State Senate Passes Police Reform Bill, Championed By Chang-Díaz

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The Massachusetts State Senate passed an unprecedented police reform bill early Tuesday morning when most people were sleeping after many hours of debate.

The bill passed 30-7, and would do many things including ban the use of chokeholds by police; limit the use of tear gas; create a committee that would certify all law enforcement officers; prohibit police from shooting into moving vehicles, except for limited circumstances; create uniform standards for training police across the commonwealth.

The House will debate the bill before July 31 when the current legislative session ends. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he wanted to hold a virtual hearing on the Senate bill this week. Last month Governor Charlie Baker filed his own legislation to create a system that would license police and hold them accountable to a set of professional standards. But no hearing has taken place yet for Baker's legislation.

The Senate bill had amazing momentum due to several recent high profile murders of Black Americans by police. In June, the bipartisan Senate Working Group on Racial Justice was formed, which was chaired by state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-2nd Suffolk).

“There's no bill we can write to replace the generations of culture-building work needed to root out systemic racism in our Commonwealth, but this bill is a vital step towards that horizon,” said Chang-Díaz prior to the marathon legislative debate. “With this legislation, we can put in place structures that force institutions to respond to incidents of injustice with vigor rather than silence and complicity. We can create a shift in law enforcement towards prevention and de-escalation and we can start to reprioritize public safety funding away from criminalization and into community investment."

On the State House floor Chang-Díaz gave an impassioned speech about the bill. She also called out her colleagues who she felt were stalling the bill.

As part of the bill the Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee would be created, which would certify all law enforcement officers and give the independent agency the power to renew, revoke or modify licenses. The committee would be made up by police, community members, a retired judge, and social justice advocates to oversee certification, training, and decertification of police.

This new committee would also be able to direct investigations into allegations of police misconduct, including excessive use of force. The committee would be able to subpoena police records and other documentation needed for an investigation. The state would also maintain a searchable database for police departments looking to hire new officers so they could review an applicant's history.

The bill would also mandate that police receive increased training on the history or systemic racism, responding to mental health emergencies, de-escalation, and use of force rules. Police would need to be re-certified every three years. It also creates a state police cadet program. A Body Camera Task Force would also be created to establish rules and regulations for body cameras.

The bill would also help dismantle the school-to-prison path by ending the requirement that school districts employ police officers. An amendment added to the bill during debate blocks schools from sharing with law enforcement any info about a student's immigration status, nation of origin, ethnicity, religion and any known or suspected gang affiliations.