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Flash point for firefighters, city

Headquarters gets police guard to prevent evidence tampering in federal pension probe

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / April 30, 2008

Boston police, acting at the request of the city's fire commissioner, have begun guarding Fire Department headquarters to make sure that no one tampers with evidence subpoenaed as part of a federal investigation into alleged pension abuse by firefighters, fire and police officials said yesterday.

A police cruiser has been stationed outside the Dorchester building since Friday to make sure no one breaks in to steal documents that the FBI has requested.

No threats have been made, according to Steve MacDonald, spokesman for the Fire Department, but he said Fire Commissioner Roderick J. Fraser Jr. wanted to be cautious.

Asked if Fraser feared that firefighters might try to tamper with the documents, MacDonald replied, "He takes the federal subpoena very seriously, and we're doing what we can to cooperate with the subpoena."

Ed Kelly, president of Boston Firefighters Local 718, criticized the move and said he did not see the need for extra protection.

"I think, given crime in the city, those police resources could be better allocated," Kelly he said. "I think the commissioner watches too many movies."

Tensions between the commissioner and the union have been building for months, as the two sides wrangle over Fraser's efforts to make changes in the department, including random alcohol and drug testing of firefighters.

Calls for the testing intensified after the deaths of two firefighters in a West Roxbury blaze last August. Autopsy results showed that one of the firefighters had traces of cocaine in his system and the other had a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, according to city officials who were briefed on the autopsy results.

The rift between Fraser and the union widened two weeks ago, when federal authorities issued subpoenas as part of a grand jury investigation of alleged disability abuse in the Fire Department.

The FBI demanded what is believed to be tens of thousands of pages of disability records going back to 2000.

The Globe reported in January that 102 Boston firefighters reported career-ending injuries while they were filling in for superiors at higher pay grades. The move increased the firefighters' tax-free disability pensions by an average of $10,300 a year.

MacDonald said that fire officials have been photocopying the documents the FBI requested. Only officials authorized to comb through personnel files have had access to the documents, said MacDonald.

Last week, Fraser called Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis and asked police to provide security at headquarters, said Elaine Driscoll, Davis's spokeswoman.

"It's a matter of precaution," she said. "It will continue as long as the fire commissioner feels it's necessary."

MacDonald said Fraser wanted surveillance at night and over the weekend, when the building is empty. But a police car was also there Monday during the day and early yesterday.

Police typically send extra patrols to neighborhoods where officials have noticed a trend in crime, such as vandalism or burglaries. Police regularly respond to requests from community members and business owners for more surveillance in their neighborhood after a shooting or a homicide, Driscoll said. The officer usually patrols in a cruiser and is directed by supervisors to get out of the vehicle and walk around the area.

"It's a form of community policing," Driscoll said, "that we use daily in every single district."

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

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