Baker Takes A Swing At Massachusetts State Police Scandals, Announces Changes

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/04/02/baker-takes-a-swing-at-massachusetts-state-police-scandals-announces-changes/

 

BOSTON — Governor Charlie Baker has finally elected to swing his gubernatorial axe upon a Boston Seaport-based Massachusetts State Police barracks long suspected — and recently proven via an audit finished under his top state cop — as a fraudulent overtime goldmine.

Following the recommendation of the State Police superintendent, Colonel Kerry Gilpin, Bake announced the elimination of Troop E, “where the apparent abuse of accident reduction patrols took place,” and where a recently-completed audit determined that more than 20 state troopers in 2016 took home lucrative overtime pay for shifts created under the so-called “Accident and Injury Reduction Effort” (AIRE) program that they never worked.

Troop E, while based out of the Boston Seaport, is responsible for policing the Massachusetts Turnpike from its terminus just east of the Ted Williams Tunnel in East Boston to the New York state line, and includes a series of additional barracks. The reorganization of roop E, which includes the standalone Seaport headquarters and four additional barracks, will see Troop E being “re-absorbed” into “existing regional troops, in which those barracks geographically sit,” Gilpin said.

Baker had previously said it should be up to the State Retirement Board to decide whether troopers found to have participated in the fraudulent operation would receive retirement pensions.

On Monday he took a more authoritative tone.

“If either investigation determines they are guilty of these allegations, they should lose their pensions,” Baker said, referring to both the ongoing criminal investigation led by Attorney General Maura Healey and the agency’s own internal investigation.

He later said during a question-and-answer session with reporters that it if the decision were left up to him, “I’d take it [pensions] away — period — as far as I’m concerned it’s stealing, and no one who sits in one of these public positions should steal, period.

“You learn that when you’re in second grade. We’re talking here about sworn officers of the law, who every single day as part of their position arrest people. Those people are ultimately held accountable for the consequences of their actions. The same should be true with respect to those members of the law enforcement community who violates those laws.

“Seems pretty simple to me.”

Additional reforms announced by Baker include the use of “automatic vehicle locator devices on all Massachusetts State Police vehicles” and a 30-day review of Troop F, “which is primarily responsible for the unique mission of protecting the airport.”

Gilpin later noted that the vehicle-locator technology is already present inside Massachusetts State Police cruisers but had never been used.

Asked later why the vehicle locator technology has yet to be used, Baker said he “can’t speak to the past on that” but added that the audit “made it pretty clear that it is technology that we should turn on.” 

“That’s why I ordered the colonel [Gilpin] to turn it on,” Baker said. 

Asked for how long the technology was available, Baker and Gilpin both said they do not know.

“We can find out,” Baker said.

Troop F, which operates out of Logan International Airport, was recently found to have failed to report payroll records dating back to 2010. Baker called the recent revelations involving Troop F, which additionally operates under the blanket of the Massachusetts Port Authority, as “disturbing.”

Baker said he has asked Gilpin to explore policies that will invite the Boston Police Department to participate in patrol programs based around the Seaport that had previously been the exclusive domain of the State Police.  

Baker said Gilpin in November, shortly after her appointment following the abrupt retirement of former Superintendent Colonel Richard D. McKeon, “expanded and accelerated” the investigation.

“If either investigation determines they are guilty of these allegations, they should lose their pensions,” Baker said.

Baker added that Gilpin’s probe has now been expanded to cover 2015 and additional State Police outfits. He also pointed to the payroll records involving Troop F, which operates out of Logan International Airport through the Massachusetts Port Authority and was recently found to have failed to report pay dating back to 2010, which Baker called “disturbing.”

“The lieutenant governor [Karen Polito] and I have been briefed on this plan and we support it — all of it,” Baker said.

“Most State Police officers do the right thing and put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public on a regular basis,” Baker added. “The work I’m informed about on a regular basis is clear evidence of that. However restoring public confidence to an agency that has so much day-to-day contact with the public, once it’s been bruised, is not easy to do.”

Polito in her remarks said the 2,300-member police force’s public trust has been “tarnished.”

“Our State Police, all of them, must be committed and loyal and to live by the oath that they took,” Polito added.

She called the reform plan the “beginning of restoring public trust.”

Gilpin, who also spoke, said the “vast majority” of the Massachusetts State Police “expects and demands that every member of this agency” embody the “core values of our department — integrity, honesty and accountability.”

“It is clear that the actions of members of this agency have threatened that public trust,” Gilpin noted.

Gilpin also mentioned her command staff’s work with “an outside firm” to investigate “an altered arrest report” — referring to the scandal involving the arrest report of a Worcester County judge’s daughter, and the subsequent lawsuit filed shortly before Gilpin’s predecessor, McKeon, filed for retirement.

Baker noted that it was McKeon who launched the audit on Troop E.

“He had a 30-something year career where he was honored and decorated on numerous occasions, but that said, he and I had a disagreement with respect to the changing of the reports and records associated with the Bibaud case, and I think his decision to step down was the right one,” Baker said.

He added that he did not regret appointing McKeon in July 2015.  

Additional reforms, according to Gilpin, will include the introduction of body-cameras for state troopers. Gilpin claimed that the planned reorganization of Troop E will “increase the personnel size” of three other troops, which will now be “available to respond to the turnpike during emergencies.”

The plan also means that there will be “more sergeants and lieutenants in each troop,” giving the Massachusetts State Police, according to Gilpin, “the capability to enhance supervision on the turnpike.”

The plan will also involve a 30-day study of overtime usage at all Massachusetts Turnpike-based barracks. Gilpin also said her command team will work with MassPort to study staffing levels at Troop F, which has its own K-9 units, bomb squads, and detectives. A potential change for Troop F may include an increase in staff size, which Gilpin said may be needed in order to cut down on overtime costs.

According to Gilpin, by July 1, Troop F will no longer draw its pay directly from MassPort. MassPort’s funding — which is supplemented by parking, airport, and additional airline-related fees — has frequently faced transparency questions, and Gilpin said Troop F will soon draw pay directly from the State Police budget, which will then see a reimbursement from MassPort, a system Gilpin said “is consistent with how Troop E salaries are reimbursed by the DOT [Department of Transportation].”

“It is clear that the current practices need to be strengthened,” Gilpin said, noting that she has begun the process of adding and filling new internal affairs and staff inspection positions.

The top-50 earners in the department will also be subjected to quarterly audits, Gilpin noted.

“These audits will be made public,” she added.

Gilpin also said new recruits will be subjected to additional questions regarding their backgrounds. While never mentioning suspended K-9 State Trooper Leigha Genduso — who testified during a trial about her role in a drug-dealing ring only a year prior to her hiring as a State Police dispatcher — Gilpin claimed the new “questionnaire” has “added special focus to language asking whether candidates were ever connected to a criminal investigation, even if they did not end up being charged.”

“We are also expanding research measures for background investigators to significantly increase the chance that any red flags discovered regarding recruit candidates are seen and thoroughly investigated,” Gilpin said.

Genduso’s damning testimony was delivered in federal court in 2007, but was somehow never considered when she applied for her dispatcher position nor when she successfully entered and graduated from the State Police’s academy years later.

Gilpin, lastly, said that “information on staff for each troop will be available to the public,” but did not specify the nature of the information.  

Monday’s press conference was notable in that it marked Baker’s most forceful condemnation of the State Police’s growing stable of scandals yet. Baker did note, however, that while he “hears a lot about what people who work for the State Police are doing all the time, a lot of it never makes it into the public domain,” referring to “gang-work, counter terrorism work, gun work, drug work, fugitive work” — jobs he pointed out are “dangerous.”

“These folks do it and they do it well,” Baker said. “That said, they all take the same oath, and the people who violated that oath should be dealt with accordingly.”

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