State should merge its policing units
With several legislative and Baker administration reviews of the Massachusetts State Police underway, the state should give serious consideration to a proposal that will lead to administrative efficiencies, save taxpayer dollars, and result in a safer Commonwealth. A consolidation of departments would lead to a more strategic deployment of public safety personnel and assets as well as streamlined communication and jurisdictional functions. This involves merging the approximately 250 Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority police officers and 85 members of the state’s Environmental Police into the State Police department.
In response to the current overtime pay controversy, among other issues, both the inspector general’s audit, as well as reforms being considered by the Baker administration, represent efforts to ensure stronger supervision and accountability within the State Police. While reform is necessary, the state should use this situation to consider a larger restructuring, which would lead to greater public safety for the state as well as taxpayer savings.
The MBTA Transit Police are headquartered in Boston, yet as the T has expanded, it makes more sense to have a transit troop within the State Police, deployed in barracks across the T system that could easily access commuter rail stations, trains, and buses. A partnership between the two, in which the State Police assist T police, already exists and is a redundant use of both departments’ resources.
In a 2013 report, the T Advisory Board Finance Committee found the debt-strapped T could save $453 million over 10 years by integrating T police into the State Police.
And benefits extend beyond cost savings. At a time when transit stations are frequently the target of terrorist attacks, we should take steps to ensure maximum vigilance and proactive policing by improving communications and streamlining response functions while simultaneously deploying law enforcement personnel and assets in a strategic manner.
You don’t have to go far to see an example of how successful this integration can be. In 1995, under the leadership of then-commissioner Bill Bratton, New York City merged its Transit Police into the city Police Department, creating a uniformed policing system. The merger involved integrating 4,000 transit police officers with 36,000 existing NYPD officers.
With the fourth-largest transit system in the United States, and the T’s service area now including half of all the Commonwealth’s communities, the proposed integration would be much less cumbersome than New York’s merger while ensuring a more cohesive policing model.
It’s not an unprecedented idea for the State Police. In 1992, a state law consolidated the police forces of the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Capitol, and the Metropolitan District Commission under the State Police, resulting in increased efficiencies and cooperation. Under a new round of restructuring, expensive real estate and assets could simply be transferred to the State Police, resulting in further money saving for the taxpayer.
Similar to the State Police, the Massachusetts Environmental Police have been challenged by management issues as well as proper supervision and accountability of employees. The roughly 85-member department exists with a mission to enforce boating and recreation vehicle laws as well as fish and game laws on state ponds, lakes, and the coastline.
Inherently, this small law enforcement agency is challenged by the size and scope of the Commonwealth’s environmental assets. With 192 miles of coastline, 450,000 acres of forest under the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation management, 150 state parks, 3,500 lakes, and 51 fresh-water swimming beaches, it’s virtually impossible to strategically deploy personnel over such a broad expanse of terrain. By integrating its mission with the State Police barracks system, better policing outcomes will result.
The integration of the T police and the Environmental Police into the State Police will require focused commitment and the expenditure of political capital. However, saving taxpayer dollars and ensuring the safety of the Commonwealth’s residents from threats of violence, both domestic and foreign, are objectives our leaders should consider seriously as they contemplate reform.
Timothy P. Murray is president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.