN.
Barry said city police officers oppose the requirement in the belief that “being a resident of the city doesn’t make a better police officer.”
“I think there’s this notion that we’re sentinels, that you can have a police officer on every corner, and even when we came home from work, we’d be a deterrent to crime. Well, if you have a toothache and a dentist lives next door, you don’t go waking him up at 3 o’clock in the morning to ask him to pull your tooth…. That’s a real bogus argument. Maybe we should put in overtime slips if they want us to be sentinels.”
He added that 65 percent of the force lived in the city before the residency requirement, negating the need for the ordinance. “The whole thing should be thrown out,” he said, hinting that more legal maneuvers are in the offing. “We want everybody exempted, including the guys from 1994 on. If they can’t throw out a slice of it, then throw the whole damned thing out. We never wanted it to begin with.”
In his statement, Broderick warned that any efforts by the city to impose the ordinance on any SPF member, including those promoted to sergeant since April 1994, “will be met with the strongest legal opposition possible by the federation leadership.”
Broderick, a captain with 28 years in the Boston Police Department, told LEN that officers may choose to exact payback at the ballot box from elected officials, including Menino, for forcing the residency rule on them. “If anything, this is going to come back and haunt the Mayor because he’s creating a voting bloc that can hurt him,” Broderick said.