Butler pledges to lead Maryland State Police into ‘new era’

Acting Maryland State Police Superintendent Roland Butler told lawmakers Monday he is committed to moving the agency “into a new era,” as some senators have questioned whether someone who has spent nearly three decades in the department is the right choice to lead reforms in an agency under a federal discrimination probe.

“It is my top priority,” Butler told the Maryland Senate Executive Nominations Committee. “I’ve heard your concerns and the concerns of your constituents, and I’m absolutely committed to addressing these issues head on. To begin, we must acknowledge and address all bias and discriminatory practices.”

Butler, who would become the first Black superintendent of the agency with Senate confirmation, has served as chief of the State Police Field Operations Bureau, where he led a force of more than 1,000 troopers and investigative personnel assigned to 23 barracks. He also served on the superintendent’s staff and the Maryland State Police Support Services Bureau Office of Equity and Inclusion.

Butler acknowledged that the department has “grappled with a range of deeply troubling issues: bias, discrimination, inappropriate behavior and an inequitable system of career advancement that has held many qualified troopers back in their careers.”

Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, asked how he will be able to change the agency when some of the challenges have existed while he was in leadership.

“The biggest thing we need to do is start with building trust, trust and communication,” Butler said. “People need to feel comfortable bringing their concerns to me or anyone else within the rank structure.”

Sen. Pam Beidle, who chairs the committee, said she thought Butler did well during the hearing and had “a great deal” of supporters in attendance. However, she said said she wasn’t sure if he has the votes yet on the committee.

“If we’d called for the vote tonight, I don’t know if he had them,” Beidle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said. “We’ll have to see what happens. I think there’s still questions.”

Sen. Antonio Hayes, a Baltimore Democrat, said Butler’s testimony won his support, but that “there’s absolutely some questions among my colleagues, definitely.”

“I think I’m one of many in the committee that he had to gain support from,” Hayes said.

Moore, a Democrat who is the state’s first Black governor, is standing by Butler and has been working to build support for him.

Moore met with the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers in a closed meeting on Friday, a meeting that a spokesman described as productive.

The governor told reporters early last week that Butler “has been an extraordinary public servant who has spent his entire career working to make sure that our communities are safer and making sure that our communities are stronger.”

“I think that the senators are continuing to see what we have seen in Col. Butler and why I know he is going to be the right leader for the Maryland State Police at this time,” Moore said.

In October, three Maryland State Police officers filed a proposed federal class-action lawsuit against the department, alleging widespread racial discrimination in the agency. The lawsuit alleges that the state police disciplines officers of color more harshly than white officers.

In July, the U.S. Justice Department announced it had opened an investigation into the agency to determine if it engaged in racially discriminatory hiring and promotion practices.

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