Massachusetts is the only state in which businesses or governmental entities conducting projects on local roads generally use police details rather than flaggers. This practice is the result of both local ordinances and the exercise of discretion by local police officials empowered to require the use of police details in work zones. The system is both unique and expensive. Critics argue that the practice of requiring police details inflates costs to businesses and taxpayers, while supporters argue that it improves public safety. Calls for reforms to the system have faced strong opposition from police departments. To date, however, no hard figures have been available to aid in the issue, and both sides have relied heavily on anecdotal evidence.
Using regression analysis on data provided by 103 police departments around the state, we have estimated the cost of police details for Massachusetts and assessed the argument that police details increase public safety. We find that the police details are unnecessarily costly and that there is no evidence that public safety benefits from the unnecessary costs that they impose.
Police officers in Massachusetts cities and towns earned an estimated $141.4 million working off-duty details in 2003. Of this amount, officers working traffic assignments received approximately $93.3 million. This estimate applies to local police only. It excludes detail pay earned by state police officers. ·
The users of police details include public utilities, local government, real estate developers and entertainment venues such as Six Flags New England. Police details usually provide either security or traffic control services. Both services could be provided more cheaply by civilian personnel. We limit our attention here to police details hired to control traffic in work zones other than highway work zones. The use of civilian flaggers in these work zones would have saved Massachusetts businesses and taxpayers $36.5 to $66.5 million last year.
In Massachusetts, cities and towns generally require police details to control traffic in work zones on local roads. The other 49 states allow civilian flaggers, rather than uniformed police officers, to handle much of this traffic. If police details increase traffic safety, it should be possible to find supporting evidence in traffic-accident data. Massachusetts should be a safer place to drive, as measured by data relating to accident rates.
Infact true, we examined data on property damage and bodily injury claims resulting from automobile accidents for the 50 states and for 16 metropolitan areas, including Boston. These data show that by two measures, Massachusetts is not safer than other states but is, in fact, the least safe state in which to drive. Specifically:
Massachusetts has the worst accident
rate in the nation, as measured by accidents causing property damage.
It has the second worst accident rate in the nation, as measured by accidents causing bodily injury.
Accident rates are higher in Boston than in 15 comparable metropolitan areas that do not ordinarily use police details in work ...