Dear Conference Committee Members:
Calls for police reform have been mounting for months in Massachusetts. There have been opinions expressed from all sides of the issue, and for our part, our Union leadership and members have made every effort to listen and contribute – meeting with all parties involved in the debate, including legislative leadership, members of the House and Senate and the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.
For too long. we have heard the refrain that “police are obstacles to reform.” This is frustrating- because it is untrue. On behalf of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police – representing 4,300 officers in 157 cities and towns – we believe our reasonable and constructive ideas for police reform must be part of any legislative efforts to improve law enforcement and protect both police officers and the public.
This year has brought intense scrutiny on law enforcement and policing. In some notable cases –
elsewhere in the U.S. – police officers have made egregious mistakes, behaved in deplorably
unprofessional fashion and engaged in behavior unbefitting our profession. Those officers deserve to be
held accountable and punished to the full extent of the law. But, to render our profession as problematic
due to the malfeasance of a small subset of officers is an immense disservice to the vast majority of police
officers who are good, professional and responsible human beings who became officers in order to protect
and serve. Any reform effort must be viewed as an opportunity to improve policing, not punish police
Massachusetts deserves productive reform that will improve and standardize policing, increase training,
and certify officers to the highest standards. As a Commonwealth, we currently fall short in these areas,
with less than a third of all municipal police departments accredited. Massachusetts also ranks 48111 out of
50 states in dedicated funding for police training. This is a disturbing sign of where police training rates as
a priority among policymakers and local official s. The Commonwealth and its municipalities must do
better. It’s what our citizens deserve.
We agree in principle to language on key ref01ms that are pending, including the creation of an
independent body to oversee police standards and best practices. The board should include both law
enforcement professionals and non-Jaw enforcement professionals that have knowledge of policing.
Without adequate representation from those who have done this job, understand the stress, the emotional
toll it can take, and the implications of a wrong choice – true oversight and accountability cannot be
We agree with the Governor and lawmakers on the creation of a comprehensive process for ce1tifying all
police officers in Massachusetts, and in a fair and objective accreditation process for departments. But due
process for police officers – whose lives are placed at risk at any time with no warning – must be assured
Accreditation will enforce a strong, on-going commitment to excellence in training and will standardize
best practices for policing. Certification increases accountability and requires officers to maintain
professional standards at the highest level.
We support a ban on “chokeholds”, except in the extreme circumstance of the officer’s life or another
person’s life in imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury. We also remind the Committee that such
tactics are not part of academy training in Massachusetts. We agree in principle to establishing a “duty to
intervene” for officers if they witness the use of excessive force. But we remind the Committee that these
and certain other reforms require standardized statewide training for officers in all procedures, protocols
and best practices. Adequate financial support for training should be a component of police reform.
These are constructive efforts to improve law enforcement, protect officers and the public and increase
transparency and accountability. What do we oppose? Efforts that will lead officers across this state to be
at risk at work, to have their family’s financial security and homes imperiled every day and to make them
the targets of repetitive and frivolous lawsuits. We join all law enforcement organizations in strenuously
opposing the removal of qualified immunity. This cannot be part of a final reform bill, if the Committee
holds any hope of earning support from law enforcement professionals in Massachusetts. The
Massachusetts Coalition of Police implores the Committee to place its efforts, its emphasis and its
priorities with the crucial areas of true reform outlined above.
Qualified Immunity does not shield officers from criminal prosecution for wrongdoing. If an officer
behaves unlawfully, they can still be charged and punished accordingly. What it does allow is police
officers’ the right to act in good faith in their jobs without fearing that each potentially lifesaving decision
could lead to a civil lawsuit. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, qualified immunity is needed to make
sure government officials are not deterred from acting in split-second situations. Judges, prosecutors,
legislators and members of Congress hold positions where they have far more time to make decisions, and
do not face the prospect of death or injury if those decisions are not made quickly. Yet unlike police
officers, they enjoy “absolute immunity.”
A rush to police reform in other states has already begun to reveal catastrophic mistakes that will be
difficult to undo. But in Massachusetts, the misguided and reckless insistence on attacking officers’
households – by removing qualified immunity – is the true obstacle to improved policing through
legislative action. This is an important issue and we need to get it right. It is also a highly politicized issue
and we need to not let that stand in the way of effective policymaking. We have taken the time, now let’s
ensure we do it right, let’s lead the country in the way of effective police reform that brings about
enhancements to the profession.
The Massachusetts Coalition of Police supports responsible police reform. Do not allow those who are
truly an obstacle to reform derail the process.
First Vice President