Baker amendments could reopen debate on policing

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – Facing a Friday deadline to act on a policing reform bill, Gov. Charlie Baker is hearing from its opponents and supporters, says it includes measures he’s excited about, and is using the review period afforded to him in an effort to scrutinize the lengthy, multi-faceted bill.

“We’re going to take our time and make sure we get it right, but there’s a bunch of stuff in there that we’re pretty excited about,” Baker said during an interview that aired Sunday on WCVB’s “On the Record” program.

The bill (S 2963) includes a version of the police certification plan Baker filed in June and State Police reforms that he said match his January plan “virtually word for word.” It also contains a slew of other changes that were not part of Baker’s legislative proposals – the 129-page bill includes 123 sections and the bill summary alone runs for nine pages.

The House-Senate compromise was not subject to amendment when it was adopted by both branches on Dec. 1 by votes of 92-67 in the House and 28-12 in the Senate, votes that suggest an opportunity to refine the proposal further. If Baker returns portions of the bill with amendments it would allow lawmakers to revisit particular policies.

Baker twice was asked about qualified immunity changes called for in the bill and both times deflected, saying “we’re going to work our way through this thing from one end to the other.” The changes would expose police who are decertified by a new commission for violating a person’s right to bias-free policing or using excessive force to civil lawsuits, and set up another commission to study the immunity doctrine’s impact on the administration of justice.

With the exception of the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the bill bans public agencies or employees from using any software that captures biometric data, including facial recognition, while allowing law enforcement to request under certain circumstances that the RMV perform a facial recognition search. The bill also creates a special commission to study the use of facial recognition technology by the state Department of Transportation.

In Sunday’s interview, Baker said he wondered why the bill established the ban but also created a study commission, calling that a “good example of an issue that we think we really need to chew on a bit.”

“I want to make sure I understand exactly what’s being banned and if there are purposes which this is used to save lives and protect people, I think that’s an important element in this and I want to make sure we understand it,” he said.

The bill reached the Republican governor last week with uniform opposition from House and Senate Republicans, and many Democrats also voted against it.

On Sunday, the 4,300-member Massachusetts Coalition of Police called the bill “simply unacceptable” and urged Baker to veto it “unless the Legislature agrees to make significant, structural changes” to the bill.

In addition to protesting the makeup and processes planned for the police certification board, the union said that while chokeholds “are not a proper police technique and should be prohibited,” the bill should contain an an exception for instances “when an officer is otherwise authorized to use deadly force to meet a threat to their life or the lives of others.” The union said that was an area of concern shared with police chiefs.

“The bill makes sweeping changes that will produce unintended consequences,” the police coalition said. “It would deviate from Supreme Court precedent regarding the use of force, and prevent officers from acting to best protect the public interest.”

On Wednesday, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, state Rep. Liz Miranda, and Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP Boston Branch, urged Baker to sign the bill.

“The policies addressing excessive force should be significantly informed by those who actually experience such force,” they wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed. “For too long, the chorus of voices dominating the discussions on proposed reforms has been overwhelmingly composed of police unions and law enforcement.”

Saying “no-knock raids” pose dangers for all involved, including unarmed and innocent families, they defended a measure in the bill that allows only judges to grant such warrants when there is a credible threat to officer safety without it, and requires that officers confirm that no children or seniors are in the target location.

“As Black women, we know all too well the experiences of the communities that we represent,” they wrote. “We understand the need for public safety, but we also know that safety and police accountability go hand-in-hand. We hear the accounts of the victims of all types of violence and crime: gang violence, domestic violence, and — yes — police violence. We have a responsibility to serve our community’s needs, and our advocacy must be taken seriously.”

In a separate statement, Pressley expressed frustration that the bill doesn’t ban qualified immunity, saying the doctrine “has protected the very people charged with enforcing the law from any consequence for breaking it, allowing police officers to use their badge as a shield from accountability.”

“By merely creating a commission to study the impact of qualified immunity in the Commonwealth, and limiting immunity only for decertified officers, rather than ending the harmful doctrine outright, Massachusetts has missed an opportunity to lead by ensuring that those responsible for upholding the law are subject to it too,” said Pressley, sponsor of the Ending Qualified Immunity Act in Congress.

As the many stakeholders in the policing bill await a decision on it from the governor, Baker’s only public event Thursday is a 4:30 p.m. grand menorah lighting on the Boston Common.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Only on | Digital First

More Digital First

Trending Stories

Donate Today