Massachusetts Eliminates Police Detail at Road Construction Sites

By Joanne Ray | September 28, 2010

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has toughened the rules when it comes to police detail at road construction sites under new regulations filed September 19. The last-minute revision could have a major impact in Boston, where contract language and city ordinances guarantee the use of police details at construction sites.

The new regulations eliminated a provision that would have allowed local police details to continue at all state-supervised work sites – even on lightly traveled roads where the danger is low – if a local labor contract or municipal ordinance required it.

The governor tightened the rules following a newspaper report that said local unions were scrambling to exploit the provision and protect the lucrative details for their officers before the rules take effect October 3. Police officials contend the new rules will dramatically reduce their ability to make public safety decisions in their own communities. The administration notes that the intent of the change is to treat all communities the same, regardless of what type of union contract they have negotiated with their police union.

Civilian Flaggers Replace Police

The Massachusetts Highway Department is preparing to place civilian flaggers on state projects early next month. It will mark the first time police details are replaced, at a lower cost, with civilians to monitor construction projects in the state. Massachusetts reportedly is the only state that automatically assigns police officers to nearly all utility and road work sites.

The new regulations will place civilian flaggers on nearly all state roads where the speed limit is below 45 miles per hour, as well as on low-traffic roads where the speed limit is higher. Civilians would also be used at sites where barriers are used to block off construction sites on a high-speed, high-traffic road.

Some roads – generally those with speed limits of 45 miles per hour and above, and with more than 4,000 vehicles per day – would still rely on police officers to monitor traffic.

The state currently spends about $20 million to $25 million annually on police details. The new policy is estimated to save the state between $5.7 million and $7.2 million annually.

Municipalities could still allow police details on projects that the state is not overseeing, such as locally funded road sites, utility projects, or private construction projects.