It is the first summer the Boston Police and all City departments have entered warmer weather with coordination and a defined plan on how to handle drug abuse, homelessness and quality of life issues on the Mass/Cass corridor – an area that has been at the epicenter of the opiate epidemic for years. Now, just as the summer months get rolling, there are reports that key pieces of police resources dedicated to that Mass/Cass 2.0 plan have been withdrawn due to budget cuts brought on by City Council and City government debates over defunding the police.
That specifically came in a push by advocates and the City Council to reduce overtime at the Boston Police by 20 percent, reallocating it to social services. Whether the pulling of resources is a reality of budget cuts, or whether the South End is being placed as a pawn in a larger political debate is the question ruminating in everyone’s mind.
With that thought, neighborhood leaders this week said they were informed that due to budget cuts, all specifically designated police resources in the Mass/Cass 2.0 plan – such as citywide bike patrols, directed police patrols, fixed posts and overtime shifts – on the corridor have been withdrawn by Boston Police Department headquarters. Likewise, D-4 precinct resources like the local bike patrols of seven officers were cut, as they were paid for by overtime, and the community services officers that frequent community meetings and help out on the Mass/Cass plan were cut by 33 percent.
A Boston Police spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment on the matter. The Mayor’s Office did say the plan is being contemplated – as is everything citywide with police coverage – but nothing is final. A spokesperson for the mayor said they are committed to the Mass/Cass 2.0 plan.“While the Boston Police Department has been having conversations district wide on how to reduce overtime costs to honor the reallocation of 20 percent of their FY21 overtime budget to social services programs, no final decisions have been made on how this will impact police coverage at Newmarket Square and the surrounding neighborhoods,” said Spokesperson Samantha Ormsby.
“Addressing quality of life concerns is an integral part of the Mass & Cass 2.0 plan, and we remain committed to working in partnership with the community towards a collective solution so every resident can live a healthy and safe life.” Most troubling in the community are the bike patrols, which were fought hard for by members of the Worcester Square neighborhood and by members of the South End Forum Opiate Working Group. Those groups have often said when the bikes disappear, the issues with drug abuse and homelessness intensify on the corridor. Last summer, when the bike officers were pulled from the area, the situation became bad quickly, with encampments springing up in the neighborhood and the assault of a corrections officer headed to work at the South Bay House of Corrections.
That, in fact, is what led to the overarching 2.0 plan, and this year was the first summer such a coordinated effort – led by the City’s Kim Thai – was in place. South End Forum Moderator Steve Fox said the potential loss of the police for the plan cuts out the legs from under it. While all departments were contributing greatly to the effort, it was the police that were cross-training as social workers and making a difference in quality of life for residents and those immersed in the challenges of Mass/Cass.
“I believe Mass and Cass is one of the most critical areas for the City and the Police Department to keep their resources deployed and to keep their commitment to both neighbors and businesses,” he said this week. “I challenge anyone to tell me there is a more needy environment that requires police come through on their commitment.” George Stergios, president of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA), said their Association has great concerns about a setback on the plan if police presence is lessened.
“We have heard and we are certainly worried about it,” he said. “The officers at D-4 have put a lot of time and effort into maintaining a presence in our neighborhood and bringing some order and civility to the Mass/Cass area. They have also shown some willingness to depart from the cops and robbers paradigm and work with the social service providers to try to help those struggling with homelessness and/or addiction to get off the street and into treatment.”
He said WSANA and others in the South End have been pushing for some sort of supplement to the Police that could respond to quality of life issues. That kind of unarmed community response team has been proposed recently by Councilors Michelle Wu and Lydia Edwards. He said the neighborhood has always preferred to have some sort of outreach worker rather than an armed police response. However, he said he isn’t sure how long that will take to be implemented or agreed to.
“Even if the Mayor is willing to do so, there will a long gap between the pull-back of the police and the implementation of a new, non-police group, which on the most optimistic prognoses, will leave the neighborhood and those on the street in the lurch,” he said. “I think it is the Mayor who tells the BPD what to do and not the other way around, and so I, we, expect the Mayor to step in and restore the police presence until he has a substitute for it.” WSANA Vice President Desi Murphy said he is very concerned due to the fact that the City actually has a great handle on the issues now, and a good plan to mitigate it. He said the Mass/Cass 2.0 leader, Kim Thai, has been doing a great job in coordinating and understanding the issues.
Without police resources, that could be severely challenged. “The biggest thing about this is the City has to know this will impact the area,” he said. “I’m a big fan of Kim Thai. It’s surprising they would let this funding get cut when they know exactly what’s going on here. If they think this won’t be a problem, I’d like to have them say that on the record.” He added that with the newfound collaboration, it feels like such a letdown to see things potentially disintegrate in this fashion. “Everyone is on the same page,” he said. “City leaders were are that the level of coordination in this plan is unprecedented. That’ a reason to be concerned – that by pulling resources it could harm all of this coordination.”