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Gov. Charlie Baker wants to throw out a mandate that the state police colonel must be appointed from within the agency so that external candidates may be considered for the top post.
Baker made the announcement Thursday at the State Police Training Academy in New Braintree that he is filing legislation to alter the leadership rule and noted a series of other changes.
Most significantly, the governor said he wanted to expand the colonel's authority, including allowing the agency head to take "swift action" to discipline troopers for certain serious violations. The change comes nearly two years after a massive overtime abuse scandal shook public confidence in the agency and its leadership and sparked a number of internal reforms in 2018.
“The current statutes governing the Mass. State Police are out of date and out of step with what is required to run an effective department today," Baker said, standing near the newly-appointed Col. Christopher Mason. "It limits the department’s ability to embrace change and innovation, particularly with respect to building the department’s work force and future leaders. They also limit the colonel’s ability to act decisively to enforce accountability within the organization.”
Baker also said the department would create a new cadet program aimed at broadening a pool of diverse candidates for recruitment. Mason added that the department is introducing new implicit bias training and adding a diversity recruitment officer position to improve hiring and training processes.
Mason took the helm of the agency in November, after his predecessor Kerry Gilpin stepped down to retire after serving two years as superintendent. Mason was previously second-in-command as lieutenant colonel.
In announcing Mason's post, Gov. Baker said the two had multiple conversations about "restoring public trust" in the state police.
In March 2018, it was revealed multiple troopers were paid overtime for hours they did not work. Several troopers have pleaded guilty in the overtime abuse probe.
"We own that," Mason said Thursday. "We've learned from those lessons. We've put some systems in place that will hopefully prevent that from happening again."
Initial reforms were announced in April of the same year, mandating the use of GPS-locator technology in all state police vehicles to monitor troopers' movements and the implementation of a body camera program. Mason named moving the body camera efforts "over the finish line"and completing an internal investigation into the overtime abuse as top priorities when his appointment was announced.
Baker said Thursday that GPS trackers have been put in place in nearly 3,000 cruisers, and Mason said that the agency was exploring vendor options for its body and dash camera program.
The governor also reiterated an earlier call to the retirement board to strip pensions from troopers convicted in the overtime scandal.
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