Area lawmakers back governor’s police reform bill  

  • State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton FILE PHOTO

  • State Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst FILE PHOTO

  • Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker  AP PHOTO/CHARLES KRUPA

  • State Rep. Daniel Carey, D-Easthampton FILE PHOTO

  • State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow  FILE PHOTO/KATHERINE TAYLOR

Staff Writer
Published: 6/18/2020 4:57:11 PM
Modified: 6/18/2020 4:57:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Gov. Charlie Baker introduced legislation on Beacon Hill Wednesday that would create the first-ever certification program for every police officer in the state — and while area lawmakers are praising it as a first step toward greater police accountability, many say there’s much more to be done.

Baker’s bill, which was unveiled amid protests across the country against police brutality and structural racism, would create a committee with the power to both certify and decertify police officers in the state. No person would be appointed as a law enforcement officer in the state without certification that must be renewed every three years, according to the bill. The governor’s proposal also would create a database consisting of various documents of certified officers, such as any confirmed misconduct infractions and training records, which would be public record.

The governor has worked for months with the state’s Black and Latino Legislative Caucus in writing the bill, according to The Boston Globe. Massachusetts is one of four states in the country that does not currently certify its police officers, Baker wrote in a letter written to legislative leadership. 

“I think that everything that’s being offered right now needs to be looked at as a first step because we’re trying to tackle systemic racism and you can’t do that in one piece of legislation, you can’t do that with one budget,” said state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton. “It’s going to take a lot of deep thinking and a lot of examination of different sectors.”

The governor’s bill would create a new Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee (POSA) constructed of 14 members, seven of whom would be law enforcement representatives and seven of whom would be civilian appointees. At least half of the committee members would be required to be racially and ethnically diverse.

Police officers could be stripped of their certification for certain types of misconduct, such as a finding of excessive use of force involving chokeholds, excessive force resulting in serious bodily injury and failure to attempt to stop another officer from using excessive force, among other things. If an officer is decertified, they can not reapply for certification under the bill. The legislation also would require officers to meet annual training requirements and allow for monetary incentives for officers to complete more advanced training.

State Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, said there have been repeated public commitments from Baker and other elected officials about wanting to push through legislation addressing police reform, and that this new bill was a good start. He said police contracts and internal punitive systems often make it difficult to impose discipline on police officers. He noted doctors, lawyers, teachers, barbers and mechanics all operate under state credentialing; police officers, however, do not.

“It’s really the only profession that doesn’t have a statewide standard for credentialing so it really does make a lot a sense,” Lesser said. “And frankly, it’s odd that it’s never happened before — to put that basic level of standard in place.”

State Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, said that though he’s still reviewing the bill’s specific language, he is “fully in support of the general concept of having the state create a Police Officers Standards and Accreditation program tasked with certifying all officers.”

State Rep. Daniel Carey, D-Easthampton, called the bill “a great first step” — and while he said the idea of certifying officers has been kicking around the Legislature for some time now, protests have pushed the conversation for police reform to the forefront.

“To have a standardized certification for police officers just makes all the sense in the world,” Carey said. “It’s such a complicated job. Why aren’t we making sure that everyone who is doing it is doing it right?”

Carey said one of the most important aspects of the legislation to him is the ability for the committee to decertify police officers. State Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, echoed this sentiment, saying such a process articulates expectations as to what policing should look like while also putting a stop to the flow of problematic officers between departments across the state.

“If you’re decertified, you don’t get to pick up and go somewhere else in Massachusetts,” Domb said. “You’re decertified in the state, not in a town.” 

Even Baker has described the legislation as a “first step” toward greater police reform. Many area lawmakers, such as Sabadosa, Domb and Lesser, have signed onto another bill, HD.5128/SD.2968, that would go much further by more closely regulating uses of physical force.

The bill would mandate that law enforcement adopt detailed policies regarding use of force and would ban chokeholds, tear gas and rubber bullets. It would require the attorney general to investigate and document on its website physical force by an officer that resulted in injuries or death, and it would create a “duty to intervene” for officers who observe unnecessary use of physical force, among other measures.

Domb said a database like the one created under this bill would provide for greater transparency and accountability on the part of police departments.  

“It gives us, as a state, an opportunity to use that database and to assess how we’re doing,” Domb said. 

Having the state attorney general investigate uses of physical force that result in medical care, hospitalization or death also helps eliminate the conflict of interest district attorneys may have when they investigate allegations of police misconduct within police departments that they work in tandem with daily, Lesser said.

“The system doesn’t work when there’s no separation, there’s no independence,” Lesser said. “The idea here is to separate enforcement and discipline of the rules, of the standards, to a neutral person who can look at the situation based on the facts.”

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com. 


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