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EDITORIAL

State Police need a change in culture

For all the promises of reform, the agency is as opaque as ever. The Legislature needs to step in.

Some of the 240 of the Massachusetts State Police 85th Recruit Traning Troop, as they marched out of Gillette Stadium after Governor Charlie Baker swore them in at a graduation ceremony in May.
Some of the 240 of the Massachusetts State Police 85th Recruit Traning Troop, as they marched out of Gillette Stadium after Governor Charlie Baker swore them in at a graduation ceremony in May.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

How many “bad apples” does it take for the State Police to own up to a culture of corruption — where lying gets downgraded to “misrepresenting” and cheating on paid detail work is a big never-mind.

The case of Sergeant Mark Lynch, a former head of the State Police union, is instructive in how far this law enforcement agency is willing to go to close ranks and protect its own — certainly from public scrutiny. And how a federal investigation into overtime abuse in this largest, whitest, and most male-dominated law enforcement agency in the state has failed to change its culture.

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Lynch was the subject of an internal investigation launched in 2018 only because a fellow trooper filed a workplace violence complaint against him. That trooper, whose name was redacted from a 114-page report obtained by the Globe under a public records request, called Lynch because he was missing from his work assignment.

“If anyone asks, just say you never made it over to check me,” Lynch told his colleague, according to the trooper’s account. A few weeks later Lynch confronted the trooper, calling him a “rat” and asking if he wanted to “go out back and settle this.”

Lynch denied much of the account but did admit to investigators that, when it came to paid details on construction sites, sometimes he did put in for more time than he actually worked if contractors agreed.

“He’s the one that’s paying the bill,” Lynch told investigators — as if anyone argues over money with a police officer with the power to make your life miserable. In this state, it’s just another cost of doing business — and another form of corruption.

That mindset certainly helps explain why State Police lobbied so long and hard against sharing those lucrative details with civilian flaggers or, in the case of Boston’s growing Seaport District, even with members of the Boston Police Department.

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When asked about specific shifts and whether he showed up for them, Lynch invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

At the end of all this, Lynch got the proverbial slap on the wrist — a “letter of counseling” telling him to brush up on internal policies and not do it again. It was, by the way, the same punishment he got in 2014 for failing to document 15 detail shifts in one month.

The 2018 internal investigation was never shared with federal investigators, who were at the time probing a massive overtime scandal that involved at least 46 members of the force, 10 of whom have been criminally charged.

The internal investigation, which occurred in the midst of that federal probe, found Lynch either manipulated or skipped parts of some 30 shifts during the four months covered by the inquiry.

While all of this was going on, Lynch was serving as head of the State Police union, a post he held for only a year, resigning last September after 500 union members signed a petition calling for his ouster. Lynch’s predecessor as union head was Dana Pullman, now under indictment for allegedly taking kickbacks from the union’s former lobbyist and misappropriating union funds for personal expenses.

Lynch remains on the force as a supervisor and has already collected $62,000 in overtime pay through August of this year.

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The State Police disciplinary process — such as it is — remains something of a black hole. The Globe filed its request for records in the Lynch case last December.

For all the promises of reform and platitudes about changing the culture, the agency is as opaque as ever. That’s surely something House and Senate conferees on a pending police reform bill should be tackling even as the legislators continue their own closed-door meetings.

The State Police will not be reformed from within. It will take an outside agency with the power to certify and decertify officers accused of misconduct. It will take bolder action to rein in the corrupting gravy train of a virtual police monopoly on paid details.

And it will take a cultural change that can only happen if actions have consequences. In the Lynch case, they clearly did not.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.