Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I have voted in the affirmative on An Act relative to justice, equity and accountability in law enforcement in the Commonwealth, which makes significant structural reforms to policing in Massachusetts by implementing changes to training, establishing certification of law enforcement officers, and providing for continued assessment of the role of race in our state institutions.
Following the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmuad Arbery, and countless others, our community, Commonwealth and nation are overcome with anger, grief, and horror. As Black and Brown residents united to pull back the curtain and shed light on a broken system that does not equally serve all residents, the House of Representatives took swift action to reaffirm the commitment to all who call the Commonwealth ‘home.’
The Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus led the House of Representative’s response, calling for any racial equity and police reform bill to address four principles: an independent commission to train and certify law enforcement, clear statutory limits on the use of force, further examination of civil service law, and an examination of the presence of institutional racism in the criminal justice system.
Building on the effort of inclusion, the House of Representative welcomed the written testimony of over 500 members of the public and institutional stakeholders alike to learn and understand the perspectives Black and Brown members of our community and the perspectives of officers serving in law enforcement. The proposed legislation included 217 amendments and was discussed, debated and deliberated for 3 days.
The final bill, H.4860, An Act relative to justice, equity and accountability in law enforcement in the Commonwealth, incorporates the four priorities of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus through the following provisions:
Massachusetts Police Standards and Training Commission (MPSTC). The MPSTC is an independent commission responsible for serving as the civil enforcement agency to certify, restrict, revoke, or suspend certification for officers, agencies and academies. In addition, the MPSTC possesses the authority to refer cases for criminal prosecution and report annually to the Legislature, Governor, and the Attorney General.
Use of Force and Duty to Intervene. Directly related to the unnecessary murder of George Floyd, this legislation requires de-escalation tactics to be exhausted before any use of physical or deadly force may be used by an officer. The bill places a ban on chokeholds and other restraints known to cause injury, as well as places restrictions and accountability measures on the use of tear gas and rubber pellets. In addition, the bill creates a statutory duty that an officer intervene if he or she witnesses an officer using excessive force and report to his or her direct supervisor.
Review of the Civil Service System. Establishes a special legislative commission to study and examine the civil service law, personnel administration rules, hiring procedures and bylaws for municipalities not subject to the civil service law, and the state police hiring practices.
Investigation of Structural Racism. Creates three special commissions to study the presence of institutional racism in correctional facilities, the parole process, and probation services. Together, the three commissions will make recommendations to eliminate any disparities in the treatment of persons of color in the criminal justice system.
The legislation also prohibits the use of facial recognition technology, which studies show to disproportionately misidentify Black men, develops an in-service training for School Resource Officers, allows public access to law enforcement misconduct records and requires training for law enforcement officers to appropriately interact with persons on the autism spectrum and those with other intellectual and developmental disabilities. Recognizing the complexity of qualified immunity, the legislation implements immediate policy to prohibit a decertified law enforcement officer from claiming immunity in civil liability, and creates a special commission tasked with studying the impact of current qualified immunity provisions.
Our emotions and our words are not enough. Our country is sick in body with the COVID-19 virus pandemic, with its greatest impact in Black and Brown communities, and sick in soul with systems and structures of racism and a history of racist acts resulting in suffering and death for individuals in the Black and Brown community.
Some may say this bill goes too far and some may say it does not go far enough. I believe that this is a time when action is necessary. Quite frankly, more actions are needed and I will continue in my work for our community and Commonwealth to be inclusive, fair and equitable in law enforcement and in all our “policies, procedures, unspoken norms and routines that push people into different paths of opportunity where some individuals have greater access and less, due to race.” (Laura Morgan U. Virginia).
While the finish line is in sight, the process for this bill to become law is far from over. Passage in the House will necessitate negotiations with the Senate bill, followed by an up or down vote by each chamber. With a successful passage in each chamber, the legislation will be sent to the governor’s desk. I will continue to update you through this process.
May you and your loved ones and everyone be well and be safe.