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Mass. AG Concerned By No-Knock Warrant Proposals In Police Reform Bill

Attorney General Maura Healey is calling the police reform bill passed by the legislature this week a "meaningful step forward for justice and accountability," but the state's top law enforcement officer has concerns about the bill's approach to no-knock warrants and is reviewing limits put on the use of facial recognition software.

Healey in July told the conference committee that negotiated the compromise policing bill that she "strongly opposed" a moratorium or a ban on the use of facial recognition software by the government, and preferred that the technology be studied by a special commission.

She also said she had concerns with restrictions proposed on no-knock warrants, including a ban on their use if a child or someone over 65 is known to be in the home where the warrant is being executed.

A Democrat-controlled conference committee included the warrant provision in the bill that the House and Senate sent to Gov. Charlie Baker Tuesday, while including heavy regulations on the use of facial recognition systems and a study commission whose purview is limited to studying the use of facial recognition software by the state transportation department.

Three days after the bill was sent to conference in July, a top attorney in Healey's office wrote an email to the six negotiators, which was brought up on Tuesday by Rep. Timothy Whelan, a Brewster Republican and former State Police trooper, as he argued against the bill. A copy was provided by the Attorney General's office on Wednesday at the request of the News Service.

In the email, Alicia Rebello-Pradas, the head of Healey's policy and government division, said the office supported the creation of a special commission to study the use of facial recognition systems.

"It has become apparent, however, that there may be misconceptions as to how this tool is used by law enforcement and non-law enforcement entities. It is important to understand how the technology works, what it is used for, and just as important, what it isn't used for...," Rebello-Pradas wrote.

Healey's office said Thursday its concerns about a full ban before the completion of a study were addressed by the bill, which would allow law enforcement to obtain a warrant to ask the Registry of Motor Vehicle to access its face surveillance system to identify suspects in serious violent crimes and other emergencies. Healey's office said it supports efforts to regulate facial surveillance and is reviewing the final proposal.

Healey's office also said that while it supports requirements that no-knock warrants be issued by a judge and only used when the safety of an officer or others is at risk, it can be difficult to "codify all circumstances" that would fall under that category.

Rebello-Pradas said that in cases of child sexual exploitation, kidnapping or hostage situations, the safety of a child or a person over 65 "may be the very reason why this particular warrant is being executed."

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