BOSTON (WWLP) – The House and Senate police reform bills have really been focused around one term ‘qualified immunity’ – which is the protections that officers have from civil lawsuits.
22News spoke to the bill’s sponsor Springfield state representative Carlos Gonzalez about this issue, and he said there’s some misinformation about what the Houses bill actually does, so let me break it down.
The House has proposed a certification and de-certification process for police officers. That means that if an officer is found using excessive force or knowingly violating someone’s rights their certification can be taken away.
“So I believe that once an officer is de-certified if he or she will not be allowed to use qualified immunity as a defense then I think that’s appropriate,” Rep. Gonzalez said.
Berkshire County District Attorney released the statement below to 22News:
“I commend the Legislature in making bold reforms to policing in Massachusetts to combat institutional racism, enhance police training, increase transparency, and hold officers to a higher standard of accountability. These reforms will improve our communities and reflect the public’s growing demand for a re-imagined approach to public safety.
I support these reforms but do not support a provision in the House bill stripping local district attorney’s offices of the authority to prosecute members of law enforcement for criminal conduct.
As the local, elected district attorney, I am accountable to my community to ensure independent investigations and fair prosecutions. The Legislature shifting responsibility for violations of state criminal law by law enforcement to Boston diminishes the voice of Berkshire County residents in matters of grave public importance.
My office has been and continues to work with local stakeholders to build the community’s trust in the justice system. We are doing so by developing and implementing best practices designed to ensure the fairness and integrity of criminal prosecutions.
We specialize in prosecuting complex criminal cases, supporting victims of crime, and building a safer Berkshire County. We operate independently from individual Police Departments and objectively evaluate all investigations.
Unlike the Attorney’s General’s Office, the State Police Detective Unit and prosecutors in the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office have the expertise that is vital and necessary to competently handle investigations and prosecutions of violent crime.
Across the nation, the federal government, led by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, repeatedly attempts to take authority away from local prosecutors, most frequently in jurisdictions led by reform-minded district attorneys. I urge the Massachusetts Legislature to be careful in their considerations to avoid following the same path and undermining the will of the voters in their quest to bring positive change to Massachusetts.”District Attorney Andrea Harrington
In the police reform bill passed by the Senate last week, qualified immunity is limited… and would only allow civil lawsuits to proceed if an officer should have reasonably known their behavior violated the law.
So, once the House reaches an agreement on the bill’s language the two branches will need to come together on the issue and they’ll need to send a final version to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.