State Police overhaul will require union talks, Baker says
Governor Charlie Baker said on Wednesday that many of the proposals he unveiled this week to overhaul the beleaguered State Police will require talks with the department’s unions — a potentially time-consuming step in pushing through the changes.
Baker sought to downplay the impact of discussions with union officials, calling them “anticipated and expected” when the package was announced earlier this week. He also said they don’t change his expectations for enacting an array of proposals, which include instituting a department-wide body camera program and eliminating the troubled Troop E unit that has patrolled the Massachusetts Turnpike.
But his acknowledgment was notable. State Police officials on Tuesday couldn’t say whether collective bargaining was necessary to pursue the changes unveiled at a press conference a day earlier, though a spokesman for Colonel Kerry A. Gilpin has said they intended to “seek [the unions’] cooperation and assistance in this effort.”
“Nothing changes on the timetable,” Baker told reporters Wednesday at the State House of union talks. “Obviously most of these changes will require discussions with the folks at the State Police. But that was anticipated and expected, and it’s standard operating procedure.”
“I fully expect that some of them will take longer than others,” he later added of the proposals. “But that was anticipated when we put them out there in the first place.”
Whether union talks provide a significant hurdle is unclear, but parts of the rollout have already faced questions.
State Police officials acknowledged that Baker’s initial plan to immediately activate GPS monitoring on all marked cruisers wasn’t possible, because the agency lacked the software to execute it. Baker administration officials said Wednesday that they have started the process to put the technology in place.
The union representing rank-and-file troopers also pointed to a 2015 state labor relations board decision 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” — raising more questions about whether the State Police could unilaterally adopt such a plan.
In a statement Wednesday, Dana Pullman, president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, said the union agrees with Baker that “reforms are necessary to regain the public’s trust,” but he did not specify if it intends to fight any of the proposals.
“SPAM has several recommendations, that have previously been shared with the Baker administration, that would help resolve structural deficiencies and improve accountability in the organization,” Pullman said, referring to an August 2017 letter in which the union called for a staffing audit.
He said he spoke with Gilpin on Wednesday and will be meeting with her “to discuss the details of the Department’s reform proposals and ours.”
Baker has said he wants to institute a body camera program for the State Police by the end of the year, which he said Wednesday remains his goal. His administration has cited a one-year pilot program in Boston, where Mayor Martin J. Walsh also signaled the city could create its own department-wide program by year’s end.
But even the city’s test faced significant hurdles. The police union had initially opposed body cameras and had tried to block the program in court. A judge ruled in September 2016 that the Boston Police Department had the authority to order officers to wear cameras after no volunteers stepped forward.
The pilot was scheduled to last six months before the union and the city agreed in March 2017 to extend it by another half-year. A final report on the program is due in June; officials will then decide whether to expand it.
Baker indicated the state can use Boston’s experience to its advantage.
“Boston did everybody a favor by doing a pilot because people learned a lot from that,” he said. “It makes it possible for other people to pursue the learnings that came about as a result of that and incorporate it into their own strategies.”
Lawmakers have signaled that they, too, may pursue their own initiatives. House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said he’s talking with colleagues about their options, including tucking proposals into their state budget proposal due out later this month.
Baker, who faced calls from Attorney General Maura Healey last week to take a “leadership role on this issue,” said he welcomed proposals from the Legislature.
“Look, I’m always interested in good ideas about how to make government more transparent and accountable and effective,” the Republican governor said. “And if the Legislature has thoughts on those, obviously we’ll be happy to take them up on them and hear what they have to say. But we’re certainly going to pursue our list of reforms.”