http://www.boston.com/news/globe/Budget woes handcuff State Police
Overtime is cut, hiring postponed
The state budget crunch has forced the Massachusetts State Police to slash overtime and delay plans to hire more troopers, while its ranks have steadily shrunk because of retirements.
Kevin M. Burke, secretary of public safety, said the State Police has been spared layoffs in the recent round of budget cuts and has maintained adequate staffing levels, but does not have the money to hire and train a new class of recruits.
"I think the governor is very concerned, and he doesn't want to let it go much longer," Burke said during a telephone interview yesterday. "We have an older force and several hundred people who could retire tomorrow if they wanted to."
The department, which has 2,351 sworn officers, last hired troopers in September 2006, when a class of 149 recruits graduated from the training academy.
Since then, the force has lost 190 troopers, about what it takes to staff an entire troop, and another 18 plan to retire next month, said Colonel Mark F. Delaney, who heads the State Police.
"We could use a new class yesterday," said Delaney, adding that recruits undergo nine months of training before patrolling on their own. "It's a concern. We're shrinking."
It has meant more overtime costs to cover patrol shifts and daily budget crunching to make sure all the department's commitments are met, Delaney said.
But the State Police overtime budget has now taken a hit. As part of his $1 billion in state budget cuts last month, Governor Deval Patrick slashed $2.6 million from the State Police budget.
Those cuts include a $240,000 reduction in overtime and nearly $1.1 million that had been designated to patrol beaches, state parks, and other areas during the summer.
Richard R. Brown, president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, said the State Police have stopped paying overtime, which means troopers are being denied time off because the department will not pay overtime to cover their shifts.
Still, Brown said: "For my members right now the biggest concern is if there would be any layoffs. We're down this much manpower, and we don't know what the next round is going to bring."
Burke said the governor has tried to protect public safety, pointing out that Patrick cut 7 percent from the state budget, but only about 2.3 percent in the area of public safety.
Before the recent cuts, the state had budgeted only $5 million for State Police overtime, even though the department spent $15.7 million on overtime in fiscal 2008.
The governor plans to seek a supplemental budget of about $11 million to fully fund State Police overtime, Burke said.
Patrick is also poised to refile a proposal the Legislature rejected last year that would fund a new State Police training class by assessing a small surcharge on auto insurance policies, Burke said.
"We are trying to be creative, inventive, and positive," Burke said.
In his public safety cuts last month, the governor also trimmed $3 million from the Department of Fire Services, $2.2 million from the Municipal Police Training Committee, $1.6 million from the Department of Correction, $450,000 from the Sex Offender Registry Board, $224,000 from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and $265,000 from the Parole Board.
"The governor has protected public safety as much as possible in his first round of cuts," said Burke, adding that if the economic future remains grim, the State Police and other public safety agencies could fare worse in the next fiscal year.
"These are tough economic times, and we understand that," said Delaney, but he added that the State Police have been given expanded security duties since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and its specialized units investigate homicides, gang violence, and other crimes. They track fugitives, conduct forensic work and search and rescue missions, and provide a variety of services to cities and towns.
"We are still responding to all our core missions and answering all the calls, but is becoming more challenging," Delaney said.
Future budget cuts, without adding more troopers, could mean shifting detectives from specialized units to patrol duties, he said. "Obviously, we can't perform at the same level with reduced manpower, but we will do the best we can."
He added: "We're not going to abandon anybody. . . . We'll find ways to adjust budgets. . . . We'll never turn down a lost child."