Police Licensing Law May Cover Gaming Commission Division

Photo: (Mario Jarjour/WBZ NewsRadio)

BOSTON (State House News Service) — A state commission was created last year to oversee policing in Massachusetts, but Gaming Commission lawyers are concerned that the reform law that created the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission Commission could require everyone who works in its largest division to become certified as a law enforcement officer.

The 2020 policing reform law requires that all law enforcement officers meet minimum requirements to become certified, like completing a training program approved by the Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC). Under a strict interpretation of the law, commission lawyers said, the requirements may apply to everyone who works for the commission's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau.

"If this statute were to apply to the IEB as a whole and not just the State Police assigned to the IEB, this would ultimately mean that all IEB personnel -- from our financial investigators to paralegals -- would be deemed law enforcement officers and would be required to complete MPTC basic police training, among other things, and be certified by the Division of Police Certifications," Carrie Torrisi, the Gaming Commission's associate general counsel, said in June when she briefed commissioners on the issue. "And of course it seems highly unlikely that that was the intent of this law."

On Thursday, commissioners approved of and signed a letter to the POST Commission that Torrisi drafted explaining the gaming agency's interpretation of the new law and its impact on the IEB. Commissioner Enrique Zuniga recused himself from the discussion and did not sign the letter.

Commissioner Gayle Cameron, during the June meeting to discuss the issue, suggested that the letter could "put on their radar screen that this needs to be addressed, probably through a regulation."

The policing reform law defines law enforcement agency to include any "state, county, municipal or district law enforcement agency" and it defines law enforcement officers to include "any officer" of such an agency.

Under the state's 2011 expanded gaming law, Chapter 23K, the Gaming Commission's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau "shall be a law enforcement agency and its employees shall have such law enforcement powers as necessary to effectuate the purposes of this chapter."

Torrisi said she thinks a more reasonable reading of the new law is that the IEB "is a law enforcement agency for the purposes of carrying out Chapter 23K, but not necessarily a law enforcement agency as defined by" the new policing reform law. She pointed out that the law specifies that it applies to the University of Massachusetts police department rather than the entire UMass system and to the MBTA police rather than the whole transit agency.

"It's no different than a police department and a modern-day police department has many, many more non-sworn members of that agency that are not sworn and would not have to go through the basic training and other requirements," Cameron, a former deputy superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said in June.

In the letter, the three commissioners said they have concluded that the IEB, while a law enforcement agency for the purposes of the gaming law, is not a law enforcement agency for the purposes of the policing reform law "and therefore neither the IEB nor its staff are subject to the various requirements for law enforcement agencies and law enforcement officers as laid out" in the new law.

Investigative Functions and Enforcement Functions

The Mass. State Police troopers who work as part of the IEB will be subject to the requirements of the POST Commission, Torrisi and Executive Director Karen Wells said. Those troopers are not Gaming Commission employees but rather MSP employees assigned to the commission through a memorandum of understanding, they said.

The IEB is the largest division within the Gaming Commission. As its name implies, it is made up of an investigations side and an enforcement side. The investigations side completes background checks, financial investigations and focuses on ensuring the ongoing suitability of licensees, employees and vendors.

The IEB includes members of the Massachusetts State Police Gaming Enforcement Unit and the enforcement side is supplemented with on-site gaming agents who pay attention to the security and fairness of day-to-day operations at the slots parlor and casinos. The IEB works closely with local police, the attorney general's office and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

As a law enforcement agency, the IEB has subpoena power and broad investigatory authority "to make sure that the people and business entities involved with gaming meet established standards of integrity, honesty and good character," the commission said on its website.

The IEB put that authority to use in 2019 when it scrutinized sexual misconduct allegations against Steve Wynn and the handling of those allegations by Wynn Resorts. The IEB found that some executives knew of the allegations, did not take steps to address them and, in some cases, actively worked to cover them up. That led to a record $35.5 million fine and a mandate for a top executive to undergo management training.

New Leadership for the Gaming Enforcement Unit

Brian Connors, the founding commanding officer of the Gaming Enforcement Unit, departed that post to accept a promotion to the rank of detective captain and to join the State Police command staff last month. Gaming enforcement will remain under his purview, he said Thursday.

The commission celebrated his accomplishments during Thursday's meeting, including his work to complete all of the background investigations that went into approving three gaming licenses and then getting those facilities up and running.

"We opened three casinos safely and securely here in Massachusetts. These are large venues with not only a lot of people but a lot of cash traveling across the floor," Wells said. "Both the openings and the operations have been successful from a public safety standpoint, and that is a really important piece."

Wells, who led the IEB during its investigation of Wynn Resorts and was herself sued by Steve Wynn, highlighted the work that Connors put into the Wynn matter and said she is "extremely grateful, personally, for his outstanding work on that investigation."

Assuming leadership of the GEU is State Police Captain Michael Banks, who has worked with the unit for more than five years. Before joining the GEU, Banks had been assigned to the Middlesex State Police Detective Unit, a role in which he was involved in the 2008 trial of Neil Entwistle, who was convicted of the 2006 murders of his wife and their infant daughter in Hopkinton.

Banks also worked for more than five years as an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Written by Colin A Young/SHNS

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