If you live in Massachusetts, your real estate agent, massage therapist, and manicurist are all licensed. But the police officer patrolling your neighborhood, with a gun on his hip, is not. It’s time for lawmakers to change that.
Massachusetts is one of just five states that does not require its police officers to get licenses — licenses that can be revoked in cases of serious misconduct.
Without that level of state oversight, discipline can only go so far. An officer who abuses his power at one local police department and quietly resigns can find a job at another local department halfway across the state.
“I want to be sure that, as a chief, I’m not hiring someone in Eastern Massachusetts who was found to be completely inappropriate in Western Massachusetts,” says Brian Leahy, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and a strong supporter of a licensure system.
Bouncing bad cops from one town to the next has never been a good idea. And in an era of increasingly tense relationships between law enforcement and the communities they police, it seems like a worse one now.
Other states have set up bodies, often known as Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) commissions, that set basic standards for hiring and training and oversee licensing systems — systems that have collectively removed thousands of troubled police officers from the job.
Some Massachusetts police officers may see a POST system as a threat. But they should embrace it. When your life is on the line, knowing your partner has been properly vetted can provide a measure of comfort.
A POST system could also mean greater accountability for police supervisors who discriminate against their co-workers. Last week, the Globe’s Nestor Ramos reported that current and former state troopers and recruits have filed dozens of lawsuits and complaints in recent years alleging racial and gender bias and sexual harassment.
A bill before the state Legislature would convene police unions, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and lawmakers to develop a POST commission for Massachusetts. Legislative leaders should push the measure through this session.
Then it would be off to Governor Charlie Baker. The governor has not yet embraced the POST idea. He says the devil is in the details. Fair enough. But if dozens of other states have already figured out how to set up a commission — and curb abuses of power in a more meaningful way — the details shouldn’t be hard to figure out.