Troopers test crash patrol

State police have identified the seven most crash- and crime-plagued zones in Massachusetts and reshuffled dozens of officers to patrol those hot spots – where drunken driving, speeding and motorcycle drag racing are a growing threat to public safety.

Commanders overseeing the busiest and most crash-prone parts of the state say there is an uptick in wrecks this summer and the extra manpower has been crucial.

“This summer is a pretty bad summer for traffic-related issues,” said Maj. Edward Amodeo, commander of Troop A, which covers north of Boston to New Hampshire and west to Interstate 495 and portions of Interstate 93, Route 128 and Route 1. “There’s a high volume of traffic. People are out enjoying the summer. As a result we are having more interactions, more issues, more crashes, higher citations than last year.”

In June, State Police Col. Marian J. McGovern switched 37 troopers from less busy troops in central and western Massachusetts to those with the highest crash and arrest numbers, part of her strategy to best deploy a dwindling roster of troopers amid budget woes and an inability to hire recruits.

State Police are down 446 troopers, to 2,146 troopers from a high of 2,592 in September 2006. There is no academy class nor has there been one since 2006. The agency lost 122 troopers by attrition in the latest fiscal year.

“We looked at numbers of crashes, numbers of arrests and started putting our people there,” said McGovern, a 31-year state police veteran who took over in December and who told the Herald her No. 1 priority is highway safety. “It was the best, most sound management decision we made.”

Hot spots noted by state police using 2009 statistics include major roads in Springfield, north of Boston and south of Boston. Traffic fatalities statewide number 145 so far this year, down from 184 at this time last year, but overall crashes in Troops A and H are up, commanders told the Herald.

Statistics show that crashes in barracks overseen by Troops A and H are on track to be higher than last year. Troop A has recorded 4,619 crashes so far, and Troop H has marked 4,529. McGovern transferred 14 troopers to Troop A, which covers north of Boston.

“That literally puts out an extra patrol on every shift,” Amodeo said. “They are looking for distracted drivers and aggressive drivers. The more troopers I can put out, the more confident I am.”

Troop A had three of the seven busiest barracks last year. There were 2,118 crashes covered by the Medford barrack alone.

McGovern transferred nine troopers to Troop B in Springfield and another 14 to Troop H.

The State Police Association of Massachusetts, which represents troopers, did not object to the transfers, said a spokesman.

“Staffing levels are so low across the state they needed to move bodies to the east. As long as the colonel stays within the rules of the contract, (the union) has no problem with it,” spokesman Conor Yunits said.

Troop H has seen a slight increase in crashes this summer, said the Troop H commander, Capt. Arthur Sugrue, who oversees 221 troopers. Troop H covers Boston, Interstate 95 to the Rhode Island border and roads in between, including Routes 3 and 24.

The manpower has freed his troopers to fan out on secondary roads such as parkways, Route 1A and Day Boulevard in South Boston. Sugrue said the added patrols send a message. “We’re out there in increased numbers. We’re out there and we’re looking for you, that’s the message to all our problem drivers,” he said.

McGovern’s prioritizing of road safety has hit home this summer as five troopers have been injured in crashes and a sixth, Sgt. Douglas Weddleton, was killed. McGovern said distracted driving is an alarming problem due to the many handheld devices motorists use.

As for other state police duties, she said: “We were able to see that we could move some of the manpower in certain areas to some of the more high-crime areas without losing any type of service in the areas we were taking them from. ”