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Convention seeks out-of-town police

Organizers of next summer's Democratic National Convention in Boston are lining up security help from police departments as far away as New Bedford and are considering asking the National Guard to lend a hand during the event.

Police and convention officials say they don't know how many officers they need, and police departments have not yet made specific commitments. But the president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association said planners could be trying to find as many as 2,000 more officers, about the size of the Boston Police Department's entire sworn force.

The officers are being recruited while the city is locked in tense negotiations with its main police union. Officials of the patrolmen's union are threatening to embarrass Mayor Thomas M. Menino by protesting during the convention if their contract isn't settled.

But the event represents a huge windfall of convention-financed overtime and special detail work that Boston officers will not want to cede to large numbers of police from other places. And out-of-town police would be less likely to sympathize with Boston-led protests. Both factors give the city leverage in dealing with the Boston police union, political observers say.

City and union officials downplayed any connection between labor negotiations and the planned use of officers from other departments. Menino said organizers have always planned to use officers from other agencies along with Boston police in the first national political convention to be held after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"It's not because of labor issues," the mayor said. "In events like this, like the Super Bowl, there's always a call to other agencies to help supplement the security. You just need extra police and security."

But others said the involvement of officers from outside Boston sends a message to the Boston police union. If members of the police union staged demonstrations at the convention, they might confront officers wearing the uniforms of other agencies or the National Guard instead of their own, said Lou DiNatale, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

"It's a great move," DiNatale said. "The Boston police union is the most volatile, unpredictable player in the game. It sends a message to the Boston police, that it won't be a Boston cop allowing other Boston cops to disrupt an event."

Leaning heavily on State Police, the National Guard, and officers from other police departments can minimize the chance of disruption if the union contract remains unsigned in July, DiNatale said.

DiNatale said local Democrats know well the ability of police unions to capture the spotlight at big political moments. Pickets by the Springfield police union kept delegates to the 1990 state Democratic convention outside in blazing heat for hours. In 1988, the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association embarrassed Governor Michael S. Dukakis on his home turf by endorsing his presidential rival, Vice President George H.W. Bush.

Thomas J. Nee, president of the 1,400-member patrolmen's association, said he is concerned that much of the responsibility, along with financial benefits like overtime and police details, could go to officers from outside Boston. He said the union has been largely uninvolved in convention planning to this point. Still, Nee said the involvement of other police agencies is probably necessary. "We're understaffed in the city, and now they're bringing in an international event here," he said. "It's a concern, but we're looking to work with them."

Details like the rate that out-of-town officers would be paid and whether officers would receive overtime for working the convention after a regular shift in their home towns are yet to be hammered out, convention officials said.

Boston police officials hosted a meeting of area police departments over the summer, alerting them to the possibility help would be needed during the convention. It is not clear yet which agencies will participate, but officials in New Bedford and Quincy said they have been contacted, and the state and MBTA police forces are also expected to be involved in security at the convention.

Mariellen Burns, a Boston police spokeswoman, said overtime and detail opportunities will abound for all officers, even if out-of-town police are involved. With the Boston department charged with keeping the whole city safe at the same time that it deals with 35,000 visitors in town for the convention, plenty of extra help will be needed in directing traffic and keeping the area around the FleetCenter safe.

"There'll be plenty to do there for all our people and then some," Burns said. "We are talking to other jurisdictions, but we can't discuss any of those plans, because we don't have any firm commitments at this time."

Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Convention, said that at this stage, the only formal arrangements with agencies other than the Boston Police Department involve security at convention hotels that are located outside the city. But she said other departments would probably be involved at the convention site, just as they have been in previous conventions in other cities.

Lieutenant John Dougan of the Quincy Police Department said his chief is waiting for final plans to be developed before committing officers. "We were contacted, and we're waiting to hear back from Boston about what exactly they need," Dougan said.

Rick Klein can be reached at rklein@globe.com.

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