On New Year’s Eve, Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. signed into law a police reform bill titled “An Act Relative to Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement in the Commonwealth” that will create the first type of mandatory certification process for officers in the state while also striving to increase police accountability and transparency.
The state Legislature presented the bill to Gov. Baker after the House and Senate approved it on December 1. The new law came to be after protests against police violence and racism took place across the country following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others last year.
“This bill is the product of bipartisan cooperation, and thanks to the Black and Latino Caucus’s leadership on the hugely important issue of law enforcement accountability, Massachusetts will have one of the best laws in the nation,” Gov. Baker said in a press release. “Police officers have enormously difficult jobs, and we are grateful they put their lives on the line every time they go to work. Thanks to final negotiations on this bill, police officers will have a system they can trust, and our communities will be safer for it.”
After sitting on the bill for some time, Gov. Baker went back to lawmakers and said he would not sign it unless the ban on facial recognition included in the bill was lifted.
“2020 was a year unlike any other in our lifetime, marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing calls for police reform after the prominent deaths of several Black men and women at the hands of police officers,” said Eddy Chrispin, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers. “As an organization of people of color, we know all too well the need for reform in policing. The landmark legislation passed by the Legislature and the governor begins to address the historic negative interactions between people of color and the police. It is our hope that this legislation is the first step in addressing systemic racism in this country.”
Included in the legislation is the creation of the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, or POST. The nine-person commission will be responsible for certifying officers and investigating and adjudicating claims of misconduct that could result in the decertification and suspension of officers.
The commission will also be responsible for maintaining databases of training, certification, employment and internal affairs records for all officers, as well as certifying law enforcement agencies.
The legislation bans some use of police officer physical force, including chokeholds. Officers will no longer be allowed to use rubber pellets, chemical weapons or K-9 units against a crowd. Also, they are not allowed to fire guns at the interior of a fleeing vehicle unless doing so is both necessary to prevent imminent harm and proportionate to that risk of harm.
“No-knock” visits will no longer be tolerated unless warranted by a judge, and only if the officers announce themselves and there are no children or adults over age 65 inside the home.
The bill removed the requirement that the governor look for candidates exclusively within the Massachusetts State Police when appointing a colonel.
The bill also included language that would hold accountable officers who are paid for hours they knowingly did not work.