Nomination For A Hero Badge

Mass State Police hard at work.

There is a capacity for evil in all of us. Most people resist the impulse. Those that don’t typically gravitate towards occupations that allows them freedom to indulge their baser impulses. I guess that is why police corruption strikes a cord. Cops are supposed to represent the pure of heart.

There is a knee jerk impulse, among police administrators, to blame the “bad apple,” a single misguided individual. Despite the testing, background checks, training and close supervision, occasionally one slips by. Police administrators cry, “It’s not our fault!”

What do you call it when 46 individual officers and supervisors all from the same troop go rogue? Institutional failure.

I have commented upon this before. However the stories I was aware of involved the acts of a number of individual officers. This story puts a number to the scandal. Forty-six troopers all from a single Troop. When I say troop, think police station, precinct, substation or division. It represents both a geographic area and an allotment of manpower.

In this case the geographic area stretched from downtown Boston to the New York state line where the Massachusetts Turnpike terminated, just west of Stockbridge.

Forty-six current and retired troopers who worked for the now disbanded Troop E, which patrolled the Massachusetts Turnpike, were implicated in the scheme in which they collected overtime pay for shifts they either did not work or did not complete from 2015 until 2017, authorities said. Often, they said, the troopers issued falsified traffic tickets to make it appear as if they had been on duty.

Of the 46, 10 have been criminally charged and 14 had retired. The 22 who face termination are those who have not been criminally charged and have not yet retired. The allegations they faced were sustained by an internal investigation, Mason said. No names were released.

Of the 22, 13 are currently on active duty and nine have been suspended without pay, state police spokesman David Procopio said. There is a possibility some could also face criminal charges.

Brockton Enterprise , 1/31/2020

Here is how Wikipedia describes the Massachusetts State Police.

The Massachusetts State Police (MSP) is an agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts‘ Executive Office of Public Safety and Security responsible for criminal law enforcement and traffic vehicle regulation across the state. At present, it has approximately 2,300 officers, 1,500 of them being uniformed troopers, and 400 civilian support staff—making it the largest law enforcement agency in New England. The MSP is headed by Colonel Christopher Mason.

Here is a case by case rundown by Howie Carr.

Howie Carr Column on the State police scandal

Looking at the whole picture the question isn’t how did this happen? It is why couldn’t anybody in the MSP administration see the potential problem?

Let Me Count the Ways

Troop “E” had a patrol area that stretched from Boston to the New York Line along the Mass Turnpike, a distance of 138 miles. I say had, the mileage hasn’t changed, Troop “E” has. It doesn’t exist anymore.

Notice the stripe on the pants of the MSP pictured above. Here is a picture of a MSP patrol car. It is dated, Troop E doesn’t exist and the E was removed from the building.

The reason cops wear uniforms and drive marked cars is so that their supervisors can find their silly asses. That can be a job in a patrol district of a couple of miles. Imagine supervising a district the stretches 138 miles.

The overtime scandal worked like this. Troopers signed up for an overtime detail. They were supposed to be patrolling and doing traffic enforcement. Quotas are not allowed. Besides, just being out there, the argument goes, encourages traffic compliance. If traffic tickets were generated they were accepted at face value.

The money was coming from the Feds, no reason to hold back. Anybody who could handle a patrol car was eligible for the gravy train.

At some point, somebody discovered that what management controls may have existed could be easily circumvented. Like the Dire Straits song, Troop E discovered there really was “Money For Nothing.”

So how were the bosses to know? This was a selective traffic enforcement situation. That means some stretches of roadway get more attention than others. Sometimes the enforcement is time specific. Hit the road and look for the blue bird (MSP nickname for a patrol car).

Patrol cars use gas, tires and oil. They have a thing called an odometer. MSP being a bureaucracy, probably has a car book. The car book tracks mileage and expenditures for gas, tire and oil. It’s kinda hard to work fifty hours of overtime in a month without an increase in expenditures for the bluebird.

Issuing a ticket, at roadside, is the beginning of the process. What was the eventual disposition? Massachusetts used to have a point system. A written warning meant no further action was required of the driver. Points would be added to the driving history. Did a driver’s license exist? How many ghost drivers got tickets?

Troop E was assigned to the Massachusetts Turnpike. Used to be a driver got a punch card when they entered the turnpike and surrendered it when they left. The card would indicate the toll due and also the duration of the trip. I suspect with EZ Pass a supervisor would be able to determine if a particular vehicle used the Mass Pike on a given date and time.

Damn that was hard. It goes to show that my evaluation of traffic cops still holds true. “Traffic enforcement is very important. It gives really stupid fucking cops something to do.”

Police agencies have a “culture.” Some maintain a foxhole mentality, “it’s us against them.” Others maintain, “everybody does it.” Popular culture makes a big deal of, “the thin blue lie,” cops cover for cops no mater what.

I held with advice a Texas Game Warden and former Texas Ranger gave me. He said, “I promised God that if he let me live thru the day then I would make one person happy every day, for the rest of my life. And I did. Each day, when I shave. I look in the mirror and see one happy son-of-a-bitch.”Worked for him, worked for me.

I have done things I’m not proud of. But none of those things involve how I did my job.

All it would have taken is one Trooper, one supervisor to say, “Nope, not me, not here.”