Mass. governor, state police colonel introduce police reform bill

The bill would create stricter penalties for trooper misconduct and improve other internal policies


Steph Solis
MassLive.com

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — When Massachusetts State Police Col. Christopher Mason was tapped to lead the agency in November, he pledged to help reform the department that has been plagued with investigations into overtime abuse, troopers allegedly taking free guns and other scandals.

On Thursday, Mason and Gov. Charlie Baker announced they’re taking a proposal to implement reforms to Beacon Hill.

Mass. State Police Col. Christopher Mason introduced a bill into the state legislature that would improve the department's internal policies after several misconduct scandals. (Photo/TNS)
Mass. State Police Col. Christopher Mason introduced a bill into the state legislature that would improve the department's internal policies after several misconduct scandals. (Photo/TNS)

Baker, a Republican, and Mason introduced on Thursday a bill that would create stricter penalties for troopers who submit false claims for hours worked, “streamline” the process to suspend troopers charged with serious offenses and expand the candidate pool for the top state police position, currently held by Mason, to law enforcement officials beyond the department, among other changes aimed to improve internal policies.

Baker and Mason announced the bill after addressing the 85th Recruit Training Troop, which Baker said will be the first group to undergo the new trainings. Baker said this pool is believed to be the largest and most diverse pool of candidates in state police history.

“We are also filing legislation to allow the Colonel to take swift action against Troopers who do not live up to the oath they swore, promote a more diverse workforce and bring Department policies in line with modern management practices," Baker said.

Mason, who was named colonel after Kerry Gilpin’s retirement, inherited a department that has faced numerous scandals over the past decade. Several troopers have been charged, and some convicted, in the overtime abuse investigation. The former head of the state police union, Dana Pullman, faces federal charges that he and Anne Lynch, a Beacon Hill lobbyist, defrauded the union in a kickback scheme that steered work to Lynch’s firm. And two troopers are accused of taking free guns from a prospective vendor and weapons from the state police armory.

In the high-profile, overtime abuse investigation, 10 troopers were charged in state or federal court. Most have pleaded guilty, admitting to skipping shifts and, in some cases, writing up phony tickets to cover their tracks. Many of them served no time in jail, instead being sentenced to house arrest and probation. Some were sentenced to a day in prison, deemed served.

An attorney representing Trooper Eric Chin, who was sentenced to three months of house arrest in March, blamed the culture at the Massachusetts State Police.

“There was a deep culture of corruption and entitlement in Troop E,” said attorney Douglas Louison in federal court.

Mason said that he sees morale improving as he visits barracks across the state.

“I would assess the current culture as a positive one ... I feel that we’re turning a corner, that morale is improving,” Mason told reporters Thursday morning.

Mason pointed to the investigation of an 11-year-old girl’s abduction and Amber Alert as an example of good work that state troopers and Springfield police officers, who led the abduction investigation, strive to do.

Baker said the proposed measures include increasing diversity within the department, speeding up and strengthening penalties for overtime abuse and making sure promotions are merit-based.

Some of the proposed changes focus on disciplinary action. The proposal includes steps to “streamline” the process for suspending troopers, simplifying the disciplinary process for imposing lower penalties for minor violations, according to a news release.

The bill also calls for a new fraudulent pay statute so state and municipal agencies can recover damages from officers convicted of submitting claims for hours they never worked.

Another area of reform the bill tackles is the agency’s hiring and promotion practices.

The bill includes a provision to create a cadet program as an alternative route to the State Police Academy, which Mason and Baker said would diversity the pool of prospective recruits. Baker told reporters Thursday morning that he still expects the academy to be a rigorous program that weeds out recruits who may not want to enter law enforcement for the right reasons.

For current troopers, the bill calls for changing how and when they are up for promotions to become sergeants and lieutenants, eliminating oral interviews as factors determining whether someone should be promoted to lieutenant or captain and eliminating the requirement that the agency’s colonel be selected only from within the department. The bill opens up the position to external candidates with 10 or more years in law enforcement and five or more years in a police or military leadership position.

Mason also announced revisions to the academy’s curriculum and other changes within the agency, including new supervisory oversight policies for overtime assignments, ethics training that involves de-escalation, empathy and communication and plans to add 1,500 body cameras and 1,000 in-car video systems for troopers.

Baker said the proposal to revise the academy’s curriculum was part of Mason’s greater goal in improving the culture within the agency overall.

“When I interviewed the colonel for this position, the first question I asked him was what are we going to do with respect to some of the issues around culture? And his answer was the academy,” Baker said of Mason.

“It’s absolutely the place where many recruits get introduce to what the Mass. State Police and its leadership thinks," he added.

The agency also created a Diversity Recruitment Officer position, which will focus on recruiting, hiring and guiding employees from historically underrepresented communities, according to the announcement.

“We will hold the line as we move forward, but I’m very optimistic about the state police’s future and morale is on the rise,” Mason said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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