POLICING CHANGES


By Bob Katzen

The House 91-67, Senate 28-12, approved and sent to Gov. Baker the conference committee version of a bill making major changes in the state’s policing system.

Provisions include creating an independent, civilian-led commission with the power to investigate police misconduct and to certify, restrict, revoke or suspend certification for police officers and maintain a publicly available database of decertified officers. The legislation also sets standards for qualified immunity under which qualified immunity would not extend to a law enforcement officer who violates a person’s right to bias-free professional policing if that conduct results in the officer’s decertification.

Other provisions include banning the use of chokeholds; limiting the use of deadly force; requiring police officers who witness another officer using force beyond what is necessary or reasonable to intervene; creating a moratorium on facial recognition technology; and limiting no-knock police warrants in instances where children or people over 65 are present.

“This is a landmark decision that was demanded by the people and led by Black and Latino Legislators of this state,” said Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus Chair Rep. Carlos González (D-Springfield). “Our demands were agreed to by the speaker of the House and Senate president. Today we begin to address police accountability and transparency. We are making great strides to address racism in police departments and provide them the adequate training and support to address the daily and difficult challenges they have.”

In a letter to its 4,000-plus members, the leaders of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police say that the legislation leaves police “disregarded, dismissed and disrespected.”

“The final compromise legislation is a final attack on police officers by lawmakers on Beacon Hill,” the letter reads. “It is 129 pages crowded with punitive measures, layers and layers of new bureaucracy and the abridgment of basic due process rights of police. It was delivered with almost zero notice and zero time for our leadership, our legal team and our members to process it before debate and votes were scheduled.”

“This compromise piece of legislation creates, for the first time, an independent agency for the statewide certification of law enforcement officers and establishes uniform training and standards,” said Rep. Claire Cronin (D-Easton), House Chair of the Judiciary Committee. “This legislation is about justice and fairness. Fairness for those that interact with police, and fairness for police as well.”

“We’re stripping it just from law enforcement here, and rest assured, we’ll be coming after somebody else’s qualified immunity tomorrow,” said Rep. Tim Whelan (R-Brewster), a former state police officer. “It’s the same as in the House bill. Sixty-six of you voted against this bill in July because you disagreed with qualified immunity. It still exists in this bill.”

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