Investigation Into Training Incident at Mass. State Police Academy: What We Know

The internal investigation is ongoing and agency officials say they will "hold accountable any Academy staff found responsible for the unauthorized training."

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An internal investigation is ongoing Thursday that's looking into unauthorized training exercises at the Massachusetts State Police Academy, according to an agency spokesperson.

The investigation looks into reports of several trainees being ordered to perform bear crawls, which are not authorized under the training curriculum, officials told NBC10 Boston.

Nearly two dozen trainees got blisters and abrasions, according to MassLive, which says the bear crawls were done across hot pavement. State police officials said Thursday that 20 trainees were treated. There are currently 193 trainees at the academy. One trainee resigned, officials said.

Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday morning he was "glad" the incident is now the subject of an internal investigation, noting the ordeal does not reflect how the academy has been operated.

Start of the Investigation

Col. Christopher Mason said state police learned last week that some trainees at the Massachusetts State Police Academy were required to perform bear crawls during two prior instances, which are not authorized as part of the training curriculum, a spokesperson with the agency said.

These drills added no value to the training, the spokesperson said, "and contradicted the expectations that MSP Command Staff explicitly conveyed to Academy staff prior to the start of the current Recruit Training Troop."

Several trainees ended up with blisters on their hands from the exercise, which were treated by the Academy Medical Unit, the spokesperson added.

The internal investigation is ongoing and agency officials say they will "hold accountable any Academy staff found responsible for the unauthorized training."

Taking Action at the Academy

After learning of the unauthorized exercises, Mason began an investigation and bolstered oversight of training operations.

Massachusetts State Police said the following measures have already been put into place:

  • Two academy drill instructors have been removed, and returned to their regular assignments that are elsewhere in the department. The two troopers were the drill instructors who supervised the unauthorized exercises.
  • The Academy Commandant and Executive Officer responsible for oversight of the academy's daily operations have been removed and replaced. Massachusetts State Police have replaced the Commandant with a commissioned officer. Col. Mason assigned the officer to the academy last week, so he could learn about the organization, ahead of anticipated changing leadership.
  • The Internal Affairs investigation was opened to "identify and hold accountable" any academy staff who were responsible for the unauthorized training.
  • A directive has been issued, which reiterates that unauthorized and extra-curricular physical exercises and training activities are not allowed. The directive also says that health and wellness of trainees must be prioritized when considering any exercise, in order to mitigate any injuries. This directive reiterates one already given to staff, before the current Recruit Training Troop in May
Reid Mason, son of Massachusetts State Police Col. Christopher Mason, is facing firearm charges in connection with an incident that occurred in February.

What Are Bear Crawls?

A bear crawl is a type of workout that is known to build muscular endurance and increase strength. It involves a person starting on all fours, in a similar position as a push up. The person crawls by moving their right hand and left leg forward, then alternating sides. The person's knees shouldn't touch the ground.

The exercise has caused controversy over the years, typically in school settings. In 2013, a school district in Indiana suspended four coaches after they reportedly punished track team members by making them bear crawl for up to a mile.

A Texas school banned the exercise after a mom said her daughter was hurt by bear crawls. She was a student in a gym class that was apparently forced to do them because some were not behaving well.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times reported on an internal investigation at a police academy in California which was accused of treating recruits unprofessionally. Among other alleged issues, a former training officer said he got a call from the mother of a former recruit who claimed to have gotten blisters from bear crawling on asphalt in temperatures over 100 degrees.

The trooper, Kristopher Carr, 25, of Monson, had just graduated from the Massachusetts State Police Academy last week and is assigned to the Westfield barracks.

Gov. Charlie Baker Responds

Baker told news media Thursday morning he was "glad" the incident was under investigation when asked about the unauthorized training after signing the new fiscal budget.

"The academy training is in many respects the way we introduce recruits to sort of the goals and objectives and attitudes and cultures of the Mass. State Police," Baker said. "One of the reasons that Colonel Mason was a very attractive candidate to us when he interviewed for the job was he talked a lot about the fact that that training academy is a very important place to send a message to new recruits, and frankly to send a message to folks who are back for in-service training about the attitude and the culture of the organization."

The governor continued by explaining that Mason emphasized the need to make police training less militaristic and more community-based when he was vying for the job.

"With real focus on tools and capabilities and policies around de-escalation and collaboration," Baker noted. "And this story as it plays out, as I understand it, is clearly not consistent with the way the colonel organized and has operated the training academy since he became the colonel. So I’m glad it's under investigation and I have full faith he will do the right thing with respect to what should happen here."

Prior Problems at Massachusets State Police

Massachusetts State Police underwent several reforms just a couple years back after dozens of troopers were implicated in a scheme in which they collected overtime pay for shifts they either did not work or did not complete from 2015 until 2017, authorities said.

There was a wave of retirements, too, following that controversy Last year, the NBC10 Boston Investigators obtained an email that showed how a staffing shortage is causing a shakeup within the Massachusetts State Police organization.

Earlier this month, a trainee at the Massachusetts State Police Academy accidentally shot himself, resulting in a "non-life threatening injury."

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