Boston police, fire departments in clash with US judge -- yet again

The city of Boston is being whipsawed by two conflicting demands -- the need to hire minority personnel as policemen, firefighters, and teachers while at the same time slash municipal spending.

US District Court decisions are forcing Boston to revamp its plans to reduce manpower in its police, fire, and school departments. That only adds to Boston's difficulties, since it already is pinned down by court rulings that call for school desegregation, jail upgrading, and police and fire department integration.

Now, Chief US District Judge Andrew A. Caffrey has ruled (on Saturday, Aug. 8 ) that two key city departments must maintain certain percentages of minorities when making personnel cutbacks. The city must retain 11.7 percent minority police officers and 14.7 percent minority firefighters. Both departments had planned dismissals on the basis of seniority -- a stipulation of contracts engotiated with public-employee unions. That automatically would have released minorities with less time on the job than whites.

US District Judge W. Arthur Garrity, overseer of court-ordered desegregation since the 1974-75 school year, already had ordered the Boston School Department to retain a 19 percent minority force among teachers a month ago.

City officials must grapple with these decisions at a time when Proposition 2 1/2 -- a state tax reduction law that became effective July 1 -- is forcing the city to reduce its budget and personnel involved are tied to union contracts that base personnel cutbacks on seniority only.

Judge Caffrey's order sets aside those provisions, and orders both the police and fire departments to set up separate black and white seniority lists for dismissal purposes. This policy will also force the rehiring of 83 blacks already laid off by the police department, as well as an unspecified number of black firefighters. As a result, more experienced white personnel, some with up to 11 years experience, will lose their jobs in both departments.

Police Supt. William J. Bratton and Fire Commissioner George H. Paul say Judge Caffrey's ruling could upset the morale of their departments and could possibly cause friction among black and white personnel. At this writing, neither the police nor firefighters union have commented on the decision.

The legal battle for blacks in both departments dates back to 1970 when the Boston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed successful class action suits in federal courts.

Since 1973 the city police have employed white and minority officers on a one-to-one basis to reach court-ordered quotas.To make the sweeping cutbacks required under proposition 2 1/2, however, Superintendent Bratton said 256 officers -- 138 white and 118 black -- were scheduled to be dropped within a week. Now, however, these plans will have to be altered to comply with the latest court order.

Commissioner Paul said the fire department was to complete a scheduled six-week layoff process of 208 by dropping 38 people within a week.The department will now review the dismissals on the basis o f separate seniority lists, he says.

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