Lt. Col. Roland L. Butler Jr. will become the first Black superintendent of the Maryland State Police after the state Senate confirmed Gov. Wes Moore’s nominee with a final vote Friday.
The appointment of Butler, who had been serving in an acting role since January, had been in question as senators expressed concerns about his ability to reform the embattled agency.
His rise follows a 28-year career with the state police, where he most recently served as chief of the field operations bureau, overseeing 1,000 troopers.
It also came as the agency faced issues on several fronts — including a U.S. Department of Justice investigation announced last year that is looking into potential racial discrimination in hiring and promotion practices, and a federal lawsuit from a group of troopers alleging racial discrimination.
Butler, during his confirmation process, had acknowledged he was “part of that structure” but that he hoped to move the agency into a “new era.” He offered a list of goals, such as developing a merit-based promotion system that is “grounded in fairness and transparency,” and increasing staff for the agency’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.
Lawmakers announced Wednesday they were developing language in the upcoming state budget that would withhold $250,000 from the superintendent’s budget until he reports on the progress of those goals later this year.
With that language in the works, the Senate Executive Nominations Committee approved his nomination 15-2 on Wednesday and the full Senate approved him 43-4 on Friday.
The no votes came entirely from Democrats representing Prince George’s County — Sens. Michael Jackson, Malcolm Augustine, Joanne Benson and Jim Rosapepe.
Jackson said he’s heard from Black troopers for years about their concerns within the state police. He said there are just 166 Black law enforcement officers in the agency, down from nearly 300 a few years ago and a small portion of the more than 1,400 current troopers.
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“This is not whether the candidate can perform the functions of the day within this agency. This is about a group of folks within that agency who are literally dying on the vine,” Jackson said after he voted against Butler.
Sen. Pam Beidle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who chairs the Executive Nominations Committee, said the budget language will place “very specific guardrails” that could make a difference if Butler does not follow through on his stated goals.
“The governor has committed that if things do not improve in the department and morale is not better, then there will be a replacement,” Beidle said. “So I think we need to give this candidate an opportunity.”
Moore, the first Black governor in Maryland, has stood by his historic nomination, one of his last cabinet-level positions after nearly two-dozen others had mostly smooth paths to confirmation in the chamber controlled by a supermajority of Democrats.
The governor said in a statement Friday he had “full confidence” in Butler building “a department that reflects the values of our great state and is diverse, well-trained, and thoroughly prepared for any challenge we might face.”
“Lt. Col. Butler will work in partnership to execute his vision and reform the department by increasing morale, building trust, and addressing the concerns that were raised both prior to his tenure and during the nomination process,” Moore said.
Only one other cabinet-level appointee did not receive unanimous approval from the Senate. Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Vincent Schiraldi received the support of Democrats, but Republicans voted against him after expressing concerns that he wasn’t sufficiently focused on accountability.