Governor Baker today signed an omnibus policing bill into law. The new law includes a certification system for police officers, public access to police misconduct investigation records, and limits on police use of face recognition technology.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, today released the following statement in response:
“Months after protests erupted across Massachusetts and the nation in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, Massachusetts has taken a crucial first step toward police reform. This new law acknowledges the growing public movement to end policing as usual.
“This is a compromise bill. While it lacks many of the protections advocated by both civil rights and community leaders, it also includes key provisions that will save lives, advance civil rights, and safeguard liberties. The new law lays the groundwork for the legislature to enact additional civil rights and civil liberties protections in the upcoming legislative session, and the public pressure for change will continue.
“Since last summer, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents have called for police reform in Massachusetts. People have marched, held press conferences, called, emailed, tweeted, and wrote to their legislators demanding law reform. In the face of a pandemic and a well-funded opposition campaign from police unions, the people of Massachusetts took to the streets to demand change, and Beacon Hill heard the people.
“We applaud the legislative leaders who committed to responding to this urgent moment and have taken several critical steps to follow through. We are grateful to Senate leadership for crafting the first strong proposal this summer, to House leadership for backing the calls to action from the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, and to all the lawmakers who stuck to their resolve in championing necessary reforms—despite intense pressure to maintain the status quo. This law is the product of months of advocacy, negotiations, and hard work, and the ACLU is grateful for legislators’ commitment to advancing this bill—and to ensuring that this is the start, not the end, of reimagining policing in Massachusetts.
“The ACLU will keep fighting for reforms to protect Massachusetts communities from police brutality and misconduct—and end the impunity with which some officers operate. Much work remains if we are to repair decades of harm and violence inflicted on over-policed communities of color.”
- The new law asserts local control over police in schools: Previously, state law in Massachusetts required that school districts assign at least one police officer to work full time as a “School Resource Officer.” Section 79 of the new law eliminates that requirement, allowing for police-free schools at the local level throughout the state.
- The new law requires public health data collection and reporting of police violence: For the first time, the law requires centralized data collection and reporting on police violence. Sections 85 and 86 require the Department of Public Health to collect and publicly report data on injuries and deaths caused by law enforcement and corrections officers, as well as occupational fatalities and injuries of law enforcement and corrections officers.
- The new law requires public disclosure of police misconduct records: Section 2 of the law ensures that police misconduct investigation records are public records. Under current law, the outcomes of misconduct investigations are public but the underlying materials are shielded from public. Section 2 ensures that both the outcome and records related to a misconduct investigation are public records.
- The new law prevents sexual assault in police custody: Section 92 of the law closes a troubling statutory loophole by prohibiting law enforcement officers from engaging in sexual conduct with persons in their custody.
- The new law sets restrictions on data sharing to stop the school-to-prison and school-to-deportation pipelines: Section 78 of the law prohibits school personnel and school resource officers from sharing certain student information with law enforcement agencies. Among other things, Section 78 prohibits sharing immigration status and citizenship information with police, and prevents officials from sharing information with federally-linked spy centers.
- The new law establishes four permanent commissions on the status of African Americans; the status of Latinos and Latinas, the status of persons with disabilities; and the social status of Black men and boys. These independent commissions will be a resource to the state and policymakers on issues affecting specific populations.
- The new law sets statewide regulations on government use of face recognition technology: Under the new law, police may request face recognition searches at the State Police, RMV, and FBI, with a court order, or use the technology without judicial approval in emergencies. Each year, the state must report on its website how often the technology was used, by which agencies, and in which types of criminal investigations. The legislation also creates a commission to study whether Massachusetts should pass more stringent regulations on the government’s use of this technology.