Boston — Massachusetts Environmental Police say they cannot do their jobs due to political interference, poor leadership and inadequate support, according to a survey of the officers released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Officers also cite fear of retaliation from managers who are overwhelmingly viewed as unprofessional.
This October, PEER mailed the employee-authored survey to the entire force of Massachusetts Environmental Police (MEP) officers, who are tasked with enforcing the state’s environmental health and public safety laws, ranging from hazardous waste disposal to illegal fishing and boat safety. Nearly three out of five of the 102 officers (55% percent) responded:
· Nearly four out of five (78%) disagree that “environmental enforcement in Massachusetts has become stronger in the past four years;”
· More than nine in ten (98%) feel that the MEP is neither sufficiently funded or staffed “to fulfill its environmental protection mission;” and
· One in five officers (20%) report that managers “inappropriately intervened in a criminal investigation” during the past two years and more than one-third of respondents (36%)“fear retaliation from my chain of command for advocating environmental enforcement.”
“This survey indicates the Romney administration undermined already weak environmental law enforcement in a variety of ways,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lawyer, who conducted the poll. “For example, officers are encouraged to focus on small-time violators and let big offenders, particularly corporate violators, off the hook.”
The officers also gave MEP management scathing reviews:
· More than half (52%) do not see their management as “committed to enforcement of environmental laws;”
· Three-fourths (75%) lack “confidence in the professionalism of the MEP mangers to whom I report;” and
· Nearly three in four (74%) do not see the current MEP Director James Hanlon as “providing able leadership.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, nearly nine out of ten responding officers (89%) feel that morale within MEP is “poor” or “extremely poor”(not one officer said morale is “excellent”). Officers also widely view (78%) promotions to management as based on favoritism rather than merit.
“The problems in the Massachusetts Environmental Police run deep and require a complete overhaul,” Bennett added, pointing to a similar survey of MEP officers that PEER conducted five years ago which produced parallel but less negative results in key areas. Significantly, the current MEP leadership also held top management positions in MEP when that earlier survey was conducted. “Hopefully, the next administration will choose better managers, remove barriers and provide adequate resources so that enforcement of environmental laws in the Commonwealth is no longer a joke.”