BOSTON (SHNS) – A legal dispute is still playing out in court and the relationship between officers and the state’s new policing oversight body remains tense, but the great majority of officers whose certification runs out at the end of the month are in position to be recertified.
The law that created the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission certified all officers who completed training by July 1, 2021 and set out the three-year cycle of recertification based on each officer’s last name. All law enforcement officers with last names starting with a letter A through H are supposed to be recertified by July 1, 2022, and the deadline for all agencies to submit information about those officers was June 15.
Of the 439 total law enforcement agencies within POST’s scope, 387 agencies have submitted the required recertification information representing 6,127 officers. That means that the POST Commission now has the information it needs to evaluate more than 70 percent of the law enforcement officers due to be recertified in the first wave under the state’s 2020 policing reform law, Executive Director Enrique Zuniga said Tuesday morning.
In addition to the 6,127 officers for whom required recertification information has been successfully submitted (about 71 percent of the estimated 8,581 officers who are up for recertification at the end of the month), there are another roughly 2,200 officers (about 25 percent) who work for departments that have submitted the names of the officers due for recertification but have been granted 30-day extensions to submit additional information, including the state’s two largest departments — Mass. State Police and Boston Police.
“The number one reason for those requests of extension is that, again, the time that it takes to deploy and do the things that we’re asking people to do, and the availability and things and other work that agencies have to do to try to meet these deadlines,” Zuniga said.
Zuniga said Tuesday that there are also 27 agencies — 16 police departments, nine special State Police officer facilities like colleges or hospitals, and two sheriff’s offices — that have not submitted information on officers in need of recertification and have not asked for an extension.
“These are very small departments, the ones on this list of 27 agencies. It is quite possible that a couple of those may have no officers between A through H, so they’re not out of compliance simply because they’re on that list of no submission,” Zuniga said, adding that the commission has been reaching out to those agencies in recent days.
Of the 6,127 officers for whom the POST Commission has the information it needs to consider recertification, 5,205 officers (85 percent) are on track to be recertified with no exceptions and their certification letters could be sent out by the end of this week, Zuniga said. He said that “at this point, there’s nobody that will be in the category of non-certified,” but he told the POST Commission that the recertification applications of 69 officers (1 percent) “merit further review.”
Another 645 officers (11 percent) are on track to be conditionally recertified, meaning their certification will be contingent upon them taking some type of action within 90 days. Zuniga said the most common reason an officer may be conditionally recertified is that his or her in-service training or CPR certification has lapsed and needs to be brought back up to date.
But there is a subset of those officers (Zuniga did not say how many of the 645) who will be conditionally recertified because the questionnaire that is part of the recertification process — and which is a central part of an ongoing legal dispute between police organizations and the commission — was either not completed or was completed but marked as “with exceptions.”
In some cases, that means that the officer was out on military leave, paternity leave or administrative leave when the questionnaire was to be completed via an interview, Zuniga said, but in some cases the questionnaire was not completed because of a “union concern.” That phrase caught the attention Tuesday of Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association President Larry Calderone, who asked Zuniga to clarify where that concern is coming from.
“There were a couple of agencies that said that their union was concerned about the questionnaire and they did not conduct the questionnaire … I don’t know any more details than ‘union concern,’ but that’s a direct quote from the explanation they provided,” Zuniga said. “Whatever the concern might be, our position is and will be that they have to go conduct that questionnaire and they will have 90 days to do that.”
As the POST Commission has developed the framework for recertification in recent months, the questionnaire has emerged as one of the sticking points for some police officers. A lawsuit filed against the commission in April by the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society took issue with “a series of highly invasive, improper, unfair, and irrational questionnaires.”
“At least four questions clearly violate an officer’s Constitutional rights — or other legal protections — if they are required by the POST Commission to answer as a condition of certification. The questions improperly involve matters of free speech and free expression, religious affiliation and religious beliefs, private and personal financial information, and a request for overly vague and undefined personal assessments,” the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said in a statement sent out ahead of Tuesday’s POST Commission meeting. “They also violate core privacy interests of law enforcement officers.”
The questionnaire includes eight questions, including whether the officer is current on tax payments, has ever had a restraining order taken out against them, has been a civil suit defendant accused of acting violently or abusively, has been licensed to possess a firearm, has been subject to a suspension of more than five days, has made any social media posts or public statements in the last five years that could be perceived as biased, has been part of any group that unlawfully discriminates against people, and whether there is anything else relevant to their “eligibility or fitness to be recertified as a law enforcement officer.”
On Friday, a Superior Court judge held a hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction and took the matter under advisement. On Tuesday, the POST Commission ended its public meeting by voting to enter into executive session so its members could privately discuss the legal matter.
“We are hopeful the Court will rule that the Commission’s questions are poorly designed, invalid, and/or likely violations of the Constitution we are sworn to uphold,” the plaintiffs said. “We hope for a favorable ruling to preserve the rights of our police officers and the members of the public. We have been and continue to be supportive of police reform, and we expect it to be done in a legal and thoughtful manner that honors Constitutional obligations.”