Deval Patrick is not the answer to what’s wrong with the Massachusetts State Police.
That’s what Governor Charlie Baker would have us believe as he blames prior administrations for ongoing scandals at the state’s top law enforcement agency. But state and federal investigations into systemic overtime and payroll abuse are occurring on Baker’s watch. While the alleged abuses may go way back, there’s no sign they stopped when Baker took office. And the latest reported outrage occurred this year, as Baker runs for reelection.
Three times this year, State Police officials asked another state agency for permission to destroy more than a hundred boxes of payroll, attendance, and personnel documents that span more than a decade. Asked to respond to that news, Baker said that “under normal circumstances” the request to destroy the records would have been “appropriate,” given their age. But given the ongoing investigations, the governor said, “what the State Police did was a mistake and I’m glad those records didn’t get destroyed.”
But the officials never should have made such an inappropriate request in the first place, and the fact that they did so three years into Baker’s term makes it squarely his problem. Baker’s supposed to be a hands-on manager and should have made it clear that as long as the State Police are under investigation, no records will be destroyed. Especially since a package of reforms that the Baker administration recently announced included the hiring of an independent auditing firm to assess administrative procedures, like record-keeping.
Yet by his own actions, Baker often sends a message that is the opposite of being fully transparent. Last week, for example, Environmental Police Chief Colonel James McGinn — who was Baker’s campaign driver — was initially suspended without public explanation. Pressed later by reporters, Baker said a ticket-fixing allegation “is certainly one of the elements” of the McGinn investigation.
The governor prefers to distance himself from blunders made by people who ultimately report to him. For example, he was “extremely disappointed,” not to mention “incredibly annoyed” and “incredibly frustrated,” by a Department of Revenue data breach that made private information from some 39,000 business taxpayers visible to other companies. He just wasn’t to blame.
From the start of the State Police scandal, Baker did his best to pretend the mess is someone else’s problem. In March, when the Globe first reported that an entire division had not disclosed payroll records since 2010, Baker said it was “clearly deliberate.” At the same time, he wriggled away from owning it by saying, “I don’t know what the reason was. It was 2010.” That means it started eight years ago — and Baker has been governor for the past four of them.
In June, Baker said the arrest of three State Police troopers and the investigation of dozens of others for alleged
overtime fraud is part of a “conspiracy” that may go back years. Again, he’s obviously trying to shift blame rather than accept it.
Baker shamelessly ducked responsibility again during Tuesday night’s debate with Democrat Jay Gonzalez, saying that State Police overtime abuse “had been going on for a long time. There’s documentation and public records that show that this was going back before our administration even began.”
But Baker’s the boss now, which means the buck stops with him. Under this governor, the State Police clearly thought they can get away with blatantly inappropriate behavior. How extremely disappointing.
Clarification: An earlier version of this editorial left out Charlie Baker’s partial explanation for the suspension of Environmental Police Chief Colonel James McGinn.