Thank you to all those who reached out about Senate Bill 2800, the Reform, Shift + Build Act. This bill has prompted many necessary discussions about racial justice and the role of law enforcement in the Commonwealth, including communications from hundreds of constituents. I appreciate the numerous and productive conversations I’ve had over the past week, which have reinforced the deeply personal aspects of this bill.
Let me first state that I truly appreciate the work done by our police officers, and all first responders. I believe that in Massachusetts, and especially in the district I represent of Quincy, Abington, Braintree, Holbrook and Rockland, we have some of the best police departments and police officers in the country. Their jobs are stressful and dangerous, and they deserve our support.
As you may know, Senate Bill 2800 was passed by the Senate earlier this week. There is some confusion about the legislation, so I want to first address the process behind the bill, list what the bill includes, clarify a few sections of concern in the bill, convey why I voted for the bill, and then give direction about what happens next with the legislation.
I agree with concerns raised about the speed at which the Senate released, debated, and passed this bill. I expressed these concerns about the process personally to the Senate President, and then stood on the Senate floor and spoke in support of postponing action on the bill, citing the need for more time to deliberate and discuss the legislation with community members. (You can see the video here.) When the bill was postponed, I used the extra time to meet with everybody possible, including police officers, superior officers and chiefs, the NAACP, the ACLU, as well as union presidents and representatives. These conversations highlighted the same issues shared by many around qualified immunity (QI) and due process for appeals when officers are subject to discipline and possible decertification.
I believe that the majority of the text of Senate Bill 2800 is largely reflective and responsive to consensus both within and outside of law enforcement for reform. In my discussions with law enforcement, many have recognized the need for police reforms and initiatives, and those in the bill include:
- Uniform statewide standards on the use of force, including a ban on chokeholds. President Trump called for such a ban and for use of force standards, including de-escalation standards, in his June 16, 2020 Executive Order.
- A certification/de-certification system for law enforcement officers, with information on sustained complaints of use of excessive force entered in a state database, and officer status entered in the state and national database, as called for by President Trump in his June 16, 2020 Executive Order.
- Training for officers to better respond to mental health and substance use calls. This too is consistent with the conditions of the June 16, 2020 Executive Order issued by President Trump.
- Progress towards more diverse law enforcement agencies.
- Police officer duty to intervene in instances of abuse of force.
- Restrictions on facial surveillance technologies.
- Pattern or practice review of departments, as commonly used by the federal government
- An initiative towards statewide accreditation of police departments (93 municipal police departments in MA are accredited. (https://masspoliceaccred.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/95/2020/07/Participating-Agencies-FY2020-0630-link.pdf)
Sections of Concern
Qualified Immunity is an important doctrine that has served to provide essential legal protections to all public employees, including police officers, for many years. Original reporting made it seem as though the Senate planned to abolish QI when in fact, the bill only attempts to clarify when and under what circumstances it would apply. I thought the discussion around QI should have more time, so I spoke out against it, and I voted in favor of an amendment to remove that section of the bill for further study. Unfortunately, the amendment did not pass, but I want to make it clear that the bill that ultimately passed does not abolish qualified immunity.
The bill also creates a certification and de-certification process for police officers, lead by a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee (POSAC). The process for POSAC to revoke an officer’s certification for misconduct would be separate from existing procedures for internal discipline, independent arbitration, and appeals processes. I believe this process, if not refined, would impact longstanding and hard-fought collective bargaining agreements that ensure fair, independent arbitration and appeals. I expressed these concerns on the floor of the Senate, and voted in favor of a proposed change that would enable appeals to POSAC findings. A compromise was reached that better protects these rights.
I did my best to raise and address issues most important to law enforcement and public employees through amendments I filed and supported, as well as through my remarks on the Senate floor. I am thankful to the Boston Police Patrol Officers’ Association, the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, and the Massachusetts Police Association for recognizing and expressing appreciation for these efforts.
Why I Voted for the Bill
As I mentioned above, I firmly believe that we have some of the best officers in the country, but we have to keep pushing to ensure it stays that way. That said, we do have some problems here in Massachusetts. Last week U.S. Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice released a report about the Springfield Police Department that revealed years of disturbing and illegal behavior, including the regular use of excessive force, that the department knew of and did nothing to fix. The Springfield Massachusetts police department is now national news. With the State Police, we now know that systemic fraud has existed for years, and that the department did nothing about it. (https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1292901/download) (https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/07/25/metro/one-worst-police-departments-country/?p1=Article_Feed_ContentQuery)
When weighing my final decision, I concluded that the many positive aspects of the bill, listed above, as well as the fact that the bill does not abolish Qualified Immunity, warranted voting in favor of the bill and moving it to the next stage of the legislative process.
Passing Senate Bill 2800 is not a perfect step, but it is a necessary step forward – towards more just and equitable communities. The bill is also only at the first stage of the legislative process. The House of Representatives is already seeking input on this matter, and should they take action on the Senate bill or their own, there will then be efforts to reconcile any differences in the two bills and produce an agreed upon bill. That agreed upon bill would be subject to another vote of the Senate and House. Only then would the bill be sent to the Governor. I am hopeful that this process will produce a new law that moves law enforcement and the Commonwealth forward.
Lastly, I know that legislative change in the areas of racial justice and law enforcement is long overdue and difficult. I heard the concerns of my constituents over the past month while attending both Black Lives Matter and police support rallies, and reading hundreds of emails from local residents. The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others must be a catalyst for positive change that cannot be met with inaction.
Forever the optimist, I believe that with commitment, involvement, and conversations like the ones I have shared with many over the last few days, we can be a Commonwealth where we all work together towards a racially just society. Thank you again for your investment in our community and for taking the time to read this statement. If you have further questions, please reach out to my office at 617-722-1494. To read the updated bill, you can do so here.