Sutton Massachusetts

2013 Billboard - Sutton MA Police Department

In August 2013 the most bizarre thing happened on Route 146 in Sutton. A large billboard went up on 146 North, just by Worm's Way, and it seemed to be saying Sutton residents should call state troopers when we needed help. 2013 Billboard - Sutton MA Police Department

The billboard says:


What in the world?? Best protection, compared with our local Sutton police? So they're saying if someone broke into my home they want me to call the State Troopers to help me out, because somehow the State Troopers would have a better finger on the ins and outs of my neighborhood and what has been going on in my area?

The billboard completely baffled me.

Then, on Sunday, August 4th, Susan Spenser of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette wrote a long, detailed article covering the situation. She titled her article, "Sutton, State Police Wage Turf Battle".

Sutton, State Police Wage Turf Battle - WT&G Site

Spenser points to the key issue in this argument being this: "The now highly visible Sutton controversy comes as $6 million in roadway improvements on Route 146 and Boston Road are set to begin this fall, a project that brings with it a major new source of extra money for officers through paid police details on their off time."

The key issue here is that the staties want ALL of the money for ALL of the details on this construction - even though 146 is a local highway and therefore a shared responsibility with local police.

While state troopers do have full juridiction over interstates like the Mass Turnpike, which goes "over" towns, the local highways like Route 146 which go "through" towns have no legal prime jurisdiction. An informal arrangement tends to exist where local police handle the minor fender-benders while the state police handle the fatalities.

However, this must be a trickly line. How do you know, when you first hear of an accident, just how serious the injuries actually are? I imagine some of it must have to do with the crime labs and technicians that both groups have. The state troopers probably have a larger forensics team, for example, with all sorts of specialized equipment. And both groups need to prove their need for funding, from the various people who give them money. So a group that only does 13 accidents in a year, vs the other group that handles 80 accidents a year, might suffer in terms of getting funding. If the troopers can show in their logs that they handled 100 accidents in a year, they can justify more equipment and members.

When I watch shows like Major Crimes there are often jurisdictional conflicts between different layers of public safety. Local cops get treated as if they don't know anything at all when the staties roll in. And then staties feel upset when the FBI shows up and takes over. I imagine in TV and movies it's "good drama" to show those different layers. But in reality, it seems to cause slowdowns in how real life situations are handled. Spenser talks about issues finding lost hikers caused by these types of jurisdictional wrangles.

Unfortunately, much of the state police's issue seems to come down to money. If the staties were funded as fully as they wanted to be, they probably wouldn't care much what the other local police departments were doing. They'd focus on their specific area and do it to the very best of their ability. I can't, for example, see a well paid crime scene photographer getting into much of an argument with a well paid interviewing detective who is taking statements. They are both doing their own thing and trying to do it well.

In Sutton's case, 146 is a core part of Sutton. Many of our businesses, like Tony's Pizza, are right on 146. Sutton Chief Towle only recently was able to thwart a robbery at the Bank of America on 146 because of his keen awareness of what was "in place" and "not in place" in our area. State troopers can never have that level of local knowledge about our town. They aren't living here every day, driving up and down our streets. It's our local police who know the streets, know the people, and build that working relationship.

So, sorry billboard owners, but if I'm in trouble, I'm calling my Sutton police. They're the ones I trust most to know the situation, know the environment, and will know best how to help. And sure, if they need additional resources, I'm sure they will bring them in. But it's the Sutton police I want to make that initial evaluation and call.

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