What McPhee Failed to Mention

Before I begin, let me say this: Michele McPhee is one of our favorite ink-stained wretches here at Boston Daily. The Herald columnist is well-sourced and vicious, a total ass kicker. And we love her for it. I love her for it. She’s what a daily columnist should be.

But her piece in today’s paper — in which she takes Gov. Deval Patrick to task for even suggesting that he might discontinue police details at roadside construction sites — is transparent, and it does the reader a disservice.

For the unacquainted, Massachusetts is the only state in the union that requires police officers to monitor construction sites. The going rate for cops to wave traffic along or to stand and watch men in hard hats dig ditches, is $40-an-hour. It’s a major perk for cops, and one of the main ways for them to make a little extra scratch on the side.

And so McPhee, a cop reporter and friend to those wearing the shield, rises to their defense today.

So Gov. Deval Patrick wants to trim the fat from the state’s transportation spending and the first place he looks is the detail pay for hard-working cops?

What about the bloated payroll of the so-called executives of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority? The Herald’s “find a hack” Web site of 2006 state payroll records shows that 34 employees at the top of the agency pulled in six-figure salaries, with one director, Michael Lewis, making more than $185,000 a year while a lawyer, Marie Breen, makes $150,000 plus.

What about the other 19 people making about $90,000 and up every year, including the employee handling this bizarre MTA position: acting director of civil rights. That job is currently handled by Virginia Turner, who pulled in nearly $89,000 last year. Do taxpayers really need to pay someone that kind of cash to remind them not to discriminate based on ethnicity, race or gender?

Which is all fine and good. I’m with McPhee here. In fact, I applauded the governor when he mentioned that he wanted to shut down the MTA and create a “super agency” in an attempt to cut budgetary waste. I say start trimming, governor, because there’s a lot of fat to go around.

But here’s where McPhee and I must part ways. In her zeal to back up policemen, she writes “it seems to me that every time the state wants to look at waste, it always starts at the bottom rung, never at the top.” Frankly, I don’t care where the governor starts, so long as the gravy train stops accepting passengers — regardless of their vocation.

And therein lies the trouble with McPhee’s column. Part of being a good cop reporter — and, again, she’s as good as it comes in this town — means getting police sources to talk to you. And part of the way you do that is by advocating on their behalf, which McPhee dutifully does today. But, in the process, she completely ignores some very troubling facts regarding these specific police details.

Nowhere in McPhee’s piece does she mention that Massachusetts is the only state in the country that dispatches police officers instead of civilian flaggers to stand at construction sites. Nowhere does she reveal to readers that these details currently cost taxpayers close to $100 million per year, as outlined in a study by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute. And, unfortunately, nowhere does she explain that using civilian flaggers would save the commonwealth somewhere between $36 and $66 million per year. That’s real money, folks.

Look, cops have a tough job to do. I think they should have better base salaries because of it. And I don’t begrudge them making whatever they can in overtime money when working other details. But this specific detail is a financial drain on a state that’s currently running a budget deficit. Not to mention the fact that the crime rate in Boston isn’t exactly stellar. How can we justify placing officers at construction sites when they, and we, would be better served if they were out patrolling our streets?

It’s time to snap out of it. Start at the top or the bottom or wherever you like. I really don’t care, so long as we get rid of the fat. And there’s a lot of it. It’s time to end patronage appointments. It’s time to cut the exorbitant salaries handed out like candy at various state agencies. And it’s time — whether McPhee or the cops like it or not — for these road-side police details to end.

No one should be able to hide. Not even if they’re wearing a shield.