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Governor signs police overhaul into law

Protesters linked arms following a rally and vigil for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and local fallen people, organized by Black Lives Matter Boston and Violence in Boston in June.
Protesters linked arms following a rally and vigil for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and local fallen people, organized by Black Lives Matter Boston and Violence in Boston in June.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday signed into law 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.

The law also bans the use of choke holds, 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 who witness 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 e-mailed 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 had helped convict a child rapist and an accomplice to a double murder in recent years.

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The law signed Thursday sets statewide regulations on the authorities’ use of facial-recognition technology and requires state officials to make public information detailing how often the technology is 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 legislation is the creation of a Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. The majority of members of the independent state entity will be civilians. The commission has independent power to investigate misconduct and serve as the civil enforcement agency to certify, restrict, revoke or suspend certification for officers, agencies, and academies.

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The bill had faced 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,” Chrispin added. “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 law is missing many of the protections that civil rights and community leaders had sought but 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 e-mailed statement.