Our Opinion: Policing the State Police
Gov. Baker has come up with some promising initiatives to reform the Massachusetts State Police. But the results of an ongoing federal probe into the law enforcement agency's overtime scandal may indicate whether Beacon Hill will have to do more in dealing with the Massachusetts State Police.
State troopers, primarily those working a Turnpike division that has since been broken up, put in overtime hours they didn't work, often with the encouragement of their superiors. When investigations into the scam began, the State Police shredded payroll records that might have shed light on it. Several court convictions and firings have resulted, and the scandal has cost taxpayers thousands of dollars and damaged the credibility of the State Police.
The governor has introduced a bill that would streamline the process for suspending troopers without pay after charges of misconduct and create a "fraudulent pay statute" allowing the state and communities to recoup triple damages from Massachusetts State Police officers who submit false time sheets. The State Police have instituted some reforms on their own, including pay audits and the introduction of GPS trackers to cruisers.
Stripping pensions from troopers found guilty of criminal wrongdoing has been proposed, although it is not clear if this can be done legislatively since pensions come under the purview of the State Retirement Board. If this is the case, the Retirement Board should take the initiative on what would provide a powerful incentive to avoid wrongdoing.
The governor also wants to create a new cadet program to introduce diversity into a force short on women and minorities. The Massachusetts State Police are currently 89 percent white and 95 percent male. Introducing diversity is obviously a good idea, as is Mr. Baker's proposal to allow State Police heads to come from outside the agency for the first time. The current head, Col. Christopher Mason, who has been on the job since November, does seem intent on instituting reform, but the State Police have become an insular institution that hasn't seen itself as answerable to other government agencies, and a breath of fresh air from outside may be required for reform to fully take hold.
During the course of grand jury investigations into the overtime scandal, a witness said in recently released court filings, that an "overtime for tickets" deal goes all the way back to the 1990s. The way it worked was that officers who handed out high-priced speeding tickets on the Turnpike would receive extra hours of unworked overtime. This is in keeping with Boston Globe reporting that State Police scams go back many years and were tolerated if not designed by superior officers. The federal probe into the overtime scandal continues, and according to the Globe, U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf has ordered prosecutors to consider whether it reaches the level of a criminal conspiracy.
It is unfortunate that our State Police have to be policed to this extent, but it is clear that they do. The governor's reforms should be enacted as law and the State Retirement Board must do its part regarding the stripping of pensions. But if the feds are at least considering bringing conspiracy charges as a result of the overtime scandal and/or related scams, it seems that more firings and court convictions may be coming, and even stricter reform measures will have to be considered.
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