State Police troopers may have claimed to work more hours than they actually did in more than 800 paid details, spurring at least $150,000 in payouts that investigators called “emblematic” of possible abuse, according to the state inspector general’s office.
Inspector General Glenn Cunha’s office said the conduct, which occurred in 2016, violated the State Police’s rules at the time for paid details — optional assignments troopers can take to provide security for road construction and other projects.
And while the State Police and its largest union have since agreed to new rules governing how troopers are paid for details, Cunha’s office argued that the new guidelines are ripe for more wasteful spending. While troopers previously had to work at least half of an eight-hour detail to be paid for the whole assignment time, they now are guaranteed the full eight hours of pay regardless of how long the detail lasts, thanks to a change collectively bargained in 2020.
“Our bottom line is, we’ve got to get as close as we can to paying people, particularly the troopers in this situation, for the time that they work,” Cunha said in an interview. “It’s a waste of public funds for troopers to work one hour and to be paid for eight.”
The findings are included in a report Cunha’s Division of State Police Oversight issued this week. The division was formed in 2018 to monitor spending and policies within the State Police after it was rocked by a sprawling overtime fraud scandal and a series of federal and state indictments.
The report and its recommendations quickly stirred consternation within the department. The head of the State Police on Thursday argued that the findings relied on “flawed assumptions” and that by focusing on 2016 data, the division ignored safeguards the department has since put in place, including the practice of conducting random, in-person inspections of details and weekly reviews of dozens of details.
“Analyzing outdated information from years before the reforms were implemented and drawing inferences from that information is an unhelpful exercise,” Colonel Christopher Mason wrote Thursday in a two-page letter to Cunha.
The department and the State Police Association of Massachusetts also rejected the recommendations that they rework the new rules agreed to in 2020, saying that they were negotiated in “good faith.”
Cunha said the division chose to review records from 2016, including overtime data, because they predated the overtime scandal and helped capture behavior before “there was any extra scrutiny.” The division reviewed details worked by nearly 170 troopers who signed up for an eight-hour assignment and claimed that the detail lasted between four and five hours, allowing them to get paid for the full eight hours.
But in half of the 1,654 instances the division reviewed — 830 details in total — records tracking when the trooper turned their radio on and off indicated they worked less than four hours, suggesting they may have inflated their time.
It amounted to potential overpayments of $150,488, according to the report.
Cunha’s office cautioned that the findings are not proof troopers skipped out on their details without authorization but described them as “troubling” nonetheless. “The possibility that sworn troopers . . . would purposefully misrepresent the number of hours worked for financial gain is an abuse of their position as sworn law enforcement officers,” the report reads.
Mason, however, said the findings, including the reliance on radio data, paint an incomplete picture. He also faulted investigators for not cross-referencing it with other data, including from transponders or what he described as “cruiser repair” data.
“Instead, the [division] has chosen to rely on a single source of unverified information,” Mason wrote.
Cunha said any data the office reviews comes from the State Police.
The report is not the first time the relatively new division has scrutinized the department’s past and present practices. In 2020, Cunha’s investigators said they found that troopers who worked paid details at Logan International Airport had cut corners for years, improperly collecting pay while commuting to and from their regular shifts, and that a lack of supervision of overtime patrols permeated the state’s largest law enforcement agency.
Last year, the inspector general criticized one of the department’s highly touted reforms aimed at uncovering overtime abuse, arguing that the decision to audit its 50 highest-paid employees each quarter focused too much on those who earned the most money “as opposed to troopers who worked the most overtime hours,” making the approach inadequate.
This time, in addition to reviewing details from 2016, Cunha’s office also focused on the new rules.
The State Police and its largest union, the State Police Association of Massachusetts, agreed in July 2020 that any trooper who signs up for an eight-hour detail will be paid for the full eight hours regardless of how long the detail lasts.
The change, the report notes, “appears to remove the incentive for troopers to misrepresent” their hours. But it also means troopers will likely be paid for more time than they actually work, Cunha’s office said.
It also said the responsibility of whether to classify a detail as four or eight hours now rests on the requesting agency or company — a decision, it argues, that State Police should “take a proactive role in determining.”
“State agencies and other public entities pay for many of the details that troopers work, meaning that the 2020 amendment likely will lead to the waste of public funds,” according to the report.
Mason said the department strongly disagrees with reversing the policy. The union’s president also disputed the report’s characterization of the amendment.
“Having a flat rate of compensation allows vendors to know what the cost will be before the detail is assigned. As a result of flat rates, we believe transparency has increased,” Patrick McNamara said in a statement, in which he, too, criticized Cunha’s office for looking back at 2016 data. “Opinions and insinuations contained in the report cast our current members in an undeserved negative light, many of whom were not Troopers in 2016,” he said.