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State senate unveils police reform, racial equity legislation

Jul 06, 2020

BOSTON — Lawmakers along with leaders from the NAACP and ACLU gathered Monday morning outside the Massachusetts State House to announce a sweeping piece of police reform and racial equity legislation.

Senate President Karen Spilka, who read the names of recent victims of police violence, announced the Reform, Shift and Build Act. She called Monday a “humbling, yet hopeful day for the commonwealth."

She said the proposed legislation is the result of work of a bipartisan Senate Working Group on Racial Justice, which was convened last month.

The Reform, Shift and Build Act incorporates the police officer certification system Gov. Charlie Baker proposed in June along with members of the members of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. It would create the state's first-ever statewide certification system for police officers and allow for suspension or decertification if officers commit acts of misconduct.

A Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee would oversee the certification system. The act will also form a separate commission to handle the same issues for correctional officers.

Under the bill, all law enforcement agencies would be banned from using chokeholds, officers would be subject a duty to intervene if they witness the use of excessive force and officers could be held civilly liable for excessive use of force. It would also require officers to undergo training about the history of racism, de-escalation tactics and strategies for handling mental health emergencies.

The Reform, Shift and Build Act also includes reforms for State Police, including allowing the governor to select future colonels from outside the department and creating a cadet program with the goal of increasing diversity in the department.

Additionally, the bill would ban the use of facial surveillance technology for 18 months while the technology is studied and require civilian approval before departments can purchase of military equipment.

Lawmakers said the bill would also create a permanent commission on the status of African Americans, which would be required to submit annual reports. Members of the commission would be nominated by the NAACP and the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.

Spilka said the Senate is scheduled to act on the bill Thursday. The House has said it is proposing its own version of the bill, but it hasn't yet been introduced.

The house and senate will both have to act quickly to finish their work. The legislative session concludes at the end of the month.

"It has to get on the governor's desk. This is too urgent, too important," Spilka said.

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