By Bob Katzen
The House 93-66, approved a bill making changes in the state’s policing system. The measure creates a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee (POSAC)—an independent state entity composed of law enforcement professionals, community members and racial justice advocates—to standardize the certification, training and decertification of police officers for misconduct including bias, conviction of a felony, submission of false timesheets and use of excessive force.
The bill revokes qualified immunity in any case that results in decertification of the officers and creates a commission to study qualified immunity and report findings by March 31, 2020. Qualified immunity is a judicially created legal doctrine established by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under current qualified immunity, police officers and other government officials can only be held accountable in civil suits for violating someone’s rights if a court has previously ruled that it was “clearly established” those precise actions were unconstitutional
Other provisions include creation of a Commission on the Status of African Americans, ban the use of facial technology and chokeholds, regulate the use of tear gas and rubber bullets unless officers have no other options to protect public safety, restrict “no-knock” warrants and bar school officials from sharing student information with outside law enforcement agencies.
“Change is never easy, but with this vote, the House of Representatives acts to ensure fairness and equality,” said House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “It is the product of countless hours of conversations with a wide swath of stakeholders, including the members of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.”
“Everybody had to give up something here to get to a common good, right,” said chair of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus Rep. Carlos Gonzalez (D-Springfield). “And sometimes that’s where life takes you. So these are moments that are historical and unique, challenging, but these are profile of courage moments. Both chambers want to get something across to the governor and get something that can be approved by the governor, but also veto-proof in both chambers.”
“The legislation in the House and the Senate are nothing more than a knee jerk reaction to the events happening hundreds of miles away from here,” said Mass. Police Chief Association President Jeff Farnsworth. “These bills are not a response to any current situation in Massachusetts. These bills are being used to make a political statement. They do not address issues in Massachusetts. As law enforcement leaders our primary mission is to ensure the safety of our residents and our communities. We do not believe that this legislation will do that. It has the very real possibility of doing just the opposite.”
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts opposed the bill but for vast different reasons than Farnsworth. “For months, people across the country and the state have been marching in the streets to demand systemic change,” said Rose. “Unfortunately, this bill does not reflect the fierce urgency that deadly police violence against Black people demands. Instead, it reflects the depth of entrenched opposition to necessary police reform. Police unions and officers used the weapon of fear to maintain the status quo and undermine even very moderate reforms.”
The Senate has approved a different version of the bill and a HoUse-Senate conference committee will likely try to hammer out a compromise version.