Yesterday, the legislature passed S.2963, An Act relative to Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement in the Commonwealth. This bill, which addresses issues of racial justice and police reform in Massachusetts, has been negotiated in Conference Committee for the past four months and reflects a compromise between previously passed House and Senate versions.
I believe that the text of Senate Bill 2963 is a step forward for our state, for our communities of color, and for members of law enforcement, many of whom have expressed to me that they recognize the need for police reforms and additional training initiatives.
Some important components of this bill include:
- Establishment of an independent Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (MPOSTC), similar to those in 46 other states, and those which oversee most professions in Massachusetts. The Commission will:
- Be comprised of a police chief, two other members of law enforcement, a retired judge, and five civilians (all of whom shall have experience or expertise in law enforcement practice and training, criminal law, civil rights law, the criminal justice system, mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, crisis intervention, de-escalation techniques or social science fields related to race or bias).
- Standardize the certification and decertification of police officers and investigate misconduct.
- Oversee a committee on police training and certification, with a significant majority of members being police chiefs and police officers. The committee will establish statewide uniform certification and training policies and standards, which is essential given that presently as many as 30 local police departments are not meeting in-service training requirements. The committee will also create and maintain a database of certified officers, as is done for many other licensed professionals in Massachusetts.
- Review the practices and patterns of law enforcement agencies, as commonly done in other areas of the country by the federal government.
- Establish standards, through the training and certification committee, for the statewide certification of police departments. Presently only about 1/3 of municipal police departments in MA are accredited or certified.
- Establishment of a commission to study the impact of the qualified immunity doctrine, a provision I pushed for during Senate debate back in July.
- Provisions that eliminate the availability of qualified immunity when an officer has been decertified.
- Reform and additional training of the state police, allowing the head of the state police to be from outside the department, as appropriate, and establishing a cadet program.
- Emphasis on de-escalation tactics when feasible, including a ban on chokeholds and practical limits on use of deadly force.
- A requirement that officers intervene to prevent another officer from engaging in prohibited conduct or behavior, so as to eliminate fear of retaliation.
- Creates in-service training programs for school resource officers.
- Bans racial profiling.
- Enhances data collection relating to police actions resulting in injuries or death.
- Establishes that submitting a fraudulent time sheet shall be a state crime.
- Requires that no-knock warrants be approved by a judge.
- Creation of special legislative commissions and task forces to study:
- Civil service.
- The presence of institutional racism in the criminal justice and correctional systems.
- The Status of African Americans and Latinos and Latinas.
- The use of body cameras.
- The consolidation of existing municipal police training academies.
I firmly believe it is possible to be both supportive of law enforcement and supportive of change that will remove “bad apples,” and that is why I voted in support of this bill. It is a long-held belief that good cops want to work with other good cops. I believe our state, and especially my district, has many of these great officers. This bill helps to ensure that all who swear to protect and serve meet statewide standards, that these standards are upheld, and that our law enforcement officers are supported in their work.