State Senate bill would reform policing in Massachusetts

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In an effort to rethink public safety, a new Massachusetts police reform bill would strengthen use of force limits, limit qualified immunity and reinvest correctional spending toward job creation.

The Senate's racial justice working group unveiled the Reform, Shift and Build Act in a Monday press conference outside the State House in Boston. The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation in its Thursday session.

The bill would require a number of steps, including banning chokeholds, restricting police tactics and requiring racial data collection.

"Today's bill represents a first step in rethinking what public safety should look like," said state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, who co-chairs the working group. "It prioritizes deescalation, prevention and care, and rejects — anywhere that it exists — a culture of aggressive force and impunity in law enforcement. And it begins to transfer power to the community."

The bill seeks to establish the Justice Reinvestment Development Fund, which would reprioritize spending intended for incarceration and put it toward job training, creation and placement "for those who face high barriers to employment." The state would annually compute the money saved due to a reduction in its number of incarcerated people, and half that amount — a maximum of $10 million — would go into the fund.

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A new Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Commission would be tasked with standardizing police officer certification, decertification and training. The commission would investigate all complaints on misconduct, and it would include law enforcement professionals, community members and racial justice advocates.

Some offenses, including the failure to intervene, would be automatic grounds for decertification.

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A permanent commission on the status of African Americans would also advise the Legislature on issues of equity.

The bill reflects priorities outlined by the Black and Latino Caucus last month and builds off a police reform bill from Gov. Charlie Baker, as well as years-old proposals from state Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Boston. It's part of a long-term effort to tackle racial injustice, said Chang-Diaz, the Senate's only Black and Latino Caucus member.

"It won't mark the end of racist violence against black people or other people of color in our state," she said. "There is no single bill that we could write that can replace the generations-long culture-building work that is required for that."

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Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, convened the racial justice working group in June. Chang-Diaz co-chairs it along with William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, and other members are Jo Comerford, D-Northampton; Nick Collins, D-Boston and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester.

Lawmakers on social media have expressed widespread support for the legislation, the full title of which is "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."

"There is now widespread recognition of the need for reform," state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, told the Eagle. "This bill tackles key drivers to racial inequity in policing and sets forth the start to a reimagining of the ways we confront challenges in our community."

Spilka, Baker and House Speaker Robert Deleo, D-Winthrop, have all said they want to enact police reform legislation by July 31, when the legislative session typically concludes.

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle's Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.


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