State Police public-safety protocol cries out for reform
ON TOP OF all the other bad news for the Massachusetts State Police lately, now more dubious overtime abuses have come to light.
The Globe’s Kay Lazar reported recently about the lucrative overtime-all-the-time pay at seven Boston-area “emergency response stations,” where state troopers are positioned to respond to fuel spills, serious accidents, medical emergencies, infrastructure issues, and the like.
Troopers at those premium pay posts, which are staffed around the clock, typically earn around $680 per shift, which means that costs quickly add up.
This public safety practice cries out for reexamination and reform.
The same, of course, can be said of many State Police arrangements. One of Governor Charlie Baker’s reforms has been to abolish Troop E, amidst revelations that dozens of troopers may have put in for overtime shifts they hadn’t worked. The administration has also assigned 30 more troopers to Logan Airport, thereby reducing the number of airport overtime hours by around 600 a week, for a weekly saving of $50,000.
Baker hopes to persuade the legislature to fund a new State Police class; troop strength is now a little under 2,200, down from more than 2,500 in 2006. “Our goal is to try to get enough State Police on the ground so that we don’t have to pay overtime for this stuff,” the governor said last week when queried about the emergency response stations. However, neither branch of the Legislature funded a class in their budgets. Without a larger trooper force, the administration says it can’t staff the emergency posts on a non-overtime basis.
But there are other approaches that could help reduce overtime. One, notes Stephen Goldsmith, a former mayor (Indianapolis) and deputy mayor (New York City) and now director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School, is to take a close look at whether sworn police officers with guns are really necessary for all the functions they are currently performing. The more of those tasks that can be done by civilians, the less costly that staffing would be.
Another idea: Inject some cost-trimming competition into policing. The state could ask the State Police and the Boston Police to submit bids for the right to staff the emergency response stations. (The Boston Fire Department might want to bid as well.)
The winner would have the rights to that work for a set period, perhaps five years. Likewise, security, traffic control, and similar functions at Logan’s various terminals could also be put out to bid.
The incentive to win the work could lead the various unions and managers to take a sharp pencil to their staffing practices.
Asked recently about that approach as pertains to the emergency response stations, Baker noted that the state police have authority over state roads, while local police patrol local routes, and that mixed jurisdictions could lead to confusion.
It’s true this plan would need careful coordination and no doubt some legislative changes to pave the way.
Still, “every state road almost by definition goes through a city,” notes Goldsmith. “You could say . . . we are going to ask for proposals from agencies that have jurisdiction in that area, and see what it looks like.”
After all, given the overtime abuse we’ve seen, any idea that promises to enlist self-interest in the cause of cost control is well worth exploring.