Senator Jason Lewis joined colleagues in the Massachusetts State Senate to pass 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 (S.2800). Known as the Reform, Shift + Build Act, the comprehensive bill is designed to increase police accountability, shift the role of law enforcement away from surveillance and punishment, and begin to dismantle systemic racism.
“The overwhelming majority of our law enforcement officers are dedicated public servants who are charged with doing extremely challenging and important work to keep our communities safe,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “But we must also recognize both the long history and many recent examples of police violence and bias directed at people of color, including in Massachusetts, and this legislation is a major step forward in advancing racial justice and greater accountability and equity.”
The Reform, Shift + Build Act strengthens the use of force standards in a number of ways. It bans chokeholds and it also bans other deadly uses of force except in cases of imminent harm. The bill also requires the use of de-escalation tactics when feasible; creates a duty to intervene for officers who witness abuse of force; limits qualified immunity defense for officers whose conduct violates the law; and expands and strengthens police training in de-escalation, racism and intervention tactics.
In response to national and state-level calls for change, the bill clarifies and rebalances the understanding of a qualified immunity defense. Under the legislation, the concept of qualified immunity will remain, as long as a public official, including law enforcement, is acting in accordance with the law. The bill also makes clear that nothing in this bill impacts or limits existing indemnification protections for public officials.
The Reform, Shift + Build Act creates a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee (POSAC)—an independent state entity composed of law enforcement professionals, community members, and racial justice advocates—to standardize the certification, training, and decertification of police officers. The POSAC includes 6 law enforcement members, both management and rank-and-file officers, 7 non-law enforcement members and 1 retired judge. All non-law enforcement members will have experience with or expertise in law enforcement practice and training, criminal law, civil rights law, the criminal justice system, or social science fields related to race or bias.
The POSAC will receive all misconduct complaints, investigate complaints involving serious misconduct, and maintain a disclosure database. It will also prohibit nondisclosure agreements in police misconduct settlements and establish a commission to recommend a correctional officer certification, training, and decertification framework.
To increase diversity in the workforce, the bill creates a State Police cadet program. It also allows the Governor to select a colonel from outside the State Police force and gives the colonel a greater ability to apply discipline. Further, the bill imposes a moratorium on the use of facial surveillance technology by government entities while a commission studies its use and creates a task force to study the use of body and dashboard cameras by law enforcement agencies.
To shift the balance of law enforcement techniques away from force and punishment, the bill seeks to demilitarize the police force by requiring transparency and civilian authorization for military equipment acquisitions. It also seeks to expand community-based, non-police solutions to crisis response and jail diversion by developing new evidence-based intervention models.
A key component of the bill addresses the school-to-prison pipeline by making school resource officers optional at the discretion of the superintendent and preventing school districts from sharing students’ personal information with police except for investigation of a crime or to stop imminent harm. The bill also expands access to record expungement for young people by allowing individuals with more than one charge on their juvenile record to qualify for expungement.
The bill establishes the Strong Communities and Justice Reinvestment Workforce Development Fund to shift funding from policing and corrections towards community investment. Controlled by community members and community development professionals, the fund will make competitive grants to drive economic opportunities in communities most impacted by excessive policing and mass incarceration.
Finally, the bill seeks to begin dismantling systemic racism by banning racial profiling, requiring racial data collection for all police stops and requiring reporting and analysis. It also introduces a police training requirement on the history of slavery, lynching and racism, and creates a permanent African American Commission. A primary purpose of the commission will be to advise the legislature and executive agencies on policies and practices that will ensure equity for, and address the impact of, discrimination against African Americans.
The Senate adopted a number of amendments to strengthen the bill. One establishes a Latinx Commission, based on the existing Asian-American Commission and the African American Commission created in the current bill, to bring more underrepresented voices to the table and ensure equity in policymaking. Another prohibits decertified law enforcement officers from becoming corrections officers, while a further amendment eliminates statutory language offensive to the LGBTQ+ community.
One notable amendment creates a Commission on Structural Racism, which seeks to map out the systems impacting the Department of Corrections (DOC) mission using a structural racism lens. This commission will propose programming and policy shifts and identifying legislative or agency barriers to promoting the optimal operation of the DOC. It also creates a roadmap for the legislature to establish a permanent publicly funded entity to continue this work.
The Reform, Shift + Build Act now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.