Head of Mass. state police pitches reform bill to lawmakers
The bill changes suspension and promotion processes and creates a new disciplinary statute for false time reporting
BOSTON — Of the 2,120 sworn members of the Massachusetts State Police, 95% are male and 89% are white, Col. Christopher Mason told lawmakers Wednesday as he made the case that the department has “an operational need for more female and minority candidates.”
Mason joined Public Safety Secretary Thomas Turco to pitch a new Gov. Charlie Baker bill that would institute reforms at the agency after a period of scandal and turmoil. Among Baker’s proposals is the creation of a new cadet program to open up a pathway into the department for candidates from diverse backgrounds.
The bill (S 2469) changes the promotion process for the ranks of lieutenant and captain, streamlines the process for suspending troopers without pay after certain charges of misconduct, allows future State Police heads to be hired from outside of the agency, and create a new “fraudulent pay statute” that would allow the state or municipalities to recoup triple damages from police officers who submit false time sheets.
“The department’s reputation has been damaged,” Turco said. “This is a direct consequence of the dishonorable acts of a small group of individuals, but it is also a consequence of the department’s failure as an organization to have prevented that kind of misconduct in the first place. The department’s problem in this regard developed over many years and can be traced at least in part to outdated management practices, an insular culture and too few measures and tools of accountability.”
Leaders at the State Police have begun implementing changes since an overtime abuse scandal that led to criminal charges for a number of troopers. Those changes include GPS tracking in cruisers, audits, and plans to roll out body cameras.Mason said he’s proud of what the department has done so far, but there’s still more work to do.
“We cannot and will not allow the narrative of our agency to be written by the relative few who have violated their oath and disgraced their calling,” he said.
The bill is before the Public Safety Committee, and lawmakers on that panel were joined by Public Service Committee members for the hearing. They drilled into specific components of the reform package, focusing their questions on areas including the cadet program and the hiring of a department head.
Rep. Paul Tucker, a former Salem police chief, and Sen. Joan Lovely asked about the potential for removing the state pensions for troopers found guilty of criminal wrongdoing. Turco said pensions are the domain of the State Retirement Board.
“Why don’t we want to put more teeth in this bill and say you’re going to have your pension stripped?” Lovely said. “I think that would really deter that type of activity.”
Baker tapped Mason, who previously held the department’s number two post, as the new State Police superintendent and colonel last November.
Existing state law calls for the governor to appoint as colonel a State Police member holding a rank above lieutenant. Baker’s bill would remove the requirement that the colonel come from within the department, requiring someone with at least 10 years experience as a full-time law enforcement officer and at least five years full-time experience in a “senior administrative or supervisory position in a police force or a military body with law enforcement responsibilities.”
Rep. Harold Naughton, who co-chairs the Public Safety Committee, raised the possibility of splitting the top post into two roles, with one leader coming from within the department’s ranks and another administrator who would not need to. Rep. Timothy Whelan, a former State Police officer, said that before 1992 the colonel was overseen by a civilian commissioner, often a retired FBI agent, who “wore a suit [and] did not have arrest powers,” similar to the structure employed by the Boston Police Department.
State Police Association of Massachusetts President Corey Mackey said his union supports the idea of expanding the applicant pool for department head, but that it’s an “important morale issue” to have the colonel come from within the uniformed ranks of the department, whose members view wearing their uniforms as a privilege that they earn. He said that when other military and law enforcement agencies appoint outside candidates, those candidates “wear a suit to lead the agency” as superintendent and are not appointed to the uniformed branch as colonel.
SPAM also wants candidates to have more law enforcement experience than Baker’s bill calls for, as well as experience leading an organization of similar size and scope to the State Police, Mackey said.
Naughton said that as the committees continue weighing the bill, he wants more specifics of how a division of the top job might work out.
“If we’re going to go in this direction of a colonel and a superintendent, what are their jobs going to be?” the Clinton Democrat said. “And I think that needs to be developed further if we’re going to be successful with this legislation before the end of this legislative cycle. I need more.”
Members of SPAM, the Massachusetts Minority State Police Officers Association, and the Massachusetts Association of Women in Law Enforcement all voiced support for the cadet program as a way to diversify the department. Rep. Liz Miranda, who serves on the Public Safety Committee, said the Black and Latino Caucus also backs it.
“This bill is truly a call to action. We need a critical mass of women on the State Police,” said Mary McCauley, a State Police detective lieutenant and founding member of the women in law enforcement group. She said women and people of color need to be represented in numbers where they can “speak out and be heard.”
Committee members questioned whether the cadet program would water down the existing hiring preference for veterans. McCauley said she would not be testifying in support of the program if it did. SPAM Vice President Patrick McNamara noted that many veterans are women or people of color, but that he could not project whether the program would have an effect on veteran candidates.
“The cadet program’s needed. It’s needed,” McNamara said. “SPAM supports it 100%....I think by bringing in a diverse scope of troopers to our agency will not only benefit our agency in the sense of perspective, but also it will benefit our communities because now we will be policing the communities that we’re coming from.”