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Trust issues linger as Mason takes helm of State Police

State Police Lt. Col. Christopher Mason, who on Friday takes the helm of the scandal-plagued agency as its colonel and superintendent, walked into a State House press conference Wednesday where he was introduced to reporters.
State Police Lt. Col. Christopher Mason, who on Friday takes the helm of the scandal-plagued agency as its colonel and superintendent, walked into a State House press conference Wednesday where he was introduced to reporters.

BOSTON — Within minutes of Gov. Charlie Baker announcing him as the next colonel and superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, Lt. Col. Christopher Mason began laying out some of the steps he plans to take to rebuild public trust in the beleaguered agency when he takes command.

A 26-year veteran of the State Police from Barnstable, Mason will take over Friday for Col. Kerry Gilpin, who is retiring after two years running the State Police during a time of scandal and turmoil. In his remarks, Mason said he is proud of the State Police and that other troopers “have consistently told me that they want to be the ones to restore the prestige and the stature of the Massachusetts State Police.”

“I am optimistic and energized about the future of the Massachusetts State Police. That optimism is based upon and supported by the incredibly brave and dedicated work the State Police perform individually and collectively … they are some of the finest police professionals anywhere,” Mason said at a State House press conference. “Today, I’ve introduced some key themes and initial reforms that I would like to get started on immediately. In the coming weeks, I plan to present additional reforms that will deepen the department’s commitment to improve accountability, increase diversity and restore public trust.”

Mason has served in the number two role at the State Police since earlier this year and he has worked in multiple roles, including as a detective and as director of the Fusion Center, which coordinates intelligence with multiple state and federal law enforcement agencies, throughout his State Police career.

“Over the past few days I’ve had several conversations with Colonel Mason about the challenges that remain at the department and his plan to right the ship and restore public trust,” Baker said Wednesday. He added, “Colonel Mason is eager to get to work to further reforms in the department, build public trust and expand transparency. I’m sure that he will follow through on his commitments and work with the men and women across the department to get the job done. We are also confident that Colonel Mason has the experience, leadership and vision to keep moving the Massachusetts State Police in the right direction.”

Baker and Mason both said the new colonel will begin by seeing several of the reforms Gilpin put in motion through to completion, like finalizing programs for vehicle tracking devices in all State Police cruisers and body cameras for troopers, and will ensure that all internal investigations related to the overtime fraud at Troop E are completed and that any terminated or retired troopers found to have committed wrongdoing are referred for prosecution and/or pension forfeiture.

“On the issue of restoring trust, turning the page, however you want to call it, that work has got to get completed because I think for a lot of people, that’s a big hanging question out there,” Baker said.

In her own statement Wednesday, Gilpin said Mason “is the right person to assume command of this Department as it continues to move forward with critically important reforms and solidifies the public trust needed to fulfill our mission.”

“Anyone who has worked with Chris during his career can attest to his intelligence, insight, and creative approach to meeting and surmounting challenges, as well as his deep commitment to this agency,” Gilpin said.

Mason announced Wednesday that he will direct the department’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity to “immediately review our options for promoting female and minority members into key positions” and plans to implement mandatory ethics training that focuses on “the Troop E issues” like time and attendance issues and the duty for those higher up in the department to supervise others.

The next colonel also detailed a plan to change the curriculum at the State Police Academy in New Braintree to shift the training for new troopers away from “paramilitary training” and towards more “modern policing” skills like de-escalation and empathy.

“As an agency that responds to large protests, First Amendment gatherings, civil unrest, there’s often a need for that type of discipline and the ability to move large groups of people about in a military-like manner,” Mason said about the decision to spend less time on military-like training. “But I think that some of the time that we devote to drill and discipline could be more appropriately assigned to, for instance, de-escalation … interacting with subjects that are experiencing mental health issues, that could be a more valuable skill, given today’s modern policing environment.”

Baker said he considers de-escalation a “fundamental part of successful work in law enforcement.” He referenced the “officers and troopers around the commonwealth who manage, through dialogue, conversation and engagement, to turn what could have been a horrible, terrible situation into one that wasn’t so much so” and are given the annual Hanna Awards for Bravery as an example of the importance of de-escalation.

“When the colonel started talking about baking that in, in a big way, to the strategy for the academy, that rang true based on some of the stuff that we’ve seen in real-world examples that have occurred here in the commonwealth,” the governor said of Mason’s plan.

And the new colonel apparently has more reforms in mind — he said he plans to discuss some longer-term plans with the governor in the coming weeks and Baker said he plans to file a package of State Police reforms with the Legislature, although it’s not clear when he will submit his proposals.

Among the reforms Baker has previously said he would like to see is the ability for a governor to consider candidates from outside the State Police ranks for the job of colonel/superintendent. Mason said Wednesday that he understands the arguments for an external colonel, but believes “strongly” that it is important to have a colonel who came through the department’s ranks at this point in its history.

“I’m biased when I say that, but having an understanding and having been involved in the early outset of some of these reforms and having the ability to hit the ground running and drive those forward and complete those investigations, I think is important,” Mason said. “It’s important for the public to restore our integrity, and quite frankly, it’s important for us. We need to understand the root causes of these issues and then we need to be able to fix them, and assure the public that they will not happen again. I intend to do that on my watch.”