Our Opinion: State Police reform must go on despite lack of cooperation

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With the investigation into the overtime and payroll scandal involving the Massachusetts State Police going full bore and with various troopers appearing before judges in connection to that scandal, the State Police had the temerity in recent weeks to request that boxes of attendance and payroll records be destroyed. This plainly remains a hugely entitled agency with no real interest in embracing reform.

Commonwealth Magazine broke the news about the requests, and according to The Boston Globe, the first of three made to destroy the documents went before the Records Conservation Board in March after the Globe reported that the State Police had kept payroll records hidden for years. All three requests were denied by the board on the grounds that the records may have relevance to investigations into alleged misconduct.

While a State Police spokesman has claimed that the records in question were unconnected to any current probes that is not a judgment the agency, which has little credibility at this point, can be trusted to make. Happily the obscure records board could be trusted to make the proper call.

Federal and state prosecutors have at this point charged eight current and former state troopers in the scandal, which so far has resulted in a partial overhaul of the Mass. Turnpike division. Troopers have been accused of either putting in for overtime that they didn't work or approving those requests. The scandal appears to go back several years at an undetermined cost to the taxpayers who expect better from law enforcement officers and especially the State Police.

Long-term reform of this troubled agency will require leadership, which Governor Baker has been slow to provide. In observing during last week's gubernatorial debate with Democratic challenger Jay Gonzalez that "There's documentation and public records that show that this was going on before our administration even began," the governor returned to his election year mantra that the State Police debacle isn't his problem. The payroll abuse does appear to have its origins during the administration of Governor Deval Patrick, but it continued through the current governor's first term before exploding fully into public view this year.

Last Thursday, the union representing state troopers brought a suit to block reform measures instituted by new leader Colonel Kerry Gilpin following an internal review finding some union members to have abused paid leave. The union doesn't dispute that conclusion but complains that the reform measures were made unilaterally. While investigators and the courts will deal with whatever crimes have been committed, the police union's obstructionist tactics and the request by the State Police to destroy potentially relevant payroll records demonstrates that this agency will not be open to reform going forward. Assuring that an overdue overhaul is accomplished will require an aggressive, hands-on effort from whomever is governor in January.

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