The Massachusetts State Police isn’t used to operating under public scrutiny, and the agency’s latest outrage — attempting to destroy payroll and attendance records — only reinforces that a major shakeup in command and culture is necessary.
Reform must start at the very top with the creation of a civilian CEO position. This professional would be tasked with managing State Police day-to-day budgetary and human resources duties, possessing the authority to negotiate contracts, procure needed equipment, and approve personnel policy changes. All other duties related to police patrols and investigations would be left to a second-in-command within State Police ranks.
Under existing law, the governor appoints a command leader from within the troopers’ executive ranks to lead the 2,100-member organization. Col. Kerry Gilpin is now in charge, having been appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker in the wake of several ongoing state and federal investigations related to payroll abuse, fraud and embezzlement.
Gilpin’s no-nonsense approach is refreshing. She’s closed Troop E, the Mass Turnpike barracks where the payroll scandal initially surfaced. She’s also reduced the workforce at Troop F, which patrols the Boston Seaport district and Logan Airport. She’s ordered GPS devices installed in all cruisers and instituted face-to-face, end-of-shift meetings between each trooper and supervisor. She’s hired consulting firm Ernst & Young to audit and assess State Police policies, protocols and record management systems at a cost of $250,000. These reforms are all well and good, but long overdue, window dressing in a scandal’s aftermath.
These management reviews and accountability checks should been part of State Police best practices for decades. For some reason — maybe political — this multi-million organization was allowed to function detached from all other state agencies, without the scrutiny that it rightly deserved. It took a widening scandal to get State Police executives to open their eyes to the corruptive influences and react.
It’s not Gilpin’s fault that she is now cast with thinking like a CEO to revamp the ranks. Maybe she has the vision to do it. Maybe she doesn’t. But we believe Gilpin would have a better chance if she had help from a professional with strong oversight credentials.
What shakes our confidence in keeping the existing model — and believing it can right itself from within — is last week’s isturbing disclosure that State Police attempted on numerous occasions to destroy dozens of boxes of personnel, attendance and payroll documents that potentially could have a bearing on the ongoing investigations. Already, 47 troopers have been indicted and more might follow as prosecutors dig deeper into the years of fiscal abuse.
An overwhelming majority of State Police personnel are honest, hard-working and committed to the safety and security. Troopers should realize — and embrace — that a new order is fundamental to making changes and restoring public confidence.
Gov. Charlie Baker seems committed to sticking with Gilpin and the existing organizational model. This means that as each new scandal surfaces, it’s back to the drawing board for a reactive initiative. This is not going to cut it in the long run. The State Police must be made accountable, and it starts with a visionary civilian CEO who can safeguard the people’s purse while the troopers focus on keeping us safe.