The overhaul Governor Charlie Baker and the head of the State Police touted this week as bringing change from “top to bottom” to the beleaguered law enforcement agency is facing immediate questions — including potential labor hurdles — that could slow key aspects of the package.
Baker’s announcement Monday that the State Police would eliminate the troubled Troop E unit, activate GPS tracking on police cruisers, and develop a body camera program was intended to begin restoring public trust in an agency that’s been battered by months of scandals, including the alleged theft of overtime pay.
Its rollout, however, quickly met turbulence, including the admission by State Police officials that the plan to “immediately” activate GPS technology on marked cruisers wasn’t possible, because the agency lacked the software to execute it. (A spokesman said officials are talking to vendors.)
Other key aspects also remain unclear, including whether the GPS proposal — and the intention to equip troopers departmentwide with body cameras — would need to be approved through collective bargaining, a potential hurdle that could further slow its implementation.
The union representing rank-and-file troopers declined to comment Tuesday, saying its president, Dana Pullman, had yet to speak directly to Colonel Kerry A. Gilpin about its concerns. But a union official pointed to a state labor board decision from June 2015 that ruled that the city of Springfield “unlawfully” installed GPS locators on city public work trucks “without first giving the union prior notice and an opportunity to bargain.”
“That needs to be done at the bargaining table,” said Tom Nolan, a former Boston police officer who now teaches criminology at Merrimack College. “It’s a significant change in working conditions. The GPS on cruisers is going to have to be collectively bargained for. The body cams, that’s going to have to be collectively bargained for. And ultimately this is all going to cost the taxpayer.”
David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, could not say whether the changes would be subject to union negotiating. But he indicated the reform package is far from settled, despite the highly publicized announcement in which Gilpin promised it “will improve the entire department from top to bottom.”
“Colonel Gilpin and her command staff are in the planning process for the reforms she has announced,” Procopio said. “We are committed to seeing each of these reforms to fruition and welcome constructive input from all involved parties. As part of the process we look forward to having discussions with the State Police Association of Massachusetts and the Commissioned Officers Association to seek their cooperation and assistance in this effort.”
The proposed changes, to date, also may not quell the political pressure surrounding the agency.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo is leaving open the possibility that the Legislature would seek to put in place its own changes through the upcoming state budget, which the House is slated to debate later this month.
“Speaker DeLeo views these reforms as a good beginning,” said Whitney Ferguson, a DeLeo spokeswoman, in an e-mail. “As he continues to review the reforms announced [Monday], Speaker DeLeo continues to talk to members about legislative options — including those in the House budget — to address the troubling behavior raised in these reports.”
State Representative Harold P. Naughton, House chairman of the Legislature’s public safety committee, said he is meeting with Gilpin on Wednesday.
“In all my years in the House, this was a police organization that I had a lot of faith in,” he said, adding that the various scandals have dealt “a significant blow to the people’s trust and confidence.”
“We want to exercise our obligation [as legislators] to create a level of transparency to try to return that trust and confidence,” he said.
Senator Karen E. Spilka, who has said she has enough votes to be the Senate president, also said she’s in discussions with colleagues about building on the “good first step” of Baker’s reforms.
Lizzy Guyton, a Baker spokeswoman, said the Republican governor is “always open to working with legislators.”
“Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito were pleased to work with Colonel Gilpin on a series of reforms for the State Police to increase oversight and accountability,” Guyton said.
Gilpin also disclosed Tuesday that troopers who worked under Troop E unit patrolling the Massachusetts Turnpike will remain in the barracks along the heavily traveled highway. They’ll be supervised by leaders in other troops, she said, and other troopers will have access to potentially lucrative detail work and overtime shifts patrolling Interstate 90.
“We’re not taking the sergeants, the lieutenants, the troopers out of the barracks,” Gilpin told reporters. “We’re going to incorporate [them] into the already existing troops. I think it’s better for the troopers, it’s better for management, it’s better for supervision.”
“We can’t focus on the small minority of the troopers that are accused of doing the wrong thing,” she said. “By and large, 99.9 percent [of troopers] do a great job every day. So I don’t want anyone to think of it as a punishment. It’s a restructuring.”
Gilpin announced the elimination of Troop E in the wake of allegations that nearly 30 troopers in the unit had put in for overtime in 2016 that they never worked. Attorney General Maura Healey has since launched a criminal investigation.
The troop, which has overseen four different barracks in Weston, Charlton, Westfield, and the Seaport, includes 129 troopers, and has its headquarters on Massport Haul Road in the Seaport district, in the same building that houses MassDOT’s Highway Operations Center. Gilpin said Tuesday that the department is still determining what to do with that office and will “probably” have more details within the next 30 days.
But Nolan, the former Boston police officer, said Gilpin may need to provide more explanation about why the changes will be enough.
“It seems as though we hear a report that they’re shutting down the troop — except they’re not really closing down the barracks or reassigning the troopers,” he said. “What basically has this really done that changes things? It looks like they made some really broad statements.”
Procopio said the changes will “create larger pools of troopers to draw from to respond to the pike if necessary,” and that it will more closely align the barracks along the turnpike with the “public safety concerns of the communities along their stretch of the road and the priorities of their respective new Troop commanders.”