Update: Here’s a comment from Adam Chapdelaine, Town Manager of Arlington. As mentioned below, he’s had some recent experience navigating the civil service and collective bargaining systems vis-a-vis police:
Two major thoughts on S 2800:
1) It has a lot of good. Many of the policies and programs that I believe have been successful in Arlington would be mandated Commonwealth wide and I think that would make PD’s across the state more community focused.
2) I am concerned about the police certification process and POSAC being implemented effectively. I’ve been unable to get clarity on whether these parts of the bill would override or work outside of existing collective bargaining agreements and arbitration provisions. I feel that it’s imperative that a decertified Officer under this system be terminated without access to arbitration. If this is not the case, then we’ll risk having departments forced to keep people on the payroll who aren’t able to be officers anymore.
This is something to keep in mind as the House takes up this legislation, without much time left before the legislative calendar runs out July 31.
At something like 5:20am today, the MA Senate passed its version of policing reform. Advocates like Sens. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Will Brownsberger professed to be pleased, as their work mostly remained intact. The bill does not abolish, but supposedly “clarifies” qualified immunity, the legal doctrine whereby police officers have heretofore evaded civil liability for violations of constitutional rights.
I would be lying if I told you I know what this means:
The clarification states “the concept of qualified immunity will remain, as long as a public official, including law enforcement, is acting in accordance with the law. The bill also makes clear that nothing in this bill impacts or limits existing indemnification protections for public officials,‘’ [Senate President] Spilka’s office said in a statement.
… and if there are any legal eagles out there to explain, I’d love to hear about it.
To distill Spilka’s press release into bullet points:
- Bans chokeholds …
- and “other deadly uses of force except in cases of imminent harm … requires the use of de-escalation tactics when feasible”. Still many holes in this, it would seem.
- “Clarifies” qualified immunity defense, as stated above. We’ll all need a “clarification” of what this actually means.
- A new commission: “An independent state entity [POSAC] composed of law enforcement professionals, community members, and racial justice advocates—to standardize the certification, training, and decertification of police officers. The POSAC includes 6 law enforcement members, both management and rank-and-file officers, 7 non-law enforcement members and 1 retired judge.” Six cops on a 13-member commission that’s supposed to protect the public? Really doesn’t seem right.
- State police cadet program for diversity.
- Moratorium — not a ban — on facial surveillance … to give time for another commission.
- Demilitarize the police? Sort of. “… requir[e] transparency and civilian authorization for military equipment acquisitions.” Still a lot of room for abuse. Military bling is an attractive nuisance for a police department; the wrong tools for the job; a temptation.
- “[E]xpand community-based, non-police solutions to crisis response and jail diversion by developing new evidence-based intervention models.” Sounds like another commission.
- Superintendent decides whether to have “school resource officers”; schools won’t share student info with police “except for investigation of a crime or to stop imminent harm.” Expand expungement for juveniles.
- “Shift funding from policing and corrections towards community investment.” Good: How much? % and absolute $ amounts?
- “Banning racial profiling, requiring racial data collection for all police stops”. Training on history of discrimination against African-Americans.
I’m just noting that this isn’t as radical as it’s being made out to be.
Nowhere, as far as I can tell, is a reform of civil service — a state framework that many communities adopt for higher-ranking officers that was intended to de-politicize the promotion process. But “de-politicize” cuts both ways: Yes, it might cut out old-time friends-and-family cronyism, but it also leaves a department immune to public demands for reform. This was discussed in Arlington’s town meeting last year, where the rank of police chief was removed from the Civil Service system:
“If the Town Manager disagreed with some of the policies being implemented by the new police chief. Imagine if there were complaints about excessive force, racial profiling, or the police chief was cooperating with ICE during arrests?” [Arlington Select Board member] Dunn said. “If the Town Manager was not in favor of those things, the Select Board would have a meeting and we would fire [the police chief]. Under civil service, the Town Manager does not have that kind of control and cannot fire a police chief those types of reasons.”
I don’t know … I’d almost trade ending qualified immunity for the right of a mayor or town manager to fire bad cops. (This would require collective bargaining reform as well.)
What do you think?