Suspension, Retirements As State Police Deal With ‘Bad Actors’
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — An overtime scandal at the State Police has led in the past week to a rash of suspensions and sudden retirements from the embattled law enforcement agency that has struggled to regain its footing since a change in leadership last November.
Days after the State Police last Tuesday live-streamed an announcement about a broadening scandal in which taxpayers have covered the unspecified costs of unworked traffic enforcement shifts, the early results seeped out of agency on Friday night.
Nine of the 19 State Police members for which hearings were scheduled in connection with the agency's internal probe chose to retire between last Tuesday and last Friday, the State Police announced at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Nine more were suspended without pay.
"The next step here is the criminal investigation by the attorney general which should figure out whether or not in fact this is stealing," Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters Monday from the South Bay shopping center in Dorchester.
Baker also said it was "clearly deliberate" that Massport and the State Police have failed to report complete salary data for an entire unit to the state comptroller since 2010, and he believes the full payroll records belong online. The Boston Globe reported Monday that the salary data for Troop F, which polices the Seaport and Logan Airport and is paid by Massport, was missing from public records kept online since 2010.
"Somebody had to make a decision in 2010 not to put it on," Baker said, adding he didn't know the reason and hoped it would be looked into after the data was publicly posted.
The Globe's report found that salaries for the 140-person Troop F amounted to more than $32.5 million last year, with 79 percent of troopers in that unit earning more than the governor's salary of $151,800.
Asked if it bothered him that many state troopers earn more than him, Baker said, "Almost everybody who reports to me make more than me."
Baker installed State Police Col. Kerry Gilpin in November after Col. Richard McKeon retired amidst a swirling controversy over the department's handling of an arrest report for the daughter of a central Massachusetts judge.
Gilpin launched a full internal investigation into that incident, which is now just one of several controversies swirling around the department.
"I'd certainly be the first to agree that it's important for the State Police to get its act together and I would argue that some of the actions that have been take by the new colonel so far are directly designed to address some of those issues, but it's clear that the State Police is going to have to work back some of that public credibility that's been sacrificed by some of these really bad actors," Baker said, according to audio of his interview with reporters provided upon request to the News Service by the governor's office.
Gilpin last Tuesday announced results of an audit of overtime traffic enforcement patrols, which were also referred to the Attorney General for criminal review.
The internal review was inherited from her predecessor, but Gilpin expanded the probe that revealed a problem that might go deeper than initially thought. Ten members had status hearings Friday and nine of them were suspended without pay; a tenth was kept on active duty.
"One other Troop E member flagged by the audit would have been subject to a duty status hearing today had he not retired prior to the opening of the Internal Affairs investigation," State Police spokesman David Procopio said in a statement. "Finally, a 21st member of Troop E flagged by the audit also would have been subject to a hearing today were he not already suspended without pay while being investigated in another matter."
Those officers suspended will lose their department-issued vehicles, weapons and equipment for the duration of the investigation, Procopio said.
Baker said he was surprised by the audit's findings, but stood behind the new colonel and her ability to lead the State Police through these investigations.
"The good news on this is the new colonel, Colonel Gilpin, started a significant expansion of the an investigation on overtime that had begun under the previous colonel and as a result of that 20 members of the State Police who were deemed to be violating practices, policies, protocols, and potentially engaged in criminal activity were referred to the attorney general's office for criminal review and the rest of 'em have either been suspend without pay or left the force," Baker said.
Sen. Michael Moore, the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety, said Monday that he believes the Legislature will get involved at some point, but thinks the committee should "stand pat" for now to see if other issues beyond overtime and the proper disclosure of salary data emerge.
"Obviously we're very concered with what's unfolding and we have to monitor this very closely and before we determine if we have an oversight hearing we have to determine what we would be looking into. Is it about the overtime? If that's it there are some concerns that we don't want to cause an issue with the attorney general's investigation," Moore told the News Service.
"These are public dollars. If officers weren't working them, I'm very troubled. If we've got money being inefficiently spent or inappropriately spent, then that's something that needs to be addressed. We can't go back to the taxpayers and ask them for more resources if we have agencies that are inefficiently and inappropriately spending money," he said.
Though he has not yet spoken with his co-chair Rep. Harold Naughton about the role their committee might play, Moore added, "I do think at some pint there should be some legislative action." A message left in Naughton's office Monday was not returned.
Moore further said that he has been given no reason so far to lose confidence in Col. Gilpin.
"This should not be the Legislature and the governor fighting each other on this. Hopefully this is something we'll be able to work together on to rectify what issues there are over there," he said.
--Matt Murphy and Michael P. Norton, State House News Service