Lt. Col. Roland Butler was confirmed Friday as the first Black superintendent of the Maryland State Police, tasked with turning around a majority-white agency beset with allegations of racism and discrimination.

Butler is a 28-year veteran of the state police, rising from trooper to lieutenant colonel responsible for overseeing the field operations of 23 barracks across the state.

Butler’s ascension to the very top job was not without difficulty, and he’ll face scrutiny in the role. As a condition of the 43-4 confirmation vote in the Maryland Senate, lawmakers will withhold a small portion of the budget for Butler’s office until he submits reports on his progress toward reform.

Gov. Wes Moore and Butler worked behind the scenes to assure his confirmation after some lawmakers expressed concerns that Butler isn’t the right person to lead the agency. Moore and Butler had a private meeting last week with representatives from a coalition of Black troopers, and Butler met one-on-one with senators in recent weeks.

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Some senators still had reservations and asked to delay the vote.

“This is about a group of folks within that agency who are literally dying on the vine,” said Sen. Michael Jackson, a Prince George’s Democrat, who noted that, in an agency of more than 1,400, the number of Black troopers has fallen to 166 from 300 a few years ago.

Jackson said senators should be afforded at least a few more days to vet Butler and consider the concerns that they’ve been hearing. The request for delay was voted down on a voice vote.

During a public confirmation hearing earlier in the week, Butler emphatically said he is positioned well to improve communication and address problems within the agency.

“As I stand before you today, let me be very clear: I am absolutely committed to moving the Maryland Department of State Police forward,” Butler told a panel of senators on Monday. “I’m committed to deploying my core values to steer the department in a new direction, into a new era.”

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Sitting behind him in a show of support were several top law enforcement officials in dress uniforms, including Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison. Two members of the governor’s communications team and his chief legislative officer were also present in the audience.

Moore selected Butler to take over a department facing challenges including a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation into discriminatory hiring and promotion practices, as well as a lawsuit from Black troopers alleging discrimination in disciplinary decisions.

And the state police have been criticized for sexist and racist “challenge coins” being exchanged among troopers and racist imagery on a target at a shooting range.

In addition, The Baltimore Banner has reported that multiple state police barracks have implemented points-based quota systems to reward troopers for actions including traffic stops and arrests.

Quotas are illegal under Maryland law and Butler has said he doesn’t support them and did not know about them until the news reports.

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A key part of Butler’s mission will be to improve diversity in the ranks by reforming the recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

In order to receive the full budget allotment for the superintendent’s office, Butler will be required to send reports to the Senate in July and December that cover improving recruitment and retention; reorganizing the agency to provide more opportunities for advancement; developing a fair and merit-based promotions system; improving the equity and inclusion staff to better address trooper concerns; and creating a review team to evaluate disciplinary cases for inconsistencies.

Sen. Pamela Beidle, who heads the Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee, said the reports will give senators a chance to measure Butler’s progress toward reform. She said the governor supports the reporting requirements and will hold Butler accountable.

“We need to give this candidate an opportunity,” said Beidle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

In a statement, Moore thanked senators for the confirmation vote.

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“Lt. Col. Butler has my full confidence — I know he will build a department that reflects the values of our great state and is diverse, well-trained, and thoroughly prepared for any challenge we might face,” Moore’s statement read

The Maryland State Police force was organized in 1935, evolving from an earlier motorcycle-riding “state police force” that was under the supervision of what was then known as the commissioner of motor vehicles, according to the state archives. The Maryland State Police became a cabinet-level department in 1994.

pamela.wood@thebaltimorebanner.com

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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