Bill on Massachusetts police reforms, accountability legislation expected Wednesday

BOSTON, MA – DECEMBER 18: Rep. Russell Holmes speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for Cote Village in Mattapan on December 18, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Angela Rowlings/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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Lawmakers are expecting a bill from Gov. Charlie Baker that would mandate a certification process for police officers on Wednesday, vowing to pass law enforcement reforms next month before the current legislative session ends.

“Most of us folks who’ve been in this fight for a while, we’re very happy that it’s happening. We want to see it get done as soon as possible,” Rep. Russell Holmes of the Black and Latino Caucus said at a Tuesday panel discussion hosted by the ACLU and NAACP.

Though there are few specifics, the bill is expected to propose a licensing system for police officers called POST — which stands for Peace Officer Standards and Training. It would standardize training statewide and set up a mechanism to handle misconduct and discipline. Training would be mandated each year.

Massachusetts is one of just six states without such a system, according to the ACLU.

Police reform advocates at the Tuesday panel said that while the bill could be a good first step in addressing systemic racism in policing in Massachusetts, there is no “silver bullet.”

“POSTs are necessary, but not sufficient. … We have to have an array of systems and mechanisms,” said Lisa Thurau, executive director of Strategies for Youth.

“We need to have a decertification system — a way to revoke the licenses of officers who seriously misbehave,” said Professor Emeritus Roger Goldman of the Saint Louis University School of Law.

The calls for greater accountability among police officers have been reverberating through the halls of the State House for the better part of a decade but have recently gained traction amid widespread protests against police brutality and excessive use of force in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

“Many times it takes a crisis or a situation to put the spotlight on a particular piece of legislation and that’s where we’re at today,” said state Rep. David Vieira.

During a press conference on Monday, Baker said his administration has been in talks with the Black and Latino Caucus for more than six months on drafting a bill around police certifications.

“It’s our hope that this legislation that we file can become a platform for this dialogue and that over the course of the next 45 days ago before we end the formal session, we’ll get something passed here in Massachusetts,” the governor said Monday.

The current legislative session ends July 31.

Holmes said the national conversations about systemic racism and police accountability have helped propel the conversation of reforms forward in Massachusetts.

“We began this as an idea around pushing the state towards a commission to go study what we should do … I would like to just say that we’re past the commission,” Holmes said.

“We’re going to go now and set up an actual POST system,” Holmes continued.