At the core of the state’s landmark police reform law was an effort to make sure the men and women charged with protecting the public are the kind of people who can be trusted to carry a badge and a gun.
And so the process for recertifying those 10,000 or so Massachusetts officers goes back to those first principles — principles the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer made ever more essential.
The new independent agency set up to run that recertification process recently released its set of questions designed to get at the issues of character and moral fiber that this community expects of its police forces.
And wouldn’t you know it, it’s the scandal-ridden State Police who are objecting.
“The questions are invasive, subjective, and do not assess the diverse qualities that make for a qualified police officer,” according to a statement from the State Police Association of Massachusetts, the union representing members of the force.
In fact, last week was a rough one for the staties — with 12 of its members at long last fired by the Baker administration for failing to comply with its vaccination policy. All 12 had claimed some sort of religious or medical exemption that was denied, according to the union. Its president, Patrick M. McNamara, then used the occasion to beat up on Governor Charlie Baker for the “damage” he has done to the force.
Massachusetts drivers who don’t relish the thought of an unvaccinated trooper sticking his head in their car windows might have another view on that.
But with their latest take on a list of questions being advanced by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, the State Police union has run all too true to form — looking to head off any effort to get at the possible biases of its members. The force has, of course, traditionally been the whitest, most predominantly male law enforcement agency in the state.
“The Association is deeply troubled with the recently published questions from the POST Commission that the Department will ask our members during the recertification process,” the union noted, adding it intended to ask the commission “to reconsider these questions and provide guidance as to how they should be answered to eliminate the ambiguity and subjectivity of others so that we can appropriately advise our members.”
Between now and July 15, the commission is charged with recertifying all officers whose last names begin with A to H. To that end, all law enforcement agency heads must attest that officers meet certain statutory requirements and are “of good moral character and fitness for employment as a Law Enforcement Officer.”
Some are pretty straightforward, such as: “Are you current in all tax payments? This includes federal and state taxes as well as property and excise taxes.”
Others cut a little closer to the bone, such as, “Have you ever been a defendant in a civil suit in which it was alleged that you acted violently or abusively, or utilized excessive force toward another person?”
Yet another asks whether an officer has ever been the subject of a restraining order or been found guilty of violating one.
But then the questions drill down in precisely the way the police reform law intended — to get at the issue of implicit bias, inquiring about social media posts in the last five years that “could be perceived as biased” based on a person’s race, ethnicity, sex, religion, disability, immigration, or socioeconomic status.
And it quite pointedly asks, “Do you currently belong, or have ever belonged to any organization that, at the time you belonged, unlawfully discriminated (including by limiting membership)” against the same groups?
So, yes, those who were once members of the Proud Boys even before the Jan. 6 insurrection might want to take this one last chance to ’fess up. Nothing ambiguous about it.
Although, as POST executive director Enrique Zuniga put it, none of the questions individually is a “disqualifier.” Lying on a questionnaire would “probably not have a good outcome,” he added.
“Truthfulness is a significant part of someone’s character,” he said.
Commission members have a previously scheduled meeting with the State Police union Wednesday at which the association will “lay out their main issues,” a spokesman said, adding, many of the objections were about questions that were “overly broad.”
The commission did reserve the right to “amend” the language of some questions based on feedback from the law enforcement community, Zuniga told the Globe. But he also noted that law enforcement officials from the Massachusetts Municipal Police Training Committee had a role in drafting those questions.
And similar albeit more extensive questions are also part of the process for new recruits.
This isn’t intended as a game of gotcha. It is, rather, a way of establishing and enforcing an ethical code that should have been a part of policing long ago. By asking the right questions, the POST Commission is signaling its expectations for what is appropriate police conduct.
The State Police union and any other law enforcement unions that have an issue with these questions need to focus less on the questions and more on getting the answers right.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.