The Unfortunate Change of Rob Consalvo

Why Consalvo's plan to add 200 police officers makes us wish he'd talk about rubber sidewalks, illuminated crosswalks, or shopping carts instead.

I first met Rob Consalvo almost 10 years ago. I was in City Hall working on a story for the Boston Phoenix and wanted a comment or two from him. He obliged. Then, having lured me into his office, he proceeded to talk my ear off about shopping carts.

Consalvo, at the time, had a plan for an ordinance to prevent people from taking shopping carts out of supermarket parking lots, from whence they eventually cause clutter and add to blight and even block up water collection systems. I don’t remember the details; what I do remember is that I was bemused at the absurdity of an elected official trying so hard to get me interested in shopping carts—and that, by the end of the conversation, I was actually convinced that this was a well-researched, balanced solution to a small but legitimate problem affecting quality of life in Boston.

That’s the Rob Consalvo I like. Most people do.

At times, we’ve been able to see that Consalvo during this mayoral campaign—when he talks eagerly about rubber sidewalks and illuminated crosswalks and that sort of thing. That’s when he’s the optimistic, energetic guy who wants to find realistic ways to make everyone’s city life a little bit better.

Then there’s this totally ridiculous Rob Consalvo who’s out there saying that he’s going to stop shootings by putting 200 new police officers on the streets of high-crime neighborhoods in the next four years.

This is not a serious proposal. When Consalvo has a serious proposal, you know it: he’s usually got some article clipped from Governing magazine, and a couple of examples of cities that have done it, and an explanation—based on conversations with stakeholders—of how we would want to adapt it for Boston.

In this case, nothing has been thought through at all. For the most part, Consalvo has not even pretended to offer an explanation for why 200 new officers would do the trick as opposed to 50 or 150 or 425; or a cost estimate for recruiting, training, and hiring all these officers in that period of time. When asked by other news outlets where the money would come from, his answer has been, literally: “the budget.”

His campaign gave me a slightly more detailed answer in response to my inquiries:

A 10% increase in sworn BPD officers is what we estimate we will need over 4 years to staff the new initiatives presented in Rob’s public safety, keep pace with retirements, injuries and other attrition on the force and account for projected population increases.

Police personnel estimates always operate with the unknowns of retirements and on the job extended injury and sick leave. So, we’re making a reasonable estimate that balances the need for new hiring with budget limits. We may well need more than 200 additional officers.

Hiring an additional 200 officers will cost about $20 million over 4 years. Much of the money needed to hire the new police officers will come from the benefits package from the new casino. The rest will come from making city government more efficient and shifting budget priorities. Especially in light of the violence we saw last weekend, the bottom line is that we can’t afford not to add more cops to the BPD.

So, we need 200 because we estimate that’s what we need, or, because that’s how many we can almost kind of pay for with casino mitigation funds. And nevermind the long-term financial liability of 200 more officers, we’ll deal with that later.

Similarly, Consalvo is out with a lengthy education plan that promises all manner of vague wonderfulness, most of it involving spending more money, which then magically transforms into fabulous results. It is only slightly more edifying than this marvelous bullet point that caught my eye earlier in the campaign on his website, under Rob’s Vision for Stronger Public Schools:

–Address disparities between our schools’ resources, programs, facilities and personnel by investing more funding in our Boston Public Schools.

Oh, well sure, why didn’t Menino think of that?

I don’t know why Consalvo has morphed from the pragmatic optimist to the money-grows-on-trees, promise-the-world, nonsense-peddler, but I have to be honest: it makes me long for the days when he was trying to get rid of shopping carts.