For those who are unaware of Rule 400, it is a provision governing the application, approval, and standards of what are called Boston Special Police Officers, or SPOs. These positions were created by City Hall and managed by Boston Police as a way of creating supplemental Officers that would focus on specific areas, types of calls, or organizations.
An example of this includes, Park Rangers, Hospital Police, Health Commission Police, and School Police, as well as private Officers who often support Public Officers with patrols in some of Boston’s poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods such as the Orchard Park, Old Colony, Bromley Heath, and other BHA Housing Projects. These Special Officers are overseen by the Boston Police Licensing Unit and are held to a number of standards and restrictions, including only certain Officers being able to carry a firearm or chemical propellant. In short, these additional officers have been tightly managed by the department and serve a crucial role in adding additional personnel to the Public Safety coverage of the City.
We were able to gain access to internal emails from the City of Boston’s Office of Labor Relations and Boston Police’s Licensing Unit that clearly indicate the indefinite suspension of all Rule 400 Officer’s Police powers come July 1, 2021. The first email, sent a number of weeks ago from City of Boston’s Labor Counsel Tanya E. Dennis, seemingly warns Union Leaders, presumably from the Park Rangers, School Police, and Public Health Commission Police, that under the new Police Reform Bill a seemingly unintentional side effect was that the city of Boston would lose its ability to license Special Police Officers. Dennis goes on in her email to say that, “The city is continuing to explore potential options for reinstating the SPO licensure and powers under Rule 400 and hopes to be able to find a feasible solution in the future”.
Many Special Officers and community leaders held out hope that the city would be able to find a solution – not only for their own sake, but for the sake of the at-risk communities and areas that they patrol. For example, Boston Public Health Commission holds a strong presence in the Methadone Mile area that is plagued by drug use and violent crime. School Police Officers have recovered firearms and other weapons from students, and Park Rangers were first to respond to a stabbing on the Common earlier this week.
Then there are the numerous private security companies whose SPOs patrol countless housing projects including Orchard Park, Bromley Heath, Villa Victoria, Franklin Field, and Annunciation to just name a few of the most violent. These companies, including Longwood Security, First Armor, Elite Protection, Securitas among others, not only cover housing projects, but also other banks, stores, and large scale events. Hospital Police are also in this group – covering medical centers like Boston Medical Center, the primary destination for victims of violent crime like shootings and stabbings. With an estimated 1,200 SPOs citywide, the supplemental manpower added by the presence of these Officers almost doubles the size of the law enforcement presence in the City that is already severely understaffed with BPD alone. These SPOs are undoubtedly a major asset to the citizens of Boston – or were.
The hope of survival for SPOs were sadly in vein with an email outlining the changes and end to Rule 400 being sent from the Licensing Unit of the Boston Police Department just days before the deadline. In the email form the Boston Police, all rule 400 Officers, both those operating under the Boston Police Department as well as the Boston Housing Authority, were informed that as of July 1, 2021, “licenses will be suspended for failing to meet the training standards” – standards which have still not been outlined. The email goes on to inform all SPOs that their badges and identification cards must be surrendered to the Licensing Unit no later than July 2, 2021.
This major announcement comes with less than a week until the deadline, leaving almost no time for these agencies to create and implement contingency plans to move forward. Additionally, according to a number of Officers we spoke to, agencies such as the Boston Health Commission Police have not even informed or updated officers on their futures, including if they will even have jobs come next month. With fear of massive layoffs and downsizing rapidly sweeping through the effected agencies, many are looking for employment options elsewhere, leaving understaffed agencies with even fewer bodies to patrol the streets.
We reached out to Boston Police and City Hall Wednesday afternoon, however we did not receive comment by Thursday morning when this article was posted. The numerous Unions we did speak to all echoed the same concerns: how will Boston Police deal with losing the support system of these SPOs while already so short staffed. Calls such as removals, shelter calls, Officer in Trouble and many others that these SPOs respond to daily will now fall on the shoulders of Boston Police Officers who, in some cases, already respond to thousands of calls a day. How agencies will cope remains unknown, however one thing is certain – come July 1st, the City will no longer be nearly as safe as it once was.