Massachusetts State Police Scandals: Shouldn’t Someone From the Outside, Come In?

Anyone who reads a newspaper, surfs the internet of listens to radio, knows about the overflow of legitimacy, ethics and personnel problems inside the Massachusetts State Police.

Now, before loyalists and aficionados of the state police get all worked up that I’m “attacking” or “dumping on” the state police, I’m not. I have known and now know several honest, ethical, productive state troopers, as well as administrative personnel who work for the state police. But something is wrong at this agency, and there’s no denying it.

Just a few of the revelations staining the department in the past few months:

  • An investigation following reports by the Boston Globe that many troopers in the now-disbanded Troop E for years put time sheets in, and were paid for, overtime shifts that they never worked. We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars paid to people that never worked for this money. Clearly, this was all part of a convenient scheme inside Troop E (and probably known by personnel outside Troop E,) to bilk the agency out of millions. This media revelation, has as of today’s date, resulted in the resignation or retirement of more than two dozen troopers who were assigned to Troop E.
  • A few months ago, Troopers Ryan Sceviour and Ali Rei claimed that they were ordered, under threat of insubordination charges, to alter their reports on the arrest of the daughter of a District Court judge. Those two troopers are now suing former Col. Richard McKeon, who they allege ordered them to falsify their reports. McKeon has since left the state police following those troopers telling their story to the media. Attorney General Maura Healey’s office recently opined that criminal prosecution was not warranted, but notwithstanding her office referred the matter to the state Ethics Commission for further investigation.
  • Last summer, a state trooper stopped a Tyngsboro woman that several motorists had called into 911 to report her weaving all over the road, apparently intoxicated. The driver crashed her vehicle, and was stopped by the trooper, who inexplicably (so far, anyway) then let her go. A few minutes later she hit and killed a Bedford man, a young husband and father. State police Col. Kerry Gilpin, appointed to her demanding new job as head of the state police last November, has launched an investigation, but the story screams out for a more rapid answer than has been provided so far.
  • Further revelations that a very high number (almost 1,100) of marked state police vehicles are taken home by troopers and used off-hours, at taxpayer expense, for personal reasons.
  • Additional media reporting has revealed that members of Troop F, which is assigned to Logan Airport and the Seaport, have for years had a cozy relationship with Massport , where Massport paid troopers as much $300,000 per year and more, while these salaries never appeared on the books of the state police. Can you say “boondoggle”?
  • Most recently, several off-duty state troopers have been hit with Massachusetts OUI/DUI charges.

Amidst all these scandals and mismanagement, Gilpin has recently issued a statement saying: “Much work remains to be done, and I am confident we will accomplish our mission of increasing the efficiency, transparency, and accountability of the State Police while further enhancing our capabilities to protect everyone who lives and works in Massachusetts and travels through the Commonwealth.”

As a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney who deals with the state police very frequently, I have some thoughts about this.

I am sure that Co. Gilpin is a hard-working, and well meaning member of the Massachusetts state police. But Governor Baker appointed Col. Gilpin from within the ranks of the state police, because he is required to by state law. Common sense dictates that to cure problems such as those plaguing an agency like the state police, an outsider be brought in, a “change agent.” I am not casting any aspersions on Col. Gilpin, and it’s not her fault that she’s in this position, because it must be a tough one, but ideally a law enforcement management professional from the outside, should have been brought in. That isn’t offered as criticism of Col. Gilpin, as much as empathy for the position she’s in: Disciplining and at the same time motivating an important law enforcement agency to do its job, better. The state police investigate and testify in a wide range of prosecutions, including OUI/DUI charges, motor vehicle offenses such as speeding and operating to endanger, drug offense charges, and even domestic violence charges. None of us can afford corruption and mismanagement inside this organization.

On a positive note, the state police have announced several reforms following these scandals, including requiring GPS on more than 1,000 cruisers, to track exactly where these vehicles are, hopefully cutting down on misuse.

On a far more confusing point, it was recently announced that troopers from the disbanded Troop E, have been merged into three regional troops that will cover portions of the Mass Pike. However, it’s been reported that this change will make overtime shifts available to 786 troopers, vs. the previous 136 in Troop E. Given that one of the major scandals at the state police involved the corruption and misuse of overtime pay, it’s difficult to see how increasing the number of troopers who can collect overtime pay from 136, to 786, is an “improvement.”

Let’s hope that the state police can get its act together, and fast.

Post Script – May 15 2018:  In what comes as no surprise, the union that represents state police members, the State Police Association of Massachusetts, recently filed a protest against one of the more significant “reforms” noted in my post on the subject of state police misconduct, above.  Specifically, the change to require that all state police cruisers be equipped with GPS trackers, to reduce the misuse & abuse of these state-owned vehicles by Massachusetts troopers who use the vehicle for private use.   The union claims that this change violates their collective bargaining agreement with the state.  You can see a recently published Boston Globe story on that protest, by clicking here.

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