In the months since the Massachusetts State Police has been rocked by overtime and payroll scandals, records show the agency sought to destroy more than 160 boxes of documents tracking payroll, detail assignments, attendance and personnel records — some dating back as far as 26 years.
The day after the Boston Globe published a story in March exposing an entire division of the state police had payroll records hidden from the public, the agency requested permission to destroy 115 bankers boxes worth of records.
Specifically, the director of finance for the state police petitioned the state Records Conservation Board for the disposal of all the agency's time and attendance records for the fiscal year ending in 2011. The request to the state also asked to destroy the agency's bank and cash records, as well as its billing and collections records for the years 2009 to 2013. The agency also asked to destroy routine accounting records spanning 12 years — from 2001 to 2013.
In a statement, state police spokesman Dave Procopio said the requests in question "are in compliance with the Secretary [of State's] retention schedule and the records, due to their age, are not currently the subject of any outside investigation or audit."
"None of the records in question have been destroyed and in light of current ongoing investigations pertaining to similar records, the State Police will retain past payroll records until further notice," he continued.
Outside watchdogs said asking for the destruction of documents amid an ongoing scandal raises concerns.
"The timing of this request is highly questionable, in my opinion, given the serious charges that have been leveled against the state police," said Greg Sullivan, research director of the Pioneer Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank. He was also inspector general under Govs. Mitt Romney and Deval Patrick.
The destruction of the documents, Sullivan said, could stymie any investigations into how far back — and how broad — the agency's overtime scandal goes.
All of the records could have legally been destroyed years earlier, according to the state records retention schedule, which specifies how long agencies need to hold onto records. But it’s unclear why the state police waited until 2018, amid increased scrutiny on the agency, to seek to throw them out.
In April, just two weeks after Gov. Baker and his newly appointed state police superintendent, Col. Kerry Gilpin, announced “critical reforms” for the force, the agency asked for yet more records to be destroyed: 40 bankers boxes worth. They included: recruitment and hiring records, as well as personnel action records from 2007 to 2011; employee records, as well as payroll and benefits case files from 1992 to 2011; and calendars with time and attendance records spanning 20 years — from 1994 to 2014.
And again last month, state police asked that a dozen boxes of detail and roster assignment sheets kept from 2009 to 2012 be destroyed.
But the records have not yet been burned, pulverized or shredded. All of the agency's 2018 requests were put on hold. The Records Conservation Board, according to documents obtained by WBUR through the secretary of state's office, labeled the requests "tabled pending audit."
Last month, state police hired the firm Ernst & Young, an independent accounting firm, to conduct an audit of its overtime policies and practices.
During the Records Conservation Board's meeting on May 2, one member, Jenny Hedderman of the comptroller's office, made a motion to decide on the state police 2018 requests at a later date, according to minutes of that meeting.
A spokeswoman from the state attorney general's office says board members felt that it was not appropriate to allow destruction of these records, due to the continuing investigations and internal audits concerning state police records.
The Records Conservation Board is made up of appointees from various state agencies. The attorney general's designee, Lorraine Tarrow, chairs the board.
Sullivan, the former inspector general, praised the board for having the foresight to preserve the records.
In 2017, the state police filed just one destruction permission form — for quality assurance records spanning one year for its crime lab in Maynard. On the form, the agency specified the records had nothing to do with Jamaica Plain’s Hinton lab, or the Amherst lab, both of which were under investigation over chemist misconduct. That request was granted.
Amid the fallout from the state police scandal, six troopers have been charged in federal court with collecting overtime for hours they didn't work. Three more lieutenants are facing charges in Suffolk County.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Gilpin's first name. The post has been updated. We regret the error.
This segment aired on October 10, 2018.