CONCERN OVER THE behavior of those who are charged with enforcing behavior norms on others has probably been around as long as humans have set up such systems. Capturing that conundrum in a single, enduring phrase goes back nearly 2,000 years.
“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” is the question attributed to first century Roman satirist and poet Juvenal. “Who will guard the guards themselves” is the translation of his Latin interrogatory.
Its translation, in a contemporary Massachusetts context, might be: “What the hell were the State Police thinking?”
The 2,200-officer police force is an agency in turmoil, beset by what has been an ever-expanding scandal that threatens to undermine its credibility. The department has been reeling from ongoing state and federal investigations of overtime and payroll abuse and fraud that have already seen guilty pleas, federal or state charges against eight officers, and a slew of sudden retirements from the force.
Against that backdrop, it was reported this week that State Police officials have on three occasions since March, with the first coming just two days after a Boston Globe report on payroll records being hidden for years for an entire division of the force, sought to destroy payroll, attendance, and personnel documents.
A State Police spokesman said none of the records the department sought to destroy were the subject of any “outside audit or investigation.” Nonetheless, the state Records Conservation Board, which must approve destruction of such documents, turned down all three requests, citing the ongoing probes.
The department may have gone through standard channels, and the records may all have been old enough to qualify under state law to be destroyed. But let’s just say the optics of the request left something to be desired. That’s especially the case after Gov. Charlie Baker oversaw a shakeup of the State Police leadership and the installation last November of a new head, Col. Kerry Gilpin, who vowed to clean up the department and restore public confidence in it.
Baker said yesterday that the State Police “shouldn’t be destroying any payroll records, and they won’t be.” Meanwhile, his Democratic challenger, Jay Gonzalez, said the records issue “takes this scandal to a whole different level,” accusing the State Police of trying to orchestrate a cover-up of misdeeds in the department. He previously called for Gilpin’s ouster.
The three separate requests to destroy records were signed by three different officials within the State Police. Who initiated each request and how they could possibly have not understood that getting rid of any records while the State Police is facing multiple investigations would only raise more questions about the integrity of the department and whether the moves were aimed at destroying possible evidence?
Corruption in a law enforcement agency is one of the most corrosive forms of wrongdoing society can face. There were already lots of unanswered questions about what was going inside the State Police. Now there are even more.