The Boston Herald today tries to knock down yesterday’s Boston Globe story reporting that as many as 200 Boston police officers could be laid off because of the recession-driven budget meltdown. But it’s difficult to know exactly what is going on.
For instance, the Herald’s Jessica Van Sack writes that an aide to “enraged” (isn’t it ever thus?) Boston Mayor Tom Menino said, “It won’t be 200 police officers.” Well, what about 150? Not exactly reassuring.
For that matter, the online headline over Van Sack’s story goes quite a bit farther than her own carefully worded story: “Riled mayor Thomas M. Menino: Reports of cop layoffs untrue.” The cover line, “Menino vows to spare cops from budget ax,” strikes me as unsupported by Van Sack’s reporting as well.
Given the murk, it’s worth looking at what named sources have said. The Globe’s Donovan Slack and Maria Cramer yesterday cited “two officials” in their report that “as many as 200” officers could lose their jobs. It’s hard to know what to make of that, given that we don’t know who the “two officials” are.
But they also quote Menino spokeswoman Dot Joyce as saying, “There is nothing official at this point, and it is way too premature to determine the impact on any department, including the Boston Police Department.” And Police Commissioner Ed Davis weighs in with this: “Everyone knows that if your budget is 90 percent personnel and you sustain deep cuts, then personnel would be on the table. At this point in time, it’s not something that I can comment on, because I don’t know what those numbers are going to be.”
I take Joyce’s and Davis’ comments as essentially confirming the idea that the two officials with whom the Globe spoke are knowledgeable, and that they are indeed throwing around the 200 number as a worst-case scenario, if nothing else.
Now let’s take a look at what’s on the record in Van Sack’s Herald story today. Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, tells her, “The mayor has assured me that while there are problems, there are no planned layoffs.” OK. But I don’t think anyone said there were at this point.
Joyce and Davis also pop up in the Herald story, and what they have to say is telling as well. Davis: “Somebody put this out to try to raise fear.” No doubt about it — it smacks of a political tactic. But does that mean it’s not true?
Joyce’s quote to the Herald is even more equivocal: “Any numbers are irresponsible to put out at this time, seeing as we have no idea what’s gonna happen with the state. There’s lots of employees at the Police Department. The mayor has made it clear that protecting the service to residents as much as possible is his first priority.”
Finally, the Globe’s Cramer today quotes an e-mail Davis sent out within his department following yesterday’s story: “At this time I want to be clear that no decision has been made to proceed with layoffs. Any suggestion to the contrary is premature.” That doesn’t contradict the Globe’s report that as many as 200 officers could lose their jobs, either.
So what is going on? It’s hard to say, but here’s one likely possibility. Two officials knowledgeable about discussions taking place at City Hall leaked to the Globe the possibility that as many as 200 police officers might face layoffs. More than anything, the leak was aimed at scaring Gov. Deval Patrick into ensuring sufficient local aid so that such cuts don’t have to be made.
Menino is angry — that’s a given. What we don’t know is if 1) he is genuinely angry because he didn’t want the layoff numbers to be leaked, at least not yet; 2) he is genuinely angry because the Globe’s emphasis on layoffs, rather than on Patrick’s options, puts more pressure on City Hall than he had intended; or 3) he is pretending to be angry but is actually pleased that he succeeded in floating this frightening trial balloon.
Because officials appear to be dialing back, that gives the Herald the opportunity to claim that the Globe got it wrong. The problem is that what officials are actually saying, on the record, does not contradict the notion that as many as 200 officers could be laid off if more money can’t be found.