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Police union leaders, Black and Latino legislators agree on building blocks for reform

A group of Black and Latino legislators and leaders of some of the state’s biggest police unions agreed Tuesday on a list of building blocks for possible police reforms, including banning chokeholds and calling for officers to be licensed — a move that would make it more difficult for an officer fired from one police department to get a job in another.

The agreement comes as Governor Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo are preparing legislation seeking to increase accountability for police officers following widespread calls for reform or abolition of police departments after George Floyd’s death in Minnesota.

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Those reforms include possibly licensing or certifying officers at the state level. Massachusetts is now one of five states that does not license or certify police officers, meaning an officer’s license cannot be taken away because of misconduct.

The discussions between the union leaders and Black and Latino legislators took about nine hours over two days, said State Representative Carlos González, a Springfield Democrat and chair of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.

“I was extremely surprised at the willingness, the openness, and the candidness of law enforcement leaders,” González said in an interview Tuesday. “Because from the onset, we set a structure in place that was clear to address where we stood, and then agreed on discussions of how we can move closer to each other on specific issues. It was a lot easier than I thought.”

Lawrence Calderone, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association and cochair of the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Policy Group, said he and other leaders were grateful to be included in the conversation.

“Enhancing the level of trust between our officers and the community members we protect and serve is something we work on and strive for every single day,” Calderone said in a statement.

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The group settled on seven points they would like to see included in future legislation. They are:

  • Banning chokeholds
  • Creating standard training procedures and protocols for every police agency in the state
  • Membership on independent bodies overseeing law enforcement legislation should be half law enforcement officers, half non-law enforcement
  • Accrediting and certifying of all law enforcement officials
  • Creating training and guidelines on officers’ duty to intervene when they see other officers using excessive force
  • Establishing guidelines to ban and excessive force
  • Promoting diversity in police ranks

“There is an urgency that we have to do something,” González said. “It has to be meaningful and impactful. It has to be diverse, and it has to be addressing some of the social ills that communities of color have been crying for.”

That might require what other states call a Peace Officer Standards and Training system, commonly known as a POST board. Such boards can decide on training standards, give officers their licenses, and take those licenses away if an officer is accused of misconduct. Massachusetts already licenses or regulates 167 professions, from doctors and nurses to embalmers, sheet metal workers, certain engineers, and barbers.

State Representatives Russell E. Holmes, Democrat of Mattapan, and David T. Vieira, Republican of Falmouth, have been advocating for such a board for years, and State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump has called for one as well.

Roger Goldman, a professor emeritus at St. Louis University School of Law who closely studies police licensing, said such boards are usually made up of law enforcement leaders, and having half the members be civilians would be an unusual but likely positive step.

“I do think it’s significant that the unions are around the table on all of this,” Goldman said.

Still, while the legislation writing process is happening out of the public eye, Goldman said its success would depend on a few factors: What conduct is considered de-certifiable, and would it require a criminal conviction? Would the process cover only city and town police departments, or criminal justice agencies like the Massachusetts State Police, county sheriffs’ offices, and prisons? And what mechanisms are in place to ensure bad conduct is investigated, even in smaller departments?

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The legislation would also likely have to address what weight the certification or licensing board would have to give to arbitration, the process through which officers who are fired can currently get their jobs back, Goldman said.

“If you look at how other states have dealt with it, states have gone a lot of different ways," Goldman said. "In Washington, whichever way the arbitrator decides binds the POST boards. Other states — Missouri, Arizona — have said those are completely different questions.”


Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com or at 617-929-2043.