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OPINION

Is Charlie Baker afraid of the State Police?

Legislation introduced by Governor Charlie Baker to overhaul the State Police discipline process remains in committee, giving the governor the best of both worlds.

Photo illustration by Globe Staff; Globe file photos

They schemed to get money they didn’t deserve, and records that could have shown even more wrongdoing were conveniently destroyed. Now most state troopers implicated in an overtime fraud scandal will keep their jobs, and probably their pensions, too.

Why? Dennis Galvin, the president of the Massachusetts Association for Professional Law Enforcement, and a retired State Police major, rightly called on the department to explain the appalling lack of consequences for stealing from the public. For now, it looks like Governor Charlie Baker is either afraid to take on the Massachusetts State Police — or simply doesn’t think their cheating is any big deal.

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In January, Massachusetts State Police Colonel Christopher S. Mason — who was appointed by Baker to clean things up — said the department would move to fire 22 troopers who committed overtime fraud and collected thousands of dollars in pay for which they never worked. This month, the department said one trooper has been fired and the intention is to fire five more. Fifteen others will be suspended for various lengths of time and ordered to pay restitution. Because they were never criminally charged, they can retire and collect lucrative pensions, the Globe reported. One trooper was found only to have improperly collected four hours of overtime, so that case was chalked up to an administrative snafu.

In response to last week’s announcement, Baker’s office wrote, in a statement e-mailed to the Globe, that the administration “condemns stealing of any amount” and noted that the governor introduced legislation in January that changes the State Police discipline process but doesn’t really change the status quo. That legislation remains in committee, giving the governor the best of both worlds. He’s for reform that will be hard to pull off, as illustrated by the current Senate battle over another proposal that’s supposed to make police more accountable.

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Even in law enforcement circles, there’s some serious questioning of how this went down. “You’re causing the public to doubt your credibility, which is going to put restraints on the public’s willingness to cooperate,” Galvin told the Globe.

This latest State Police scandal taints the credibility of the entire force, and honest troopers should be mad as hell about that. Who sees a trooper now and doesn’t think about the overtime cheats? When a person spies a State Police car hiding on the side of the road when they are driving slightly over the speed limit — or recalls the jackbooted trooper who swaggered up when they were waiting to pick someone up at the airport and then barked at them to move on — the cheaters’ whine comes to mind: Everybody’s doing it, why should any one unlucky person pay the price of getting caught? However, that works only for troopers, not for average citizens.

In the Baker way, accountability is limited to the smallest number of people, and never extends to him, whether it involves at least 76 deaths from COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home or overtime fraud at the State Police. Initially, he appointed Colonel Kerry A. Gilpin to fix the mess. When she stepped down, Mason, the number two guy, took over. At the time, Mason said, “Words are hollow. It’s action that will move the department forward.”

With Mason’s words now ringing hollow, it’s more proof that an insider can’t be a change agent, and that state law, which currently requires the leader of the State Police to be chosen from within the department, should be changed. Baker’s proposal would do that. But is he, like other politicians, too afraid of the State Police to push for real change? Baker is under added pressure given that State Police took the initial report on an incident involving an allegation of inappropriate touching by his son on a June 2018 flight that landed in Boston. Baker’s son said he was asleep the whole time. The Boston Herald recently said it obtained an unredacted copy of the State Police report. The case was referred to the US attorney’s office, which, as a matter of policy, doesn’t disclose the outcome of an investigation unless charges are brought.

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Attorney General Maura Healey, who was also investigating the overtime scandal, has ended her probe. That leaves only a federal investigation in the active category.

Fear is power. When it comes to the State Police, Baker, like others, looks like he’s yielding to it. Or that he just doesn’t care about applying the rule of law to law enforcement.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.