By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – “We shouldn’t have police in schools,” said Boston mayoral candidate John Barros at a recent forum.

“We cannot have the expectation that some of our students who look like us in this room, compared to those in the suburban schools, are gonna go to school in settings that feel like a prison,” agreed candidate Michelle Wu.

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“We absolutely have to remove school resource officers – aka school police officers – from Boston Public Schools,” added candidate Andrea Campbell.

It was a vivid illustration of the fact that when it comes to the top policing issues of the day, like the role of cops in schools or shifting funds from police to social services, most of the Boston mayoral candidates are on the same page.

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Most, but not all.

“When we talk about the school-to-prison pipeline, it is not directly related to school police officers who are school student resource officers,” insisted candidate Annissa Essaibi-George, who has consistently staked out the field’s most cop-friendly positions. At a time when most of the others are talking about cutting the Boston police budget, Essaibi-George told WBZ-TV in a recent interview that “we need several hundred more police officers to make sure that we have a safe city, that police are able to respond to 911 calls and work to end the public safety crisis that we are experiencing as a city.”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration – so-called Part I property crimes are down so far this year in Boston, and while there has been an uptick in shootings and homicides, it’s been relatively slight. But Essaibi-George’s branding early in this race seems to be working: a new poll shows her for the first time in a virtual tie with City Councillor Wu and Acting Mayor Kim Janey. Tellingly, that poll found 73% of voters who back Janey support cuts in the police budget, while 81% of Essaibi-George backers do not.

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Says political consultant Wilnelia Rivera, who is unaffiliated in this race, “What the Essaibi-George camp has figured out very, very early is they understand they have a coalition of voters across the city, and that’s an issue that they care about and they feel more moderate about.”

Jon Keller