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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Flag Men Again

Matt Murphy has an article in today's Lowell Sun on a new report on savings to be achieved--or not--by replacing police details with civilian "flaggers."

Question 1, Matt. Is flaggers a real word?

The article cites a report from Auditor Joseph DeNucci's office.

Question 2, Matt. Shouldn't The Lowell Sun have provided a link for us with the "on line" edition?

The report from Auditor DeNucci's office says that the saving are not as great as predicted by Governor Patrick's office.
Based on our analysis, EOTPW’s estimated annual cost savings projections of between $5.7 and $7.2 million by replacing police details with flaggers and other traffic control devices are overstated.  Only 11% of EOTPW’s estimated savings would be realized by replacing police officers with flaggers.  This is based on our study of contracts which reveals it is a reduction of overall man-hours, whether police or civilian, which accounts for $4.4 to $5.6 million of our revised, adjustment downward of EOTPW’s estimated savings of between $5,015,000 to $6,350,000.
Did that say that the Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works (EOTPW) confused the savings from using civilians with the savings from working less hours?  Mixing those two savings was sloppy on the part of EOTPW.  It appears potentials savings is under a million dollars.  That said, if it was all about money, it would be worth it.  We could use that money up here for our school system in Lowell.

Appendix D of the report from Mr DeNucci's office cites 24 representative cases where someone on a police detail was able to use his or her training and authority to
intervene in life saving situations, apprehending known felons with outstanding warrants, mediating domestic violence situations and taking into custody murder and rape suspects.
These were not all the cases and only represented those noted during the period of the audit.

This raises two interesting questions.
  1. Who was watching the work while the person on police detail was off doing important police work?
  2. If this is really police availability, should it not also be paid official duty?
I bring this up because I believe that while every other state is able to use civilians as flag-persons, the special situation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts demands police providing traffic control at work sites along our roads and highways (this is a reversal of my previous position)*.  Until we are able to massively rebuild our roads, they will present unique problems for those who work along them.

This, in turn, says that Police Details are inherently police work and should not be treated as off-duty work on the part of police.  Thus, City and Town police departments need to allocate this work as part of the normal shift assignments.

That said, we need to ask ourselves about how we get from where we are to where we need to be.  By making these details official police business, we will be initially increasing the duty day of all police.  Eventually, we need to reduce police work days and work weeks to reasonable hours.  These are men and women who are armed and providing for our safety.  They need sufficient rest between shifts.  We have learned that particular lesson with aircrews and with physicians.  The macho view of going long shifts just results in mistakes, often fatal mistakes.  Do you wish for your airline pilot or your surgeon to have just come off spending four or five hours doing flag duty for the last couple of days, on top of normal flying or cutting?

But, as police details are pulled into the local police departments as legitimate and necessary police work we need to help those policemen and policewomen who have come to depend upon paid detail work as part of their annual income.  We need a stabilization fund that will allow us to bridge this gap.  The last thing we need is a member of a police department who is financially in over his or her head.  To be subtle about it, highly sophisticated cartels are spreading north out of Mexico, looking to corrupt our police.  We need to fight that any way we can.  I know the police in Lowell are clean, but what about the ones in "X"?

Some common sense and political courage is in order here.

Regards  --  Cliff

* That said, I still think modifying the gas pump handles is over the top.  I am open to data to the contrary.

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