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Mass. Senate Leaders Propose Sweeping Police Reforms

Protesters hold up their fists outside the State House on June 1, 2020. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Protesters hold up their fists outside the State House on June 1, 2020. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The Massachusetts Senate plans to vote Thursday on a wide-ranging bill that would create a process for certifying and de-certifying officers and impose new limits on use of force, including a ban on chokeholds and restrictions on the use of tear gas.

The bill, outlined at a Monday morning press conference, also temporarily bans the use of facial recognition technology in Massachusetts, officially prohibits racial profiling, and includes language around expungement for young adult offenses. It would strike the requirement that police officers be present in schools, leaving that decision to school superintendents.

Officers would need to be re-certified every three years, under the bill, and the committee would have to maintain a publicly searchable database of complaints against officers. The bill also proposes requiring law enforcement officers to intervene if another is using unnecessary force and would limit use of "tear gas or other chemical weapons, rubber pellets or dogs to control or influence another person's behavior," according to the committee.

"Most of the ideas in this bill are not entirely new, although I think there are some new ideas, but it's the collection of them, the refinement of them and the moving them forward in the package and saying yes to them now, that's what's significant," Sen. William Brownsberger said.

The bill also contains State Police reforms that Gov. Charlie Baker proposed this session, including removal of the requirement that the governor appoint a colonel from within the department. Brownsberger said Baker's proposals were "picked up and implemented without much change."

Broadly speaking, the bill's components can be divided into three categories, according to Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who with Brownsberger led the working group that developed the bill. Chang-Diaz said the three themes are fighting racism, reducing the risk of police misconduct and "shifting from force and punishment to de-escalation and helping."

"Everything that's in this bill is a priority," Chang-Diaz said.

Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo have both said they want to pass police reform legislation by the July 31 end of formal sessions, leaving a tight timeline for the two branches to act and reach agreement on details.

Officers would need to be re-certified every three years, under the bill, and the committee would have to maintain a publicly searchable database of complaints against officers. The bill also proposes requiring law enforcement officers to intervene if another is using unnecessary force and would limit use of "tear gas or other chemical weapons, rubber pellets or dogs to control or influence another person's behavior," according to the committee.

This article was originally published on July 06, 2020.

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