Aug 24, 2023 - News

Troopers in overtime fraud scandal left out of new state disciplinary database

Illustration of police badge on the pendulum of a clock.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Newly released police disciplinary records show dozens of previously unreported timesheet violations across Massachusetts in the last two decades. But some of the biggest-known violators don't appear in the state's new database.

Why it matters: The reported violations give the public a glimpse into alleged abuses of taxpayer-funded work, a problem that transcends any one agency or group.

Catch up fast: The police oversight commission released a database containing disciplinary records for 2,165 officers dating back to 1984.

Driving the news: The records show that 56 officers faced repercussions for violations related to false timesheets between 1999 and 2022 in agencies across the state, including the Massachusetts State Police and Boston Police Department.

  • This is the first year the database has become public after the state's 2020 police reform law.

Yes, but: Dozens of police officers, including 10 troopers convicted in the Massachusetts State Police's overtime fraud scandal, are not in the database.

Matthew Sheehan, a former state trooper implicated in the scandal who repaid the state the equivalent of 70.25 overtime hours, did not make the database.

  • The oversight commission named Sheehan in its annual report, saying his certification was suspended because he faced felony charges.
  • The report did not specify what Sheehan's felony charges are, but he was indicted in 2019 after shooting at an ATV driver a year earlier.
  • An attorney who previously represented Sheehan said he no longer does and no other attorneys appeared in court documents.

Of note: Asked about Sheehan, a POST Commission spokesperson said he's named in a separate list of suspended officers, but "that the information could be integrated into a consolidated database in the future."

What they're saying: "The police serve the public in their government agency so they need to explain. [For] every person that's not in this, there should be sort of a rule or explanation," says Carsten Andresen, a criminal justice professor at St. Edwards University in Texas.

The other side: Asked about the state troopers, a spokesperson for the POST Commission said officials are looking into why some names do not appear.

  • Some officers may have resigned or retired in good standing, which would exclude them from the database, the spokesperson said.

Reality check: The disciplined officers are just a fraction of the tens of thousands of police officers Massachusetts has employed over the past four decades. The state currently has some 20,000 police officers.

  • But, some experts say other officers, aside from those in the overtime scandal, may not be represented in the database.
  • "I think most violations of timesheets are probably either overlooked or not sanctioned," Tom Nolan, a former Boston police officer who teaches sociology at Emmanuel College, told Axios.

Zoom out: Massachusetts is one of 39 states with police certification laws on the books, and one of several to publish police records about sustained complaints.

What to watch: Who shows up in the next batch of records. The commission said the database will be regularly updated.

  • "It's very much a step in the right direction," Christopher Harris, a criminal justice professor at UMass Lowell. "There's obviously going to be growing pains... I imagine, over time, this is going to get better."

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