The sudden resignation of the head of the scandal-plagued Massachusetts State Police creates an opportunity for Beacon Hill to make a long-overdue reform that would prevent the position from automatically going to another insider. Currently, the governor can pick only a Statie to replace Colonel Kerry Gilpin, who announced Wednesday she will retire Nov. 15 after just two years in the top job. But legislators ought to change the law to allow the governor to hire the most independent and qualified candidate.
Yes, it’s important that the new colonel have a law enforcement experience and understand Massachusetts. But with one trooper after another ensnared in a federal corruption probe, the top priority now has to be finding the best person to hold wrongdoers accountable and rebuild public confidence in the 2,200-member agency — even if they don’t know Woburn from Waban. The abuses uncovered by investigators appear to be systemic, and the State Police have reached the point where an outside perspective at the top would be more of an asset than a liability.
A member of the State Police since 1994, Gilpin took the job in 2017 after the previous colonel, Richard McKeon, acknowledged ordering troopers to remove embarrassing information from the arrest record of a judge’s daughter. Shortly after she took charge, an overtime scandal erupted into public view, and the state referred dozens of state troopers for prosecution for scheming to bilk taxpayers of overtime pay for shifts they never worked. Ten officers have been charged criminally.
Gilpin and Baker abolished Troop E, the State Police unit at the epicenter of the payroll scam. She’s also made progress on equipping troopers with body cameras. But serious problems have persisted on her watch. It was particularly outrageous that the agency destroyed records that could have helped prosecutors uncover more overtime abuse — at a time when payroll abuse was already under scrutiny.
The next colonel needs to aim squarely at the culture of impunity in which the overtime abuses and destruction of records occurred. It’s hard to imagine a product of that system being the best choice. That’s not to say that all troopers are compromised by the scandals — they’re not, and honest troopers go to work every day protecting citizens of the Commonwealth. But it’s also true that the overtime abuse implicated far too many officers to brush it off as the work of a just few bad apples.
During the last gubernatorial campaign, Governor Baker said he was open to changing the law to allow the colonel to come from outside the department. A spokesman said that’s still his view. The administration hasn’t pushed the issue, though, and the Legislature isn’t exactly itching to act. One thing that’s become sadly evident since the overtime scandal broke is that nobody on Beacon Hill — not the governor, not the attorney general, and definitely not the Legislature — wants to take on the State Police.
But someone needs to change the culture of the State Police into one that would never tolerate falsification of records or destruction of evidence. The least that lawmakers could do is let the governor cast as wide a net as possible for that leader.