POLICE CHANGES

By Bob Katzen

The House 107-50, Senate 31-9, approved and sent to Governor Charlie Baker a new version of a bill making major changes in the state’s policing system. The House and Senate adopted some of Governor Baker’s amendments including scaling back a moratorium on the use of facial recognition software by law enforcement and limiting the influence of a civilian-led commission over police training.

A key provision creates 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. 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; and limiting no-knock police warrants in instances where children or people over 65 are present.

“Today’s Senate proposal reflects the amendments that the governor made to the bill two weeks ago,” said Baker’s communications director Lizzy Guyton. “After discussing the governor’s amendments with the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, the administration believes this package addresses the issues identified by the governor’s amendments and he looks forward to signing this version.”

Sen. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont) noted the original bill was a full ban of facial recognition techniques. “This [new version] is a partial ban, or a limit, a regulation of them, and a study to explore the need for full regulation. It’s a pretty balanced thing. It’s not what everybody wants, but it’s the kind of compromise that hopefully people can recognize is forward motion.”

Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus Chair Rep. Carlos González (D-Springfield) and Judiciary House Chair Rep. Claire Cronin (D-Easton) did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on the bill.

When the original conference committee version of the bill was approved on December 1, the leaders of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police said in a letter 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 read. “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.”

The coalition still has major problems with the new version. “Our efforts, and those of other police organizations, made an impact in important areas, such as preserving qualified immunity for most police officers and ensuring that police training will continue to be overseen by qualified public safety personnel,” read the latest letter from the Massachusetts Coalition of Police to its 4,000 plus members. “Unfortunately, the legislative process around police reform was mostly opaque, as opposed to transparent. It almost completely excluded law enforcement, even though police officers and their families will be directly impacted more than anyone else in the commonwealth. And finally, the conference committee report completely ignored the historic consensus that had been achieved between law enforcement and the Black and Latino caucus.”

“We look forward to being part of future commissions into the procurement and use of body cameras, a statewide cadet program, and impacts of emergency hospitalization,” continued the letter. “However, a lack of proper examination and study into a number of crucial portions of this bill will result in collateral damage that will have a negative impact on many of our communities.”

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