Massachusetts governor signs police accountability bill

Northeast

Photo: Gov. Charlie Barker

BOSTON (AP) — A police accountability bill that creates a civilian-led commission with the power to certify officers, investigate claims of misconduct and revoke the certification of officers for certain violations was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Charlie Baker.

The law also bans the use of chokeholds, bars officers from shooting into a fleeing vehicle unless doing so is necessary to prevent imminent harm and limits the use of so-called no-knock warrants. It also creates a duty to intervene for police officers when witnessing another officer using force beyond what is necessary or reasonable under the circumstances.

“Police officers have enormously difficult jobs and we are grateful they put their lives on the line every time they go to work,” the Republican governor said in an emailed statement. “Thanks to final negotiations on this bill, police officers will have a system they can trust and our communities will be safer for it.”

The original bill was approved by lawmakers this month, but Baker sent it back to the House and Senate for revisions. Among other things, Baker opposed the bill’s moratorium on facial recognition technology, saying the technology helped convict a child rapist and an accomplice to a double murder in recent years.

The law signed Thursday sets statewide regulations on authorities’ use of facial recognition technology and requires that state officials make public online information detailing how often the technology was used.

The legislation is in part a response to statewide demonstrations following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer.

A key element of the bill is the creation of a Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. The majority of members of the independent state entity would be civilians. The commission would have independent power to investigate misconduct and serve as the civil enforcement agency to certify, restrict, revoke or suspend certification for officers, agencies and academies.

The bill had received fierce pushback from some police unions. The state’s largest police union, the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, had called the original bill passed by lawmakers a “final attack on police officers by lawmakers on Beacon Hill.”

Eddy Chrispin, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, said Thursday: “It is our hope that this legislation is the first step in addressing systemic racism in this country.”

“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.”

Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the bill is missing many of the protections civil rights and community leaders had sought but still includes “key provisions that will save lives, advance civil rights, and safeguard liberties.”

“Months after protests erupted across Massachusetts and the nation in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, Massachusetts has taken a crucial first step toward police reform. This new law acknowledges the growing public movement to end policing as usual,” she said in an emailed statement.

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