By Bob Katzen

Governor Charlie Baker has returned the bill making changes in the state’s policing system to the Legislature without his signature. He offered several amendments for legislators to consider.

“There are … a small number of proposals in [the bill] that I cannot accept because they introduce barriers to effective administration and the protection of public safety without advancing the central goal of improving police accountability and professionalism,” Baker told legislators in a letter along with his amendments. He added, “If they are not addressed, I do not intend to sign the … bill.”

One of those proposals unacceptable to the governor would ban police from using facial recognition systems to solve crimes.

“I propose to enhance the study of facial recognition already proposed in the bill while striking out the law change that drastically limits its use by any public agency,” continued Baker. “The restrictions on the technology, with only significantly limited exceptions for law enforcement, ignores the important role it can play in solving crime. For example, in the last few years here in Massachusetts, a child rapist and an accomplice to a double murder are both now in prison thanks to facial recognition technology.”

Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, supports the ban. ““Unfortunately, Gov. Baker rejected a crucial due process provision that would protect Massachusetts residents from unregulated police use of face surveillance technology, which has been proven to unfairly target Black and Brown people, leading to the arrest of innocent people,” said Rose.

“Unchecked police use of surveillance technology also harms everyone’s rights to anonymity, privacy, and free speech,” continued Rose. “We urge the Legislature to reject Gov. Baker’s amendment and to ensure passage of commonsense regulations of government use of face surveillance.”

The governor was in agreement or willing to accept most of the bill including 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; setting 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; 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; and limiting no-knock police warrants in instances where children or people over 65 are present.

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