In the wake of racial violence and police misconduct around the country, Massachusetts is on its way to improve standards and accountability for police officers. A reform bill filed by Governor Charlie Baker on June 17th, drafted after nearly a year of conversations with the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, must be passed before the General Court's two year session ends on July 31st. Some provisions of the bill, including licensing requirements for officers, have garnered the support of anti-racism activists, police unions, and advocacy organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
The certification program for police officers will be similar to those for nurses, real estate agents, nail salon technicians, and others. Certification must be renewed every three years and an officer can be decertified for misconduct. The public would have input into the decertification process. An officer who uses a chokehold or other excessive force, and those who do not intervene when a fellow officer does, will automatically be decertified.
Employers, including municipal police, deputy sheriffs, the MBTA Transit Police, Executive Office of Environmental Affairs Office of Law Enforcement, UMass police, and other state college campus police departments, will have access to officers' level of training and conduct records. Some of the data will also be made available to the public, but it was not immediately clear what. Correctional officers will not be subject to the licensing requirements.
A Police Officer Standards and Accreditation (POSA) Committee will oversee licensing for police officers across the Commonwealth. The proposed committee will be composed of seven police officials, including at least one officer of any rank from western Massachusetts, and the Attorney General of her appointee. The governor will appoint six civilians, and at least half of the committee must be people of color. The POSA Committee will develop a standard background investigation for any officer who applies for a job with a Massachusetts police department. The investigation will include the POSA Committee's own database as well as the national decertification index. There are only five other states that do not license police officers.
The POSA Committee will also determine what is required for each of three proposed levels of training. The training, which will include methods of responding to domestic and sexual violence calls, deescalation tactics, and foreign language proficiency, will be accompanied by financial incentives. Officers who complete the first level of training will receive a base salary increase of $1,000, followed by increases of $2,500 and $5,000 for levels two and three.
Others at the Statehouse are preparing their own bills, including leaders in the House of Representatives. Baker has urged lawmakers to pass a bill before the end of the session.