JUST OVER A YEAR AGO, on a busy Monday afternoon around 2 p.m., the State Police shut down the heavily congested southbound lanes of the Southeast Expressway in Boston starting near South Bay so they could escort a hearse carrying the remains of a Randolph police officer from the state medical examiner’s office to a funeral home in the officer’s hometown.
It was a striking sight as troopers on motorcycles temporarily closed down the traffic-clogged highway and its access points out to Route 128 and beyond so the hearse and its police escort could race by all alone with no other cars on the highway. Helicopters hovered overhead.
One could assume the decision to temporarily close down such a major traffic artery, particularly in a non-emergency situation, was a sign of respect for the officer, Michael Beal, who died in an off-duty car accident.
Yet when asked, the State Police provided no explanation. They also would not comment on how many officers and vehicles were involved. There was no heads-up to state and local transportation officials that a section of the expressway was going to be shut down, and no alert was given to the public about the closure.
The expressway shutdown, according to data obtained from multiple public records requests and appeals, was one of 631 motorcade escorts provided by the State Police over a 27-month period covering all of 2021 and 2022 and the first three months of 2023. According to the records, the service, which is handled by a special State Police unit, is provided under three broad categories: funerals, dignitaries, and special events, a catchall category that includes such things as parades, road races, crime scene visits by juries, and the transfer of Beal’s body to a funeral home.
Most of the escorts and accompanying road closures are understandable, but some in each of the three categories seem harder to justify. Without a fuller explanation from the State Police, it appears the agency sometimes provides escorts as political favors.
The most blatant examples occur in the case of funerals, where people with connections receive State Police escorts for their loved ones without paying anything while those who are not connected are required to pay for the service.
Funeral escorts for active and retired State Police employees and for their immediate family members are free, according to official State Police policy. All others are supposed to pay for the escorts at a minimum rate of $495 for two troopers for up to four hours.
But that does not appear to have been the case with State Police funeral escorts for family members of eight high-profile individuals listed in the records obtained.
The group consisted of Supreme Judicial Court Justice Frank Gaziano; US Reps. Stephen Lynch and Ayanna Pressley; state Reps. Michael Moran of Brighton, John Rogers of Norwood, and Nick Collins of Boston (now a state senator); and James Nolan and Berj Najarian, two executives with the New England Patriots. For the Najarian funeral, three busloads of people were escorted by the State Police from Gillette Stadium in Foxboro to a church in Cambridge and then back to Gillette after the service.
When the State Police did not respond to a request for information on charges for the eight escorts, a public records request was filed. When the records request went unanswered, an appeal was filed with the state supervisor of public records, who ultimately ordered the State Police to hand over the documents being sought.
In response, the State Police said there were no payment records associated with the eight funeral escorts, suggesting they were provided at no charge.
None of the eight local officials who received the free funeral escorts for their loved ones would comment.
When State Police spokesman David Procopio was asked in an email to explain why they did not have to pay for the funeral escorts, he said it had to do with funeral size and safety.
“Depending on the requirements and circumstances of an escort mission – for instance, in cases of very large funerals of other individuals that involve large motorcades traveling on state highways – we will assign troopers on regular duty to assist with escorts and traffic control,” he said. “We do so to protect the safety of the motorcade and the surrounding motoring public and pedestrians.”
There are, however, no policy documents spelling any of this out.
Brian Folsom, who owns and operates three funeral homes in Massachusetts, said the families he serves never get escorts from the State Police for free — even for large-size funerals. “Any time I have scheduled an escort I have been charged no matter the size of the procession and where it’s going,” he said.
Det. Lt. William Cederquist, who is in charge of the State Police escort unit, declined to be interviewed. Cederquist was paid $376,286 last year, with over one-third of his pay coming from overtime.
Of the 631 escorts that took place, roughly a third came from each of the three categories – funerals, dignitaries, and special events. The records in most, but not all, cases provide very brief descriptions of each escort.
Some of the more notable individuals who received some of the 214 State Police dignitary escorts included President Biden and first lady Jill Biden (33 escorts); Vice President Kamala Harris (6); former presidents Barack Obama (1), Bill Clinton (4), and George W. Bush (1); Attorney General Merrick Garland (2); former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (18); Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (1); FBI Director Christopher Wray (1); former US labor secretary and former Boston mayor Marty Walsh (1); Prince William and Princess Kate of the British royal family (2); and various generals and admirals (28).
Foreign officials received a lot of State Police escorts, even when they did not come here on official business. The prime minister of St. Vincent and Grenadines, an island country in the Caribbean, came to Boston with his wife to get medical treatment for her. The State Police provided the couple with 14 consecutive days of motorcade escorts.
One local official — Auditor Diana DiZoglio — received dignitary escorts from the State Police on January 20 and January 21 of this year.
DiZoglio was picked up at her home in Methuen by Cederquist, and transported to the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, where she attended meetings of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. DiZoglio also was driven by Cederquist to the State House, the Sheraton Boston Hotel, an unnamed Boston restaurant, a private residence in Brookline, Hamilton Hall in Salem, and then back to her home in Methuen.
Officials in the auditor’s office said the escort was requested shortly after DiZoglio took office because of safety concerns surrounding her attendance at the convention of municipal officials. DiZoglio was “concerned for her safety because there are people who tend to follow her around,” said her deputy chief of staff, Lauren Feltch Donoghue. DiZoglio has not requested an escort since the association meeting.
The 226 State Police special event escorts provided traffic control at wakes and movements of body remains (34 percent of such escorts), community events such as parades and road races (29 percent), preparation work for presidential trips to Massachusetts (7 percent), and transporting juries to crime scenes (7 percent).
One special event that stands out took place last September when the State Police escorted a person or persons from Logan International Airport to a Red Sox-Orioles game at Fenway Park and then back to the airport after the game.
Although the State Police identify in almost all the records the names of the people for whom they provide escorts, no names were listed in the Fenway Park escort record. Procopio, the State Police spokesman, did not respond to an inquiry seeking the identity of the visitor(s) to Fenway.
Of the 191 funeral escorts provided by the agency, 57 percent were for troopers and their families, 9 percent for municipal police officers, and 6 percent for military personnel. The others included miscellaneous (13 percent), state legislators and their relatives (4 percent), and state court officials (2 percent).
Delaney Marsco, senior legal counsel for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, DC, said there should be written guidelines for deciding when a charge should be assessed for a police escort and when it shouldn’t. “Absent these guidelines, the system is prone to being arbitrary and show favoritism,” she said.
“As in many states, Massachusetts ethics laws prohibit public employees from accepting anything of value as a result of their official position that would not be properly available to others who are similarly situated,” she said.
In Massachusetts, “of value” means anything worth $50 or more, a threshold that is roughly one-tenth of the $495 minimum charge for a State Police escort.