Polito applauds state for new law enforcement reform bill

Official Massachusetts portrait of Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. (Courtesy of Mass.gov)

Governor Charlie Baker signed “An Act Relative to Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement in the Commonwealth,” which creates a mandatory certification process for police officers, increases accountability and transparency in law enforcement, and gives police departments a greater ability to hire or promote only qualified applicants.

A 9-member commission will be formed. It will include six individuals from outside of law enforcement, and will be responsible for investigating and adjudicating claims of misconduct, maintain in databases of training, certification, employment, and internal affairs records for all officers, and certifying law enforcement agencies.

Governor Baker amended the bill to strengthen its due process protections for law enforcement, added police labor representation on the commission, and strengthened the bill’s facial recognition provisions ensuring law enforcement agencies can continue to access these potentially life-saving tools responsibly.

“This bill is the product of bipartisan cooperation and thanks to the Black and Latino Caucus’ leadership on the hugely important issue of law enforcement accountability,

Massachusetts will have one of the best laws in the nation,” said Baker. “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.”

“This legislation will bring Massachusetts in line with forty-six other states by adopting a mandatory certification process for police officers, creating more accountability and transparency while providing departments the ability to make more informed hiring and recruitment decisions,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito.

The new law identifies the general circumstances under which police officers can use physical force, and specifically bans the use of chokeholds, and prohibits firing into a fleeing vehicle unless doing so is both necessary to prevent imminent harm and proportionate to that risk of harm. The bill also generally precludes officers from using rubber pellets, chemical weapons, or canine units against a crowd. Violations of any of these provisions may provide grounds for an officer to have their certification suspended or revoked.

The bill places strict limits on the use of so-called “no-knock” warrants, requiring such warrants to be issued by a judge and only in situations where an officer’s safety would be at risk if they announced their presence and only where there are no children or adults over the age of 65 in the home. The legislation provides for an exception when those children or older adults are themselves at risk of harm. In addition, the bill requires law enforcement to seek a court order when conducting a facial recognition search except in emergency situations.

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