How are the police being reformed in Massachusetts?

On December 31, 2020 Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law new legislation that will make changes to how police officers do their jobs. The new law focuses on investigating misconduct and reprimanding officers who step out of line.

Why now? What will be different? And most importantly, how will the Police Reform Law impact you and your rights?

Why does Massachusetts want to reform the police?

Lawmakers in Massachusetts decided to pass new legislation on police reform in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other African Americans by law enforcement. While most officers do their jobs professionally and without issue, the purpose of the Police Reform Law is to ensure that the constitutional rights of people who encounter the police are protected.

What is in the Police Reform Law?

The Police Reform Law makes several changes to how police officers do their jobs. Here is a summary of what you can find in the new law:

Creates Commission to Certify Police Officers. The law creates a new commission called Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). POST will be responsible for developing and putting into effect training standards for all police officers in Massachusetts. It will consist of a mix of officers and citizens and will have the power and authority to:

  • Investigate police misconduct
  • Certify, restrict, revoke, or suspend officer credentials
  • Subpoena (legally demand) witnesses and documents
  • Maintain a public database of officers who are decertified

Changes Qualified Immunity. The new law also modifies an important legal protection for police called Qualified Immunity. Qualified Immunity is a legal doctrine that shelters public officials, like police officers, from civil lawsuits. Under Qualified Immunity, it can be difficult if not impossible at times to sue a police officer for civil damages. However, under the Police Reform Law changes, officers will lose their Qualified Immunity if the POST commission decertifies them. This means that officers who engage in misconduct could be sued without Qualified Immunity restriction.

Bans Facial Recognition. Next, the new law stops the government from using or acquiring software that captures biometric data, or facial recognition. However, there are two exceptions:

  • The Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) can still use facial recognition software
  • If a person is suspected of a violent felony and the police obtain a search warrant, they may use facial recognition software

Bans and Restrictions on Police Use of Force. The law completely bans chokeholds. It also puts restrictions on officers firing their guns at a fleeing vehicle, using tear gas, releasing dogs, and shooting rubber bullets. Officers now must make an effort to coordinate with planned protest organizers and intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force.

Establishes Other New Commissions. In addition to POST, the Police Reform Law establishes several other commissions. These include:

  • Commission to study the use of technology by the RMV
  • Task force to create new rules on the use of body cameras
  • Commission to study diversity and transparency within the civil service
  • Commissions to study racism in jails, prisons, with probation, and with parole
  • Commissions to study the status of African Americans, Latinos, and people with disabilities in the state
  • Commissions to study police training programs

Makes School Resource Officers Optional. Additionally, the new law leaves the decision of having a School Resource Officer (SRO) up to superintendents. School superintendents will be permitted to make a request to local law enforcement to have an officer in their public schools but are not required to do so. School districts that decide on keeping SROs will also require that those officers be prevented from sharing certain student information to other law enforcement.

Restricts No-knock Warrants. Lastly, the Police Reform Law restricts how no-knock warrants are used. A no-knock warrant is a search warrant that allows police officers to enter a building without knocking first and announcing their presence and why they want to enter. The Police Reform Law requires that in order for a no-knock warrant to be lawful, police must show:

  • There were no children or people over the age of 65 in the building
  • Announcing their presence would put the officers in life-threatening harm

How will the new law impact my rights?

The changes will hold police officers more accountable for their actions. This means that police officers who violate your constitutional rights are more likely to be reprimanded, suspended, revoked certification, or terminated. People who had complaints about individual officers now have a forum to assert their grievances.

The new law will also protect your privacy rights. This means it will be harder for the government to gain access to your personal data and use it against you in court. Policing practices will change to ensure that when a person encounters law enforcement what really took place will be better preserved.

IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH A CRIME OR HAVE EXPERIENCED POLICE MISCONDUCT, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.

CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.

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