MBTA police plan to privatize dispatch services

Move marks first time the agency has employed the power to skirt the Pacheco Law

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

 

THE MBTA PLANS to move its Transit Police dispatching function to the private vendor IXP Corporation, freeing up 15 officers to move to patrol as the T takes advantage of new abilities to outsource work.

The $6.1 million contract would pay for three years of private dispatch, moving 15 officers out of dispatch and into patrol, according to the T. It would include two one-year contracts of about $2 million.

It is the first time since lawmakers suspended the so-called Pacheco law that the MBTA might actually take advantage of its freer hand to privatize services.

“This is going to help us tremendously,” Transit Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan told the News Service.

With 273 officers and jurisdiction in 175 cities and towns, the Transit Police is second only to the State Police in the size of its coverage area, according to Sullivan, who said patrols have been reconfigured to target times and locations with the largest ridership.

“We have more uniformed police officers at high-volume stations at peak ridership,” said Sullivan, who said the new patrol plan has corresponded with a drop in crime and a drop in overtime.

The new patrol plan steers the Transit Police away from its old “municipal-driven” mindset, and dedicates cars to cover the sprawling commuter rail while focusing more coverage on “the core subway system,” Sullivan said.

The patrol plan went into effect in March, and over the six months from January to July the category of crimes that include aggravated assault, robbery and larceny has fallen 31 percent while police overtime has dropped by $1.1 million, or 26 percent over that same period, according to an MBTA presentation.

The late winter of 2015 was particularly challenging for the MBTA as snows slowed and sometimes stopped service, leading to a major reform push.

Lawmakers last year relieved MBTA management from the mandates of the Pacheco law, which requires agencies to clear proposed major outsourcing plans with the state auditor for assurance they will save money and not result in a drop in service.

MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve, who is also acting general manager, said outsourcing the dispatch services is the first instance where the T has taken advantage of suspension of the Pacheco law.

According to the MBTA’s own numbers, the savings in operation costs will be minimal. Over five years, the privatization would cost $10.1 million, just $41,000 less than keeping operations in-house. Savings will accrue over the long term, as the T no longer would owe retirement benefits to dispatch employees, according to Shortsleeve, who said the added patrol officers would increase public safety at a time when terrorist attacks have dealt deadly blows around the world.

“This immediately increases service,” Shortsleeve said. He said, “We need more police in the system.”

A consultancy and service provider based in Princeton, N.J., IXP Corporation got its start in New York City, according to its website.

The move to will provide a major boost to the Transit Police, according to Sullivan. He said, “Police officers should not be answering telephones and dispatching calls.”

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Guest Contributor

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger is currently studying law at Temple University in Philadelphia. Previously, he joined  CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger is currently studying law at Temple University in Philadelphia. Previously, he joined  CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Union officials representing bus drivers, mechanics and police personnel, have spoken out against MBTA privatization plans as they have come up over the past year or so.

Earlier this year, the MBTA moved Transit Police out of the agency’s cash-handling “money room,” bringing in the private security firm G4S for about $400,000 per year – which is under the threshold value for triggering the Pacheco law.