AN EXPERIENCED REFORMER, with no ties to past or current personnel, who can restore public confidence in a troubled law enforcement agency — that should be a leadership option for the Massachusetts State Police.
But seeking a qualified outsider for the job is literally against the law: The governor is required to pick a colonel who “has been employed by the department in a rank above the rank of lieutenant immediately prior to such appointment.”
The Legislature, and Governor Charlie Baker, should end that requirement. “The law severely restricts the ability of the governor to select the most suitable, qualified person for the position,” said Thomas Nolan, a criminologist and former Boston police lieutenant and member of the anti-corruption unit. Indeed, a report by former secretary of public safety Kevin P. Burke in the aftermath of last fall’s “Troopergate” scandal said state police culture “must be transformed, starting with management” and urged the agency to “assist in the development and implementation of new leadership standards.”
While many troopers serve honorably, the agency’s problems do appear to be widespread enough to raise concerns about its broader culture. Three veteran state troopers were arrested last week on federal embezzlement charges. And, those charges, warned US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, “are the beginning and not the end of this federal investigation.” As the Globe previously reported, dozens of current and former members of now-disbanded Troop E have been linked to the alleged pay scandal, resulting in several ongoing investigations, including a probe by Attorney General Maura Healey.
Considering the sensitive cases the State Police often investigates, it’s crucial that its leadership have the public’s confidence. For instance, an incident involving Andrew “A.J.” Baker, the adult son of Governor Charlie Baker, also put state police in the spotlight. After a woman accused the governor’s son of groping her on a JetBlue flight, state police were called to meet the plane. They questioned the alleged victim and Baker. A Massport official said the “fact-finding” was “done by the book.” Since the incident occurred in the air, it fell under federal jurisdiction and is now under review by Lelling’s office. While there is no evidence the State Police mishandled their role in the case, which did not become public until two days later, there is unfortunately a reason for wariness. Favoritism did arise as an issue during the Troopergate scandal, when the then-head of the state police, Colonel Richard McKeon, was accused of trying to suppress embarrassing information regarding the arrest of Alli Bibaud, the daughter of a Worcester judge.
After McKeon’s retirement, Kerry Gilpin, a 23-year veteran of the force, was sworn in as his replacement and billed as a change agent. In response to ongoing scandals, the Baker administration has outlined a package of reforms that address overtime, personnel assignment, and management oversight. Baker is also working on bringing in an outside consultant to conduct an independent management review of the State Police.
A spokesman said while the governor is “open to considering any and all reforms,” Gilpin is the “best person to lead the State Police.” But it’s not about Gilpin. In the long term, the public’s interest would be best served by letting governors pick the person best able to institute large-scale reform.