Massachusetts Legislature Passes Police Reform Bill, Bans ‘Chokeholds’ and Creates Civilian Oversight
Massachusetts – On Tuesday of this week, Massachusetts legislature passed a bill that would ban police “chokeholds” and form a new civilian-led commission dedicated to investigating officer misconduct. The bill is set to be sent to Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s officer for review. The majority civilian commission, dubbed the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission if the bill is signed by the Governor, would also be responsible for standardizing the certification, training, and decertification of officers.
If signed into law, police would be prohibited from being trained on or using “lateral vascular neck restraints” and carotid restraints. They would also be banned from being trained on any action that entails “the placement of any part of law enforcement officer’s body on or around a person’s neck in a manner that limits the person’s breathing or blood flow.”
The bill discusses the serving of warrants as well, saying police must “knock and announce their presence and purpose before forcibly entering a residence unless authorized by a warrant.” A no-knock warrant would still be issued if approved by a judge. For this to happen, it would also be required that the “affidavit supporting the request for the warrant [establishes] probable cause that if the law enforcement officer announces their presence their life or the lives of others will be endangered [and] includes an attestation that the law enforcement officer filing the affidavit has no reason to believe that minor children or adults over the age of 65 are in the home.”
— The Hill (@thehill) December 3, 2020
Police would also be limited, should the bill pass, on deployment of tear gas, chemical weapons, rubber bullets, and K9’s.
As far as the commission for police misconduct, they would be in charge of investigated the alleged misconduct as well as making disciplinary recommendations.
The bill also clarifies that police qualified immunity would not cover an officer who “violates a person’s right to bias-free professional policing if that conduct results in the officer’s decertification.” The legal definition of qualified immunity, according to the Supreme Court as written in the case Pearson vs Callahan, is as follows: “Qualified immunity balances two important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.”
Massachusetts Coalition of Police President Scott Hovsepian commented on the bill, saying, “What was supposed to be a reasonable and thoughtful process to establish sensible police reforms is now a runaway train that must be stopped.” According to the union, the commission, if formed, would have the ability to revoke officer certification before an investigation and discipline hearing even takes place.
Boston police sergeant and president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers Eddy Chrispin said that the bill comes with more training for police, which is good, but it also is a danger to officers’ due process if they’re alleged to have committed misconduct. He said, “We’ve always known that there was a need for change in policing. We embrace it. But I think some of these legislators should have gone out and engaged people in conversation to find out what their concerns are.”
The bill would create a civilian-led commission on police accountability for the first time, restrict no-knock warrants and ban chokeholds. https://t.co/xuZS5M0tvn
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) December 2, 2020
First Barnstable Rep. Tim Whelan (R), a retired state trooper, brought up the issue that 2/3 of the commission would be civilians with no law enforcement experience. He said, “We favor the idea of having a commission that can examine police officers and complaints against them and determine the validity and remove bad cops from service, because nobody hates a bad cop more than a good cop – of which, the overwhelming majority are. Concerns that we have with this is that two-thirds of this board – six out of the nine members – are specifically prohibited from being past law enforcement officials.”
The State Police Association of Massachusetts said the bill “creates layers of unnecessary bureaucracy and costly commissions staffed by political appointees with no real world experience in policing and the dangers officers face every day.” The union also said, “This bill will create more harm than good a mere month before a new General Court is sworn in; such comprehensive legislation should be extensively and publicly debated in order to get it right.”
Conversely, Democratic U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley said the bill is lacking and doesn’t limit police power enough. Pressley said, “For far too long, the doctrine of qualified immunity has protected the very people charged with enforcing the law from any consequence for breaking it, allowing police officers to use their badge as a shield from accountability. The legislation does not go far enough to address this systemic problem.”
Governor Baker has 10 days from the day he received the 129 page bill to sign it, veto it, or make amendments to it.