In The People's Blog

In response to resounding calls for racial justice, the Senate’s An Act to Reform Police Standards and Shift Resources to Build a More Equitable, Fair and Just Commonwealth that Values Black Lives and Communities of Colorthe Reform, Shift + Build Act—proposes a number of reforms. The bill is a product of the Senate’s Racial Justice Working Group on which I’ve been proud to serve at the request of the Senate President.

Here’s a link to the bill for your review.

I’ve heard from a number of constituents and wanted to provide clarification on aspects of the bill where there are both concerns and confusion.

The bill seeks to:

  • Encourage the use of de-escalation techniques by police officers
  • Foreground work to better resource mental health and substance use crisis response
  • Increase police accountability
  • Combat instances of racial violence and racism

The bill:

  1. Narrows legal authorization for use of force (Note: All of the use of force standards in the bill provide an exception for instances where there is imminent harm to the officer or another person. See Section 2 under SECTION 55 of the bill)
    • Eliminates an individual escaping as a justification for use of deadly force by an officer
    • Restricts the ability to grant no-knock warrants to judges, not magistrates, and restricts the justification for granting a no-knock warrant to situations in which the lives of the officers or of others will be in danger if it is not granted
    • Restricts the use of crowd control tools to situations in which individuals are in imminent danger, and de-escalation techniques have been exhausted
    • Encourages officers to use de-escalation techniques throughout the entirety of their interaction with an individual to handle the situation safely
  2. Creates a statewide police certification authority in the form of the Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee (POSAC)
    • POSAC receives and investigates misconduct complaints
    • POSAC can decertify police officers
    • Maintains a disclosure database of complaints against police officers (Note: No personal information besides the name of the officer is included in this database)
    • Eliminates the legal defense of qualified immunity
      • Qualified immunity is an important defense that shields police officers and all public employees from personal liability in civil lawsuits unless they violate ‘clearly established’ legal principles.
      • The bill only bars qualified immunity if no reasonable defendant could have had reason to believe at the time that such conduct would violate the law. It is a bit of a higher standard, but still accounts for situations where the current state of the law is really murky. See SECTION 10 of the bill
    • Prohibits the use of NDAs in police misconduct settlements
  3. Addresses state police reform
    • Allows Governor to select colonel from outside 
    • Creates state police cadet program
  4. Creates a task force to review all aspects of body camera use and make recommendations for a uniform code
  5. Establishes transparency on military equipment acquisitions by police departments through required disclosures to local legislative bodies and requests for approval to one of three cabinet secretaries
  6. Expands community-based mental health interventions
  7. Eliminates a mandatory school resource officer and allows the decision to be made by the school superintendent
  8. Issues a ban on the use of racial profiling
  9. Requires data collection including measures of race and ethnicity for all police stops
  10. Creates a Commission on the Status of African-Americans that will make policy recommendations to to the Legislature and Executive Agencies
  11. Allows POSAC to order an investigation into a complaint of officer misconduct by the officer’s appointing authority or conduct an independent investigation of the complaint
    • POSAC will conduct an independent investigation of any officer misconduct that, if sustained, would result in revocation of certification
    • In any investigations regarding a complaint, an officer has the right to request formal hearings, be present with legal counsel at said hearings, and submit materials or testimony regarding the complaint
    • See SECTION 6, S225 for a full list of justifications for revoking an officer’s certification
    • Any decisions by POSAC of revocation of certification are appealable pursuant to Chapter 30A of the General Laws

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly if I can offer any additional information. My email is jo.comerford@masenate.gov.

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