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Law Enforcement Officials Continue to Battle for Boston’s Innovation District Control

Boston officials charge State Police have impeded criminal investigations on Massport land

By adamg – 6/28/11 – 11:20 pm


Sanfilippo: Problems on the waterfront.

Sanfilippo: Problems on the waterfront.Maybe it’s just as well nobody from the State Police showed up at a City Council hearing today on 1996 law that took jurisdiction away from Boston Police over a large swath of the South Boston waterfront and gave it to them. They might not have liked what city councilors and Boston Police officials had to say.

Boston Police Superintendent in Chief Daniel Linskey and Gerry Sanfilippo, president of the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society, cited examples of how the jurisdictional issues are causing problems for law enforcement – problems they say will only increase as the Seaport/Innovation District is built out.

Sanfilippo said just this month, BPD ran into problems with a domestic-assault case. A man punched his girlfriend in the face at Remy’s on Northern Avenue on June 15. The woman reported it to a trooper stationed outside the restaurant, who told her to wait outside while they search for the man. She eventually just returned to the Ramada in Dorchester where she was staying with him and called Boston Police – who found the man there. When a detective notified State Police, a trooper told him he was “not interested in pursing this incident and they would not respond to the Ramada Inn.”

Linskey said a couple of years ago, Boston Police were nearing the arrest of somebody who still had the jewelry he had from a German couple staying at the Seaport Hotel – on Massport land – when State Police insisted they needed to take control of the investigation and start from scratch. The result: The couple had to fly back to Germany without the jewelry.

City Council Chairman Steve Murphy said he was recently at a political event at Remy’s when a Massport officer began threatening to limit admission because of capacity issues. Murphy knew the cop had no authority – because the city of Boston issues occupancy permits – but the officer wouldn’t back down, he said.

C-6 Detective John Foundas on an example of a potentially catastrophic issue.

The law may have made sense back in 1996, when Massport was strictly in the transportation business and much of the seaport consisted of traditional wharves, Murphy said. But today, all those wharves and nearby blocks are at the heart of what City Hall now calls the Innovation District – which, after decades, seems poised to become Boston’s next hot neighborhood – and Massport has let developers use its wharves and land for condos, hotel rooms, bars and restaurants, such as the newly completed Liberty Wharf.

“In my view, they’re now in the real estate business,” and not well equipped to handle routine city-style police work that will only increase as more people move in, Murphy said. Police Commissioner Ed Davis said that after considerable research, he has yet to find another city in the country where the local police force does not have full jurisdiction within city limits. He noted BPD and State Police already have “concurrent” jurisdiction over the former MDC parkways in the city.

Councilor Maureen Feeney (Dorchester) and Police Superintendant William Evans said they are both concerned that nobody’s inspecting the bars to make sure they’re not overserving – or just serving minors. Boston Police don’t, even though the city issues the liquor licenses, because they’re on Massport land. State Police don’t because they don’t have the manpower for it, they said. If the under-21 set doesn’t know they might have an easier time on the waterfront now, they soon will, Feeney said.

Evans on why he wants Boston Police to have authority to respond to incidents on Massport land:

“It fails common sense completely,” Murphy said. Murphy pointed to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in New York and wondered what the result would have been if the alleged attack had been in a Boston hotel and he tried to get on a plane at Logan: Could Boston Police take him off the plane at the last moment? Davis said that would make a good law-school question.

Bill Linehan, the city councilor most directly affected because he represents South Boston, said he wants his new constituents “to receive the same professional and quality protection we receive from the Boston Police Department.

“It’s absolutely ludicrous that the State Police, who have jurisdiction in my district are not here,” he said. He noted that Massport relies on Boston Fire and EMS for their emergency services; restricting police just makes no sense.

Joseph Lawless, head of Massport security, said his hands are tied by current state law, which give jurisdiction to the State Police. He said Massport is preparing legislation that would let it sign a “memorandum of understanding” with Boston Police to allow its officers to respond to incidents. But Davis and Feeney said that wasn’t good enough, in part because courts have held only the legislature can decide police jurisdictional issues.

“We all can give the State Police great credit, they do a good job, but this is Boston, and you’re the people who keep us safe,” Feeney told Boston Police officials and union heads at the hearing.

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