The entire Boston Housing Authority (BHA) Police force could disappear in October when its current funding expires. No new funds are in place.
State Rep. Liz Malia has filed a bill that would provide public housing policing grants, inspired by the BHA Police crisis.
Otherwise, there is no Plan B for now, according to BHA Administrator Sandra Henriquez. But, she said, city officials are scrambling for solutions.
“We’re trying to see what and where and who and how” to continue the policing, she said.
“It’s a major thing,” said City Councilor John Tobin, who was scheduled to hold a City Council hearing this week about the crisis.
The BHA Police force consists of only 26 officers. But, Tobin noted, they made 2,700 arrests last year.
Henriquez calls the force an “enhancement” to the Boston Police Department (BPD), with a more intimate knowledge of housing developments and able to prioritize responses to calls there. The force technically falls under BPD command.
The force was originally funded under a federal anti-drug program for public housing. Those funds were cut several years ago, killing many youth programs outright. Residual funds kept the BHA Police going for a while. The force is now operating under one-time City of Boston funding.
“That funding that we’ve been crafting and cobbling together is ending for us,” Henriquez said.
The State House bill would appropriate $11 million for competitive grants to local housing authorities for safety initiatives.
There are reportedly new rumblings about another potential solution: folding the BHA Police force into the BPD completely. Noting that the BPD is itself short-staffed, Malia said, “That debate is going to continue, and in the meantime, we need to have bodies in those [BHA] positions.”
Even if funding continues, the BHA Police force is arguably too small to cover all of the housing developments.
“The bottom line is, there’s not enough public safety coverage in any of our housing projects,” Malia said. “It’s like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon.”
Malia and Tobin said the search for a police funding solution is also an opportunity to discuss safety issues in general.
“It leads to a much broader discussion. What’s the long-term plan?” Tobin said.
He has formed what he calls a City Council “subcommittee” of public housing residents, police officials and others “to deal with safety and security issues in BHA properties.” Its meetings, held over the past two months or so, have largely focused on the police funding, but is also addressing such BHA proposals as installing security cameras in housing developments.
“People who live in these developments…deserve the same quality of life everybody else does,” Tobin said. “I can assure you that if anybody was drinking or urinating on my front lawn in West Roxbury, that wouldn’t be tolerated for five seconds.”
Malia said that finding funding for youth programming is even more important than police funding. She said she might try to insert such funding into the State House bill.
The crisis also speaks to the issue of funding cuts in virtually every area of public housing, Malia said.
“We’re starving it to death,” she said.