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State Police temporarily reassigns investigators amid surge of retirements

Massachusetts State Police Headquarters. The scandal-plagued agency is temporarily reassigning troopers in investigative units to patrol duties as it seeks to address staffing shortfalls linked to a surge of retirements.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Dozens of State Police troopers in investigative units will be temporarily reassigned to patrol duties as the scandal-plagued agency seeks to address staffing shortfalls linked to a surge of retirements.

State Police said the plan, which takes effect Sunday, affects 46 troopers, or 2 percent of 2,115 sworn officers, though the department’s largest union said as many as 48 troopers face reassignment.

The troopers being reassigned are investigators who currently work for state agencies, including district attorneys, the attorney general’s office, or specialized units focused on organized crime, terrorism, and narcotics, according to Sergeant Mike Cherven Jr., president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, the force’s largest union.

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Colonel Christopher Mason, who leads the agency, notified the department about the plan in an e-mail last week, saying the moves were necessary because as many as 250 troopers are expected to retire this year, according to Cherven, who received the e-mail. Cherven said he believes Mason’s estimate of upcoming retirements is conservative and up to 300 troopers could retire.

He said the reassignment plan will not adequately address the shortage of patrol officers and will strain specialized units that investigate unattended deaths, homicides, and violent crime.

“This is a Band-Aid on an arterial bleed,” Cherven said.

A number of factors are causing the retirements, he said, citing concerns about antipolice sentiment and the reluctance of many troopers to remain on the job once they’ve worked long enough to receive full retirement benefits.

“In this world of policing, you’re one incident away from losing your job or being chastised for doing it,” Cherven said.

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, who is also president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, said he is concerned about the temporary reassignments but noted they are not unprecedented.

“Our priority is that serious criminal activity be investigated by our State Police detective unit. I don’t want to be flippant, but I think that’s more important, frankly, than giving speed tickets on the Turnpike,” O’Keefe said Thursday.

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Two troopers are temporarily leaving his office to conduct patrols, he said. The office normally has 18 troopers, half who conduct death investigations and half who investigate drug crimes, O’Keefe said.

Overall, 36 troopers have been reassigned from the Division of Investigative Services, about 8 percent of its sworn personnel, and 10 from the Division of Homeland Security, about 7 percent of its troopers, according to the State Police.

Cherven said the temporary assignments will last until at least Oct. 9, though the department could shift course again in mid-August. The attorney general’s office, along with district attorneys in Essex, Bristol, Norfolk, and Plymouth counties, each have two troopers being reassigned. The Berkshire district attorney’s office said one trooper is being reassigned.

In a statement, the Suffolk district attorney’s office said it doesn’t “expect any noticeable impact if there are any temporary deployments.”

“Such deployments to other government agencies happen on a regular basis. If there is a surge in need, we will address it,” officials said. The remaining district attorneys either referred the Globe to State Police or didn’t respond to an inquiry.

NBC10 Boston first reported on the reassignment plan this week, citing Mason’s e-mail. The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, which oversees the State Police, said the Globe could seek the e-mail under the state’s public records law. On Thursday, the Globe’s request was pending under the law, which gives state agencies 10 business days to respond.

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The reassignments will bring the department into compliance with contractually mandated minimum staffing levels for patrol shifts and decrease its use of overtime to cover those shifts, said State Police, who described its field division as the operation’s “backbone.” The investigative units were allowed to choose which troopers would leave temporarily, and most selected junior members, according to David Procopio, a State Police spokesman.

Patrol troopers “interact with members of the public thousands of times every week to provide assistance, support, and enforcement,” State Police said in a statement. They also respond to motor vehicle breakdowns and crashes, stop dangerous drivers, and help municipal police officers look for suspects and missing persons.

In October, more than 150 trainees enrolled at the State Police Academy are expected to graduate and join the force, said state officials, who described the group as among the most diverse in department history.

The academy plans to train classes of 100 each next year and in 2023, Cherven said. Still, the class sizes aren’t large enough to offset a steady attrition of troopers, he said.

A November report that reviewed State Police staffing from 1993 to 2019 found the number of troopers has fluctuated, hitting a high of about 2,500 in 2007. Today, there are about the same number of troopers as in 1993, according to the report, which was commissioned by state lawmakers in 2018.

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The report concluded the State Police does not have enough troopers to carry out its current missions and offered three possible solutions: scale back its duties, use troopers more efficiently and effectively, or expand the ranks of sworn personnel to about 2,600 troopers, about 500 more than the current level.

“Efforts to increase sworn staffing appear to be akin to trying to fill a bucket with a hole at the bottom,” the report said, citing inconsistent funding for training new recruits.

A second report found the system for recruiting candidates and paying for training impede efforts to enlist new troopers, which has “an impact on the entire organization now and into the future.” Both reports were written by the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at UMass Boston.

The authors noted that public confidence in police agencies is low across the country and that the State Police has seen its reputation tarnished by allegations of trooper misconduct.

Since 2018, 46 troopers have been implicated in an overtime fraud scheme that originated among personnel patrolling the Massachusetts Turnpike. In December, two retired State Police supervisors were charged in a separate payroll fraud case.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.