A new state commission would oversee the training, certification and discipline of police officers statewide under a law enforcement reform proposal unveiled Sunday by House leaders, one that comes after the Senate approved its plan last week.
The House measure is 129 pages long and includes several groundbreaking ideas, including elevating police training from the responsibility of a small obscure agency inside the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to a new Massachusetts Police Standards and Training Commission with expanded powers.
“The commission shall serve as the civil enforcement agency to certify, restrict, revoke, or suspend certification for officers, agencies and academies,‘' according to a House summary. In addition, the commission will “maintain a publicly available database of decertified officers, officer certification suspensions, and officer retraining.”
The commission would be given substantial freedom to discipline officers found to have acted improperly, including not having its decisions reviewed by the Civil Service Commission, which some have argued undermines the effectiveness of disciplinary actions. “Appeals of disciplinary decisions of the new Massachusetts police standards and training commission are not subject to the civil service commission,” the House proposal states.
The measure would create a new Division of Police Standards that will “investigate officer misconduct and make disciplinary recommendations to the [Massachusetts Police Standards and Training Commission].“ In contrast to the current state of affairs, where police officers investigate police officers, employees of this division must not be former police officers.
“No employee of the division of standards shall have previously been employed as a law enforcement officer,” the House summary states.
The legislation also calls for:
— Treating internal police records about misconduct investigations as public records requiring public disclosure.
— Creating a bigger role for Attorney General Maura Healey’s office in helping oversee cases where law enforcement officers are accused of committing crimes.
— Opening up the selection of the top commander of the Massachusetts State Police to those outside the force. Under current law, the top commander of the Massachusetts State Police, who has the rank of colonel, must come from within the department. The House would join the Senate in deleting that law. In the wake of the State Police overtime scandal prosecuted in federal court, the bill also would make it a state crime for police to submit false time sheets.
— Modifying, but not eliminating, the law on qualified immunity, which shields police officers from some civil lawsuits. “No law enforcement officer shall be immune from civil liability for any conduct under color of law if said conduct results in decertification by the Massachusetts police standards and training commission,” the summary said.
— Creating a new data collection point for physical encounters between police and citizens. The Department of Public Health would be required to “collect and report data on law enforcement related deaths and injuries,” the summary said.
— Requiring a new look at use of force policies in Massachusetts. The bill “establishes limits on the use of force, including the use of physical force, use of deadly force, ban of chokeholds, shooting into a fleeing vehicle, use of less than lethal weapons (tear gas, rubber pellets, canines.),” the summary said.
— Creating three separate commissions to study structural racism inside state and county prisons, in the operations of the Parole Board, and in the Probation Department, which is an arm of the state court system.
— Banning routine use of facial recognition and biometric surveillance by law enforcement. Police would need a search warrant before they can ask the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which is allowed to use these technologies, to search its databases using facial recognition.