Lawmakers in Massachusetts passed a major police reform bill Tuesday crafted in the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism after George Floyd’s death this summer in Minneapolis.
The state House and Senate approved the bill, which would create a civilian-led commission on police accountability for the first time, restrict no-knock warrants and ban chokeholds. The bill also would limit the use of deadly force and require officers to intervene when another officer is using force beyond what is necessary or reasonable.
The Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission would have independent power to investigate police misconduct, refer cases for criminal prosecution, and certify, restrict, revoke or suspend certification for officers, agencies and academies. The commission also would maintain a public database of decertified officers, certification suspensions and retraining.
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The bill would also make a slight change to qualified immunity, which protects police from civil lawsuits for excessive force. The act clarifies that officers who are decertified because they have “violated a person’s right to bias-free professional policing” would not be given qualified immunity.
The legislation includes a statewide ban on biometric surveillance systems, including facial recognition technology, with the exception of the registry of motor vehicles. Lawmakers said the moratorium was the first of its kind in the country.
Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo called the bill “one of the most comprehensive approaches to police reform and racial justice in the United States since the tragic murder of George Floyd.”
“Our approach strikes a balance that will provide greater protections for the rights of all residents through a strong police officer certification process via a new, independent agency, and setting clear standards for training and use of force, while providing a wider range of tools for law enforcement to provide for the safety of the public,” their joint statement said.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley praised portions of the bill, including the ban on chokeholds and limits on no-knock warrants, but said it “does not go far enough to address this systemic problem.”
The State Police Association of Massachusetts said in a statement that the act “creates layers of unnecessary bureaucracy and costly commissions staffed by political appointees with no real world experience in policing and the dangers officers face every day.”
Leadership of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police wrote in a letter to members that the proposed civilian-led commission would be able to revoke an officer’s certification even before an internal investigation and disciplinary hearing.
“What was supposed to be a reasonable and thoughtful process to establish sensible police reforms is now a runaway train that must be stopped,” the union wrote.
Republican Governor Charlie Baker has not said yet whether he plans to sign the bill. Baker said his team was still reviewing the 129-page legislation Tuesday.
“I’m glad this is something that was part of what they considered to be important to get done before the end of the session, but I can’t speak to the specifics of this until we have a chance to review it,” he said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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