Metro

State Police to step up hiring process Superintendent seeks to diversify agency’s ranks

The story was originally published March 24, 2008.

The head of the Massachusetts State Police says he’s trying to speed up the hiring of new recruits and attract more women and minorities as the agency faces a possible exodus of retiring troopers over the next few years.

Thirty-nine percent of the department’s 2,429 officers are eligible to retire because they’ve been on the job for more than 20 years, and more than half of those already qualify for a full pension, according to State Police.

“Over 500 troopers have maxed out their pension and could walk out the door any time,” said Colonel Mark Delaney. “We’re facing some retirements as the department starts aging, and we have to start planning for that.”

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In his first in-depth interview since he took over as superintendent of the state’s largest police force in June 2006, Delaney said he’s working with state officials to draft a long-term hiring plan that will allow the department to immediately replace retiring officers and recruit more minorities.

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As part of that effort, he said he may start a cadet program, similar to one run by the Boston Police Department, to attract minority applicants and give them on-the-job training before they take an entrance exam.

“One of the things I want is diversity,” said Delaney. The State Police are increasingly being dispatched to cities such as Brockton, Lawrence, and Springfield to help local authorities crack down on guns and gang violence, and must better reflect the cultural makeup of those communities, he said.

Currently, 7.74 percent of the State Police’s sworn officers are women; 6.25 percent are black; 2.26 percent are Hispanic, and 1.3 percent are Asian, according to statistics provided by the agency.

“I think we need to do better and we’d like to see more minorities advance through the management structure,” Delaney said.

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Kevin M. Burke, the secretary of public safety, said state officials and the governor’s office are working with Delaney on reforming the hiring process. Local police departments have been more successful in attracting minority applicants than the State Police, he said.

“We know we have to do something,” said Burke.

Delaney said he hopes to convince aspiring police officers that they can find more challenge and opportunity in a sprawling agency like his. On a recent night, he said, he was speaking to a Muslim group when he suddenly departed from his remarks to ask the audience if they knew any Muslim men or women who want to become state troopers.

“It’s a very noble profession. It’s not just highway patrol,” said Delaney, 55, who quit college in his junior year when the State Police offered him a job in 1974, then later went to the former Boston State College nights to earn a bachelor’s degree and got a master’s in criminal justice at Anna Maria College in Paxton.

The Burlington native, like all new recruits, started patrolling the roads, then worked in the canine unit chasing suspects and tracking missing children. After being promoted to detective, he investigated homicides and drug cases for the Middlesex district attorney’s office, spending some time undercover. He assumed command of the unit at the district attorney’s office, then later commanded a detective unit at the attorney general’s office. In the 1980s and 1990s, Delaney often worked closely on drug cases with Edward Davis, who was then a Lowell police officer and is now Boston’s police commissioner.

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“It’s amazing what fate has brought to our door,” said Davis, who described Delaney as one of his best friends and said he never guessed when he and Delaney were raiding homes in Lowell for drugs that someday they’d lead the state’s most powerful police departments. “But the truth of the matter is it certainly helps when we have questions about coordination and cooperation.”

He described Delaney as a smart, hardworking man who doesn’t like to boast about his accomplishments and is quick to give credit to others. “He doesn’t have an ego,” Davis said.

Delaney has largely avoided the spotlight since he took over as head of the State Police, but when he was a rookie in 1977 he had a starring role in a 28-minute movie narrated by the late actor John Wayne that promoted the agency and was used for recruitment.

In one scene, Delaney jumped into the water to rescue a girl. After watching him in action, Wayne predicted that the young trooper was going to have a great career, according to Robert Long, a retired State Police detective who mentored Delaney decades ago.

“So John Wayne put the pressure on him early,” joked Long, adding that Delaney proved Wayne right as he worked some of the department’s most high-profile cases on his way to the top.

Delaney oversaw the investigations into the 1995 crash of a State Police helicopter that killed two members of the department’s air wing and two civilians; the 1997 murder of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley of Cambridge; the $9.4 million theft from the state treasury in the late ‘90s; and the 2004 murder of pedophile priest John J. Geoghan at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley. Delaney spent four years as commander of the State Police crime laboratory before he was appointed superintendent of the agency by former governor Mitt Romney.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.