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The new statewide police oversight commission can’t be a substitute for local accountability

Officials in Springfield want the new statewide police oversight commission to decertify Gregg Bigda. It should. But cities should still be the first line of defense against police misconduct.

Springfield police officer Gregg Bigda exited the Springfield federal courthouse in 2018.Don Treeger

Officials in Springfield are hoping and praying that a new state commission will do what they haven’t: Get rid of Gregg Bigda. Bigda is the disgraced Springfield police officer who, as the Globe’s Hanna Krueger chronicled, has kept his job despite repeated instances of alleged misconduct. Though he hasn’t done any police work since 2018, he’s still collecting a paycheck.

If anyone deserves to be decertified as a police officer, it would seem to be Bigda, who has been found by judges to have given false testimony in three criminal cases and was captured on video threatening to kill a 16-year-old.


But the slow-moving effort to decertify Bigda also points to the limitations of the commission as a solution to all that ails police accountability in Massachusetts. Going forward, cities shouldn’t count on the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission to provide the kind of oversight that they still ought to handle themselves.

Instead, more cities should follow the lead of Boston, where Mayor Michelle Wu is attempting to tackle the real root of the accountability problem — lopsided collective bargaining agreements that have made it far too difficult for departments to discipline officers on their own.

Bigda has escaped punishment at the local level in part because of contract rules that have stacked the deck against management in Springfield, as it is in Boston and elsewhere. A video showed him mistreating a teen in 2016. But the video did not emerge until after an arbitrary, 90-day window spelled out in the city’s collective bargaining contract with its police officers had closed. Like in Boston and many other cities, the collective bargaining agreement also gives Bigda the right to appeal discipline to an outside arbitrator — a system that tends to favor officers.

Cities agreed to the outside arbitration system and other excessive restrictions on discipline — and they can stop agreeing to them. The Wu administration, for instance, is seeking reforms in ongoing contract negotiations with the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association. It’s been notoriously hard for fired officers in Boston to stay fired — arbitrators can and do reinstate officers. Ricardo Patrón, the mayor’s spokesperson, said “Mayor Wu has repeatedly stated that she will not sign a contract that doesn’t include reforms.”


Unions defend the arbitration system as a way to protect officers from politically motivated firings or rushes to judgment. But surely when someone like David C. Williams, a Boston officer who has been fired twice — once for beating up now-Boston Commissioner Michael Cox in 1995, and again in 2012 after an internal investigation found he used unreasonable force while arresting a man in the North End — gets reinstated both times, the scales have tilted too far against officer accountability.

Indeed, the POST Commission, a post-George Floyd reform, represented a tacit admission by lawmakers that localities have given up far too much of their power to remove even abusive officers. The law set up what amounts to an end-run around both collective bargaining rules and the civil service. An officer who is decertified by the state cannot work for a police department in Massachusetts and their name is provided to a federal database that should also prevent them from working in other jurisdictions.

The commission, though, has been slow to get off the ground. Springfield officials expect the agency to eventually decertify Bigda, but they’ve been frustrated by the pace of the investigation. A spokesperson for the commission said it “can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a pending investigation, nor comment on any individual case that may be pending.”


Springfield City Solicitor John Payne said he expects a decertified officer to eventually challenge the new law for overriding collective bargaining and civil service rules. Though the 2020 police reform law appears to leave no loopholes — “No agency shall appoint or employ a person as a law enforcement officer unless the person is certified by the commission” — it remains to be seen how a decertification of a currently employed officer will play out in practice. (The only officer permanently decertified so far agreed to a “voluntary decertification” because of his role in a white supremacist rally and had already resigned his job.)

If it makes the most of its powers, the POST Commission should be a valuable new avenue for police accountability in Massachusetts. But its creation doesn’t absolve municipalities of doing more to police their own ranks. In the case of Bigda, Springfield has had little choice but to hope the state will decertify him. But as cities negotiate labor contracts, they do have choices. Police accountability can’t just be the state’s job.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.