By Bob Katzen
Governor Baker signed into law the bill making major changes in the state’s policing system. 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.
“This bill is the product of bipartisan cooperation and thanks to the Black and Latino Caucus’ leadership on the hugely important issue of law enforcement accountability, Massachusetts will have one of the best laws in the nation,” said Baker. “Police officers have enormously difficult jobs, and we are grateful they put their lives on the line every time they go to work. Thanks to final negotiations on this bill, police officers will have a system they can trust, and our communities will be safer for it.”
“This legislation is an important step toward realizing the urgent action demanded by the movement that was energized this summer by marches in the streets and speeches in front of the Statehouse,” said Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Boston). “For too long, Black and Latino communities have been demanding change and accountability when it comes to policing in our communities and across the commonwealth. While we are glad this bill is now signed into law, we must now also reflect on the importance of this fight and resolve to build on these reforms in the future.”
“In a deeply challenging year for the dedicated men and women in law enforcement, this reform will create meaningful opportunities for us to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to the values of honesty, integrity and accountability,” said Public Safety and Security Secretary Thomas Turco. “As we implement these measures, our work remains focused on strengthening preparedness, preventing crime at every level and building positive relationships in the communities we serve.”
The Massachusetts Coalition of Police (MCOP), which represents 4,300 uniformed law enforcement officers in the state, opposed much of the bill and said that Baker’s signing of it would represent him “changing the police profession in Massachusetts forever.” The coalition noted that “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.”
When the original conference committee version of the bill was approved on December 1, the leaders of MCOP 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.”