Washington, DC..Massachusetts Environmental Police say they cannot do their jobs due to under- funding, poor leadership and political interference, according to a survey of the officers released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Officers gave their own management a resounding vote of no confidence, saying that the public would be better served by removing the Environmental Police from the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Law Enforcement.
In early March, PEER mailed the employee-authored survey to the 122 officers and managers of the Massachusetts Environmental Police, who are tasked with enforcing the state's environmental health and public safety laws. Nearly three out of five (more than 55% percent) employees of the department responded. Most respondents also submitted essays about what they view to be the biggest challenge facing the agency.
More than nine out of ten respondents contend that the Environmental Police is insufficiently staffed and funded "to fulfill its environmental mission." Strong majorities claim that protecting public health and safety is not a priority in the agency, agreeing with the following statements:
Managers fail to place "environmental protection before self-protection when making decisions";
"MEP tends to focus disproportionately on small violators rather than large violators"; and,
Environmental enforcement in Massachusetts has not "become stronger in the past four years."
Many officers directly fault department leadership for the drop in enforcement. As one officer wrote, management "tells us to wear blinders; and officers who make very many environmental cases and work hard are crucified, punished and threatened by superiors for taking action on traditional police crimes when they happen in front of us."
Nearly three quarters of respondents report a lack of "confidence in the professionalism of the MEP managers to whom [they] report." Mistrust of leadership was a consistent theme throughout the survey:
More than three quarters lack faith that "MEP management would back up my professional judgement on a controversial decision;
Nearly two out of five say that managers "have inappropriately intervened in a criminal investigation" in the past two years; and
Almost a third "fear retaliation from [their] chain of command for advocating strong environmental enforcement."
Officers express little hope in correcting the management problems in the existing agency structure. Nearly nine out of ten ( 87%) of respondents favor removing the force from the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environmental Law Enforcement. As one essay respondent put it, "We need to break free of DFWELE and become part of an agency which understands the working needs of law enforcement professionals and will require management to run the Dept. accordingly." While more than four-fifths of the respondents believe that "MEP should become a separate agency under the Secretary of Public safety," nearly half (45%) would entertain the idea of becoming a division of the Department of state police.
Overall, officers claim that the mood within the agency is at an all-time low. When asked to describe the force's morale, not a single respondent stated that morale was "excellent" or "good," while more than four out of five rated morale as "poor" or "extremely poor."
"This survey is an urgent distress call from the officers within the Massachusetts Environmental Police," stated PEER National Field Director Eric Wingerter. "The cops on the beat say the state's environment is not protected by the current system and it's time for a change."
PEER has conducted more than 30 similar surveys in state, federal and local government agencies. PEER survey results have historically matched those obtained by official agency surveys although the response rates to PEER surveys are uniformly much higher. "We would invite the agency to do its own survey if it feels our results are skewed and PEER would be happy to pay for the postage," added Wingerter.