THE HOUSE’s POLICE REFORM BILL STILL ISN’T READY. BUT IT CAN BE.

Kane

^ State Representative Hannah Kane : the five amendments which she emphaized to the House police reform bill can make the bill acceptable.

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Three days ago the Massachusetts House voted 93 to 66 to approve a police reform bill that still misses the mark. The bill is certainly less radical than  the Senate’s bill, which imposes impossible conditions on policing and on nurses, firemen, and first responders as well. Speaker DeLeo is to be commended for crafting a bill that can almost be accepted.

The House bill does not eliminate qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that exempts officers (and nurses, firemen, and first responders) from personal liability for actions taken in the course of their work. The Senate bill proposed to wipe qualified immunity out entirely. So far, so good for the House. Only officers who are decertified, as a result of a decertification procedure set forth in the House bill will lose their immunity. That is a fair compromise.

The bill also incorporates most of Governor Baker’s own certification and police training bill. It lacks only the $ 500 training bonus in Baker’s bill.

Yet the House bill still asks too much of officers. It imposes on officers a duty to intervene if they see an officer violating police procedure. I find that an unrealistic imposition. Officers are not going to second guess their fellows, or, if they do, their fellows are unlikely to want to partner with them in the future. In addition, decertification criteria remain unclear. They are to be reported by a commission created by this bill and tasked with informing us NEXT YEAR If that is thee case, why can’t the whole bill wait till next year ? What is the hurry ?

The House bill also bars schools from sharing with police departments incidents of gang activity on school premises. This is unacceptable. Schools are hardly exempt from gang works, indeed they are a locus of much other juvenile crime and have been thus since at least the 1970s, when teacher assaults became common.

During debate on the House bill, State Representative Hannah Kane, who represents Westborough and Shrewsbury, highlighted five amendments which would have made the House bill a successful consensus. Read them here :

• establishing a clear definition of what constitutes unprofessional police conduct, to include excessive use of physical force or repeated and sustained instances of behavior that violates departmental policies;
• protecting police officers from anonymous complaints by requiring that complaints submitted to the Division of Police Standards be from an identifiable complainant and signed under the pains and penalties of perjury;
• mandating that prior disciplinary actions resolved or adjudicated before the effective date of the bill not be considered sufficient on their own to deny an officer recertification, but may be used if the officer becomes the subject of further discipline after the effective date;
• eliminating language that prohibits school officials from sharing information on students who may be involved in gang activity with outside law enforcement agencies; and
• removing restrictive language that prevents individuals with prior law enforcement experience from serving on the new Massachusetts Police Standards and Training Commission.

Unfortunately, all five were rejected. I ask that the House reconsider the vote, or at least that Representative Kane’s amendments be added to the house while it is in joint conference.

The Speaker says he wants to get this 129 page bill to the Governor by Friday. I repeat my above question : what is the hurry ? This is a complex bill, making several significant changes to the operation of police forces — an institution basic to maintaining civic peace and safety. I cannot understand why our legislature would want to rush any such bill. Even if Representative Kane’s five amendments are added to the bill, it should be tabled and resubmitted next year so that all concerned can assemble their objections or support, after which extensive public hearings can be held.

That is what OUGHT be done. Will it be ?

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere