Give Governor Charlie Baker and Colonel Kerry Gilpin credit for acting quickly to address the scandals plaguing the State Police, but they have a tough job ahead. A change in culture is necessary and that doesn't happen easily, given that bureaucracies are inherently resistant to change.
The governor and the relatively new leader of the State Police jointly announced Monday that Troop E, which is charged with patrolling the Massachusetts Turnpike and is at the center of an overtime abuse scandal, would be eliminated. Colonel Gilpin said at a press conference in Boston that several troopers, angry that a minority of their colleagues had tarnished the reputation of the State Police as a whole, told her "We really need to take down Troop E."
However, it turned out a day later that the members of Troop E will remain in their barracks but will be supervised by leaders of other troops. Also, other troopers will have the opportunity to work the Interstate 90 beat, which offers desirable construction detail work and overtime. The abuse of overtime in Troop E, which included being paid for shifts that troopers didn't actually work, can be linked to a failure of leaders, some of whom have retired. But this is definitely not the housecleaning of Troop E as it was described on Monday.
The governor also ordered Colonel Gilpin to immediately activate Automatic Vehicle Locator technology to monitor troopers' cruisers during their shifts. That officers charged with enforcing the law must be watched to make sure they are actually working is unsettling but this is what the scandal has brought.
However, David Procopio, a spokesman for the State Police, revealed that the department doesn't currently have the software necessary to activate GPS oversight. The State Police Association of Massachusetts has weighed in to assert that the use of GPS to monitor troopers would have to be approved through collective bargaining, a considerable hurdle. The association must defend the rights of its membership, but it should keep in mind that if it is perceived by the public as blocking needed reform, the reputation of the State Police will not recover, to the detriment of the agency's many honorable troopers.
It should be possible to institute other needed reforms immediately. The State Police will now begin auditing the department's top 50 earners on a quarterly basis to find potential abuses. In Troop F, which has overtime issues as well, eight troopers had earned more than $1 million annually since 2014 for patrolling Logan International Airport and the Seaport District. State Police officials acknowledged last week that they had not made public any salary and overtime records for Troop F since 2010. Also, an independent audit will assess overtime policies and 10 new positions will be created in the inspections and internal affairs section of the State Police.
Ultimately, the best hope of getting to the essence of the problem may be through the criminal investigation launched by Attorney General Maura Healey. Any state trooper found to have robbed taxpayers by billing for no-show shifts should at least be made to compensate taxpayers if not forfeit their generous state pensions, as the governor has suggested.
Over the last few years, instances of state troopers being arrested for drunken driving and escaping punished prompted the Boston Globe, other news organizations and even private citizens to demand access to records of officers caught for driving under the influence. While these records are readily available in the case of private citizens, the State Police aggressively fought their release. This indicated the presence of an institutional arrogance that would set the stage for abuses — and sure enough, the abuses have erupted into public view.
The State Police must embrace the reality that they are public servants as opposed to an entitled entity that floats above public scrutiny. If that shift doesn't happen, then no amount of reform measures will be enough to facilitate change.