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Editorial

Charges against troopers show need for State Police reforms

IF A recent slew of criminal allegations against state troopers are any indication, the Massachusetts State Police are only now coming to grips with the potential for corruption in their ranks.

The roster of misdeeds is long: Federal prosecutors charge that Trooper John Analetto is a loan shark whose business techniques included threats to rape and kill. Trooper Efrain Montanez has been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon and trying to flee after local police suspected him of engaging in a sexual act with a prostitute in his unmarked cruiser. In the last year alone, other troopers have been accused of domestic violence, operating under the influence of alcohol, accepting bribes, embezzlement, intimidating a witness, and drug possession.

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Fortunately, it’s sinking in that something may be going awry within in the agency’s culture, and State Police are taking some nuts-and-bolts steps to avoid future scandals. For example, the agency wants to create an early warning system to identify officers who may be prone to corruption. It’s standard practice in other police departments, and works on the principle that bad cops almost always start with minor violations of department rules, such as tardiness or unauthorized use of vehicles.

Flagging officers won’t be enough, though. Police corruption is a symptom of lax management. The situation would not have spun out of control to this extent had State Police sergeants, lieutenants, and captains ensured that workplace standards were being met in the first place. There is little public visibility of the widely dispersed State Police force. That’s all the more reason for greater managerial visibility. State Police Colonel Marian McGovern is on the right path by insisting that barracks commanders start varying their shifts instead of working primarily during traditional business hours.

Like all state employees, State Police are required to take occasional online ethics training. But there is clearly a need for stronger, more intensive, and more specialized ethics and integrity training for officers. Departments struggling with similar problems also resort to integrity tests - such as dropping wallets where they are likely to be found by officers - and corruption patrols by Internal Affairs officers who scout out known areas of drug sales, gambling, and prostitution for signs of payoffs to police.

Only nine State Police officers are assigned to the Internal Affairs department in the 2,050-member force. Boston, with a similar-sized force, employs more than twice that number of Internal Affairs and anti-corruption officers to police their own.

In the past, the broad public perception of probity within the State Police may have made protecting that reputation seem less urgent. Now, like any area experiencing a crime wave, the State Police are in need of prevention, intervention, and enforcement.

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