By Bob Katzen
Governor Baker signed into law legislation 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.”
“I am grateful to the governor and key leaders in the House and Senate for their wisdom in coming together to carry this bill across the finish line,” said Sen. Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont). “I believe that within five years, the commonwealth will be a significantly better place as a result of this legislation.”
“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-Mattapan). “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 leaders of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police said in a letter to its 4,500-plus members that the process through which this legislation was created was “deeply flawed and a disappointment to law enforcement professionals across Massachusetts.” “Nonetheless,” the letter continued, “our oath as police officers and our commitment to the people of this commonwealth remain our top priorities.”
“With the dawn of a new era of policing in Massachusetts now underway, our members continue to move forward to protect and serve with the same enthusiasm, bravery and care our members have always brought to the job for the communities they patrol and keep safe each and every day,” continues the letter. “Unfortunately, they also move forward in a state of elevated risk—with no allowable provisions for protecting themselves or others in certain life-and-death situations. Because this legislation was passed with an emergency preamble, many sections of the law became effective on January 1, 2021 and were immediately enacted and contradict current police training.”
“Under the commonwealth’s Police Reform Legislation, the new training standards and programs needed to address this gap are still months away from being established,” according to the letter. “This dangerous condition continues to exist at the same time officers must adjust for the abridgement of their due process and qualified immunity rights.”