^ a hero for our time. (photo by Tim Terranova, of bay Ridge, Brooklyn)
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Last night, at 4.15 AM, the State Senate voted to enact an “emergency” police bill by a vote of 30 to 10.
One might think that this bill addresses the actual emergency, which we have all seen : assaults upon our police forces by rioters and “peaceful” protesters, harassment of police and their families (even shootings), and defunding actions by various City Councils that undercut the police, who are on the front lines combating the mayhem in the streets of so many American cities right now — not to forget the crime sprees that have gushered up in many cities these past few weeks.
Yet one who assumes this would be wrong.
The Massachusetts Senate bill just voted 30 to 10 addresses nothing of the kind. Instead, it weakens the police and creates an unnecessary, racially constituted commission whose members are to be appointed by persons of said race, for the express purpose of overseeing police operations dramatically compromised by other provisions of this bill.
Begin with the bill’s title : “An act to reform police standards and shift resources to build a more equitable, fair and just commonwealth that values Black lives and communities of color.”
What the blazes is this sentence talking about ? It isn’t the police force’s responsibility to create a “more equitable and fair” commonwealth or to “value Black lives,” etc. The police’s job is to fight crime and to work with neighborhood residents to arrest those responsible. The first request that people ask of police is to keep us safe and to arrest those who interrupt our safety. What else should police do but that ? As for valuing lives, police must first value the lives of those who they are protecting. That is who police work for. ’nuff said.
Sections 3 and 4 of the bill read mostly useful. They outline detailed standards for training prospective police, an initiative which Governor Baker has himself proposed and which makes sense. Section four, however, includes the following language at its end : (iv) the history of slavery, lynching, racist legal institutions and racism in the United States. What this condescending history lesson has to do with the job of keeping residents safe from criminals, I don’t know. Slavery ended 155 years ago — seven generations. Policing takes place entirely in the present, as does almost all of life. I’m also very skeptical, given today’s maoist bullyings and “cancel culture” — all of it assaulting people in the street and online — of the line that would be taken by the “history teachers” who would be providing these lessons.
Sections 6 through 33 of the bill spell out detailed regulations and standards for appointing, overseeing, and promoting or disciplining police, Most can be accepted, although I note that they override union contracts or set aside civil service protections, all of which generations of police and government reformers have fought to enact and maintain.
Sections 34 through 41 of the bill regulate funds received by police forces from other than State budgeting and also enumerate military-grade equipment to be used by police. I have no significant objections to any of these.
Sections 42 through regulate the disciplining of police officers and include the following absolutely objection able provision, which I expect will be stricken from the bill in House deliberations to come : Section 98H. An agency employing a law enforcement officer, as defined section 220 of chapter 6, shall not include or permit the inclusion of a nondisclosure, non-disparagement or other similar clause in a settlement agreement between the agency and a complainant; provided, however, that such settlement may include, but not be limited to, a provision that prevents the agency from disclosing the identity of the complainant and all facts that could lead to the discovery of the complainant’s identity if such provision is requested and approved by the complaint.
Equally offensive is the following school police provision, which cannot stand : School department personnel shall not disclose to a law enforcement officer or agency, or submit to a database or system designed to track gang affiliation or involvement, any information from its databases or other record-keeping systems including, but not be limited to: (i) immigration status; (ii) citizenship; (iii) neighborhood of residence; (iv) religion; (v) national origin; (vi) ethnicity; (vii) native or spoken language; (viii) suspected gang affiliation, unless it is germane to a specific unlawful incident or to a specific prospect of unlawful activity the school is otherwise required to report; (ix) participation in school activities, extracurricular activities outside of school, sports teams or school clubs or organizations; (x) degrees, honors or awards; and (xi) post-high school plans
Section 52 micro-manages street-stop policing to such an extent that front line policing becomes next to impossible. Read the provision here — https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/S2800 — to find out just how unrealistic this provision is.
Section 55 regulates actual police uses of force — a fit subject for reform — much too far, crippling a forceful response to rioting, looting, and harassment of officers. The useful admonitions it does offer are already standard policy for most Massachusetts police forces.
Section 58 : I quote in full.
Chapter 276 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 2C the following section:-
Section 2D. (a) A warrant that does not require a law enforcement officer to knock and announce their presence and purpose before forcibly entering a residence shall not be issued except by a judge and only if the affidavit supporting the request for the warrant establishes probable cause that if the law enforcement officer announces their presence their life or the lives of others will be endangered.
(b) A police officer executing a search warrant shall knock and announce their presence and purpose before forcibly entering a residence unless authorized by warrant to enter pursuant to subsection (a).
(c) An officer shall not dispense with the requirements of subsections (a) and (b) except to prevent a credible risk of imminent harm as defined in section 1 of chapter 147A.
(d) Evidence seized or obtained during the execution of a warrant shall be inadmissible if a law enforcement officer violates this section.
So much for taking into custody dangerous persons who would surely skee-daddle if notified in advance. This provision arises, of course, from the Breoma Taylor death caused by officers exercising a no-knock warrant at the wrong house for a suspect already in custody. Wrong in so many ways as that police mistake was, it strikes me reckless to place unworkable provisos upon these warrants.
I understand that this column has become a very long read. I will therefore sum up the reaminder of the bill.
It revises guidelines for sealing one’s criminal record. It also eliminates “qualified immunity” from lawsuit for police, firemen, nurses (!!!) and first responders for actions they may perform in the course of doing their jobs. This elimination has generated a ton of controversy. it’s probably the one part of Senate 2800 that you have heard of. It cannot stand.
What policeman, fireman, nurse or first responder is going to risk his or her life, or serious injury, from going into danger, if he or she knows that persons with grievances can ruin their finances, cost them their jobs, and destroy their reputations ? Qualified immunity is the sine qua non of employment in jobs of danger where the readiness to face danger must be supported in every way possible. This bill’s elimination of it alone makes the bill unacceptable.
—- Mikde Freedberg / Here and Sphere