Mixed Reaction As Mass. House Reveals Police Reform Bill
BOSTON (AP/CBS) — The Massachusetts House released its own police reform bill that includes a police certification process, standardizes training across the state and makes officer discipline records more readily available to the public.
The House bill unveiled late Sunday comes about a week after the state Senate passed its own police accountability bill that would place limits on the “qualified immunity” shielding officers from civil prosecution and limits the use of force by officers.
“Today was an extraordinary day,” said Rep. Jon Santiago (D-9th Suffolk). “A lot of hard work was put into this you know we’ve been in conversations just around the clock every day for the past couple of weeks. There has been a lot of input a lot of conversation with stakeholders on both sides.”
The 129-page bill includes the establishment of a seven-person Massachusetts Police Standards and Training Commission that would serve as the “primary civil enforcement agency” in the state.
“In keeping with our commitment to debate a bill to address structural inequalities that contribute to and are also a result of racial inequities, this bill creates a new Massachusetts Police Standards and Training Commission that is truly independent and empowered,” Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement.
Massachusetts is one of only a few states without a statewide law enforcement certification program.
The House and Senate bills were introduced in response to nationwide demonstrations calling for racial justice and police reform following the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The House version’s commission would set certification standards for police, be empowered to revoke certifications, and oversee a separate division that sets training standards.
Like the Senate bill, the House version also bans the use of chokeholds.
Both bills require law enforcement officials to intervene and report instances when other officers use excessive force, and both bar police from shooting at fleeing vehicles and from using crowd-control measures like tear gas, rubber pellets and dogs unless officers are under an “imminent threat” of death, according to the bill.
The bill also addresses the concept of qualified immunity, which shields officers from personal liability for misconduct. The House legislation keeps the state’s qualified immunity law largely intact, with exceptions.
“No law enforcement officer shall be immune from civil liability for any conduct under the color of the law if said conduct results in decertification,” according to the bill.
African Methodist Episcopal Church pastors and the ACLU of Massachusetts both have a problem with the House bill’s language involving qualified immunity.
“You know if anyone else violates your rights you get to go to court right and sue them but it should be the same for police officers,” said Carol Rose of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “In America no one should be above the law not even police officers.”
Police departments and unions have spoken out against changes to qualified immunity, saying it could drive officers from the profession and leave them open to frivolous lawsuits.
Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Fredrickson said Monday he was still going through the bill to see how it compares to the Senate’s version.
“The bottom line is we want to make sure there is a good policing bill that improves policing and also takes care of people that feel like they’ve been under-served,” Frederickson said.
The House is expected to vote on the bill Thursday.