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Report: Massachusetts hardly ever fires state troops "it doesn’t matter what they've carried out"

The Massachusetts State Police have allowed dozens of officers to remain on active duty after internal investigations found they had broken the law. A Boston Globe investigation uncovered.

The globe Matt Rocheleau checked the internal affairs of the Massachusetts State Police Department and found that the force's internal investigators had found it 29 ongoing charges of assault and battery; 19 alcohol and drug violations, including four OUIs; 17 harassment charges, including three sexual harassment; (and) another 17 for abusing the state's criminal background check system against active soldiers.

Despite these alleged criminal acts – and other alleged policy violations such as lying to internal investigators or judges and using excessive force – Rocheleau noted that "the agency almost always fires soldiers, almost regardless of what they have done". And only a “handful” of the potentially criminal offenses had been referred to prosecutors. In fact, the Massachusetts Attorney General's spokesman told Globe, "The state police have not given any of these details to the bureau."

The research reveals a growing consensus across the country that police officers do not have appropriate consequences for intolerable behavior.

One officer, Trooper Paul Higgins, has committed dozens of crimes, according to the GlobeReview of internal police investigations. In 2013 he was told that he could be fired because of his "predilection for hanging out and helping criminals," which the leaders of the state police had known for years. The conversation apparently had no effect, as the Globe coverage shows:

Despite this confrontation and warning, Higgins reportedly continued. Two years later, the department received a letter from the U.S. law firm saying that Higgins was the focus of a federal criminal investigation and had admitted to Drug Enforcement Administration agents that he was doing background checks on drug trafficking bookmakers . In at least one case, records show, Higgins provided the background information to inform a criminal that the local police had pulled his license plate.

The state police put him on paid leave.

This pattern is not unique to Boston. The Mercury News reported that "more than 80 police officers working in California today are convicted criminals, with rap sheets covering everything from animal cruelty to manslaughter." The Baltimore Sun reported a case where a police officer was caught by his own body camera "putting drugs on vacant lot and then pretending to have just discovered them" – he is still on duty. The Minnesota Star-Tribune reported that hundreds of police officers "have been convicted of criminal offenses … have retained their state law enforcement licenses over the past two decades."

How police unions protect officials from accountability

Rocheleau's coverage does not address the root causes of this culture of admissibility, but rather deeply flaws and ineffectiveness in the domestic affairs investigation process, but the Massachusetts police unions have come out loudly against proposed accountability measures.

Police unions also play a well-documented role in protecting and reaching their members from impact very difficult to fire members. Vox's Dylan Matthews has gone through the intensive appeals process that enables police officers to fend off accountability. Combined with rules such as "heads up officers to be questioned by internal affairs detectives or other investigators … on a case of potential misconduct," it makes it difficult for even determined police authorities to impose penalties on lawbreakers. Matthews reported on research that shows unions are increasingly committing violent misconduct:

Dhammika Dharmapala from the University of Chicago Law School, Richard McAdams and John Rappaport dealt with a 2003 Florida Supreme Court ruling that granted sheriff's MPs collective bargaining rights. They use unaffected police forces as a control group and discover that in the course of the decision violations of misconduct occurred in the sheriff's offices, but not in the police force. This suggests that collective bargaining itself has led to an increase in misconduct, possibly making Sheriff's MPs feel they can get away with it.

Police Unions ”under the Duty of fair representation covered by the National Labor Relations Act and state laws "are required by law" to provide the best possible protection for all of their members, including legal assistance and labor negotiations, "reported my colleague German Lopez. This means that police officers know that they have a strong legal representation on them waits whatever situation they get in. Some critics say it has "helped build a culture where the police feel they can get away with almost anything".

In Massachusetts, officials seem to have reason to feel this way.

Protesters demonstrate against police brutality after George Floyd was killed by police in Boston on May 31, 2020. Matthew J. Lee / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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