Maybe the most recent State Police scandal is so galling because we all feel like witnesses.
The latest indignity involves large, unreported paychecks for troopers from Troop F — those responsible for policing, among other sites, Logan International Airport. Which, unless you’re a serial speeder or a murder suspect, is probably the only place you regularly interact with the Staties.
If you love anyone enough to go get them from the airport — congrats on finding true love, by the way — then you know how it works: You roll into the Terminal C pickup area and find two rows of cars idling directly in front of the “No Standing” signs.
And there’s a state trooper, hands on his hips, looking like a man in a grass seed commercial gazing upon his reinvigorated lawn. Sometimes the troopers appear to be sitting in their cars. Only when you dare to linger a little does the trooper leap into action, demonstratively waving you along, telling you to keep it moving.
Obviously, Troop F’s duties extend far beyond moving traffic along. And maintaining some semblance of order in the scrum of airport traffic, all while scanning the crowds for suspicious activity, is surely harder than it looks. Some amount of policing, particularly at a place like Logan, is about being visible — which can look an awful lot like standing around.
But if you haven’t had the first 10 minutes of an emotional family reunion ruined by your husband’s bitter complaining about this, then congratulations again, because you are not my wife.
For this, a trooper can make about as much money annually as three Boston Public School teachers combined. Two dozen troopers each racked up more than $100,000 in overtime last year, records show. Twenty troopers from Troop F made over $250,000. And until this week, that data hadn’t been reported to the state comptroller since 2010.
Other State Police scandals in recent months appear to involve more flagrant breaches of trust. One, involving allegations that command staff ordered troopers to redact an incident report that would have embarrassed a judge’s daughter, appears to have cost the colonel running the agency his job; another, involving no-show overtime shifts, may have involved actual theft.
Confronted with just one of these messes, the State Police might have been able to get away with the same strategy the famously secretive department has used for previous unwanted scrutiny, waving us all along, like idling cars shooed out of the pickup lane.
But that won’t work this time.
Public trust in the State Police is being sorely tested. So when Massport, the entity that runs the airport and pays Troop F, essentially describes this as an honest mistake, well, the State Police is fresh out of benefits-of-the-doubt.
“Troop F is responsible for safety and security at transportation hubs that, obviously, are high priority targets for foreign terrorist organizations and domestic lone wolf actors,” said State Police spokesman David Procopio in an e-mail. There’s a 9/11 memorial at Logan for a reason.
At Logan, Procopio said, state troopers are responsible for all law enforcement services, including “curb security, patrols inside the terminals, criminal investigations, traffic enforcement, and all other law enforcement functions.”
That means troopers in tactical gear patrol the airport’s terminals, and State Police respond when TSA searches uncover something illegal or suspicious. State Police K-9 units hunt for explosives, and State Police detectives investigate deaths, larcenies, drug trafficking, money laundering, assaults, sexual assaults, and violations of Massport regulations. Another section of Troop F focuses on training and emergency planning.
Some of that is standard State Police stuff and some of it isn’t. The State Police have not released data on which of those details required the most overtime hours last year, and why.
Nobody is arguing that troopers should not be compensated fairly for their time, training, and risk — only that their pay should be appropriate and open to the same scrutiny as every other state employee.
To that end, the State Police announced this week that it will take over from Massport the responsibility for paying Troop F and report that pay along with that of other troopers. And the new commander of the State Police, Colonel Kerry Gilpin, is reviewing overtime policies and practices “to determine opportunities to improve the department’s performance and adhere to the mission of the State Police,” Procopio said.
“She understands the need to strengthen the public’s trust in the agency and is wholeheartedly committed to a thorough review.”
Understanding how and why the public’s trust is eroding is valuable and even refreshing from an agency that has long been pretty secretive. But fixing it is going to require getting out of the cruiser and telling us just why, exactly, we should move along.
Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org