Newton police file lawsuit against city

Seeking to limit auxiliary officers

By Kathleen Burge
Globe Staff / December 14, 2010

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The Newton patrolmen’s union is suing the city and its police chief, saying that the use of voluntary auxiliary officers as part of President Obama’s security force during an October visit endangered the public, the president, and police officers working nearby.

The Newton Police Association’s lawsuit, filed in Middlesex Superior Court last week, is asking for a declaration that the Police Department is not abiding by city ordinance in its use of the unpaid officers. The union also is seeking an injunction preventing the city from continuing the practice.

Auxiliary officers are unpaid volunteers trained to assist the police, but they have not received the same level of training required of paid police officers.

The lawsuit also states that Newton Police Chief Matthew A. Cummings has wrongly allowed the auxiliary officers to direct traffic at events such as the Boston Marathon and charity walks, as well as during Obama’s visit. The main job of the auxiliary officers is to observe and report, the union’s lawsuit states.

Cummings believes that the auxiliary officers are legally allowed to direct traffic and has continued to use them for that purpose, according to the lawsuit.

The Newton Police Department did not return a call seeking comment on the lawuit, and Mayor Setti Warren declined to discuss it, according to a spokesman.

During the president’s Oct. 16 visit to Massachusetts, Obama attended a rally for Governor Deval Patrick’s reelection campaign. He then went to a fund-raiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at the Newton house of Dr. Ralph de la Torre, then chief executive officer of Caritas Christi Health Care and now chief executive of Steward Health Care System LLC.

People lined the streets of Newton, hoping to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade. The visit was the first time that auxiliary officers were used to provide security, according to the police union.

John M. Daly, president of the Newton Police Association, said in an interview yesterday that the Police Department should have paid for more officers to provide security during Obama’s visit. The volunteers were not qualified to respond if there had been a security threat, he said.

“They’re not psychologically screened,’’ he said. “They’re not properly trained, and they’re not armed.’’

The city’s general order authorizing the use of auxiliary officers makes clear that they do not have police powers and cannot make arrests, issue citations, or stop motor vehicles. But the union and the Police Department disagree on how much responsibility the auxiliary officers can have and how to interpret city guidelines in traffic control.

The general order allowing the auxiliary officers says they can “assist with traffic control at parades, road races, accidents.’’ But elsewhere, the city code states that only sworn officers can direct traffic.

“The residents of Newton have an interest in knowing that their ordinances are enforced as written,’’ said James Lamond, a lawyer representing the union. “It’s not about the police seeking extra pay.’’

The lawsuit also states that the Police Department is abusing the appointment of “special police officers,’’ who are given many of the powers of constables. The suit states that although special officers are supposed to serve for only one year, the city has been appointing some for much longer terms.

“We feel it’s political patronage and not necessary,’’ Daly said.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

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