Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday signed a revised policing reform bill that was approved by the Legislature last week.
The House voted 107-51 and the Senate took a voice vote to re-enact the bill, which has drawn opposition from police but maintained the momentum that grew over the summer out of outrage over police violence toward Black Americans.
"This bill is the product of bipartisan cooperation and thanks to the Black and Latino Caucus’ leadership on the hugely important issue of law enforcement accountability, Massachusetts will have one of the best laws in the nation," Baker said in a statement announcing the bill's signing. "Police officers have enormously difficult jobs and we are grateful they put their lives on the line every time they go to work. Thanks to final negotiations on this bill, police officers will have a system they can trust and our communities will be safer for it."
The Republican governor sent the original bill approved this month back to lawmakers for revisions, included loosening proposed limits on the use of facial recognition technology. The governor said he opposed the bill’s moratorium on facial recognition technology, pointing out that it helped convict a child rapist and an accomplice to a double murder in recent years.
The bill is aimed at ensuring accountability in policing by creating a civilian-led commission to standardize the certification, training and decertification of police officers in the state.
Baker did not want the board to have the authority to approve training regulations, and the amendment that cleared both chambers instead keeps training oversight within a committee under the Executive Office of Public Safety.
The bill also bans the use of chokeholds, limits the use of deadly force, and creates a duty to intervene for police officers when witnessing another officer using force beyond what is necessary or reasonable under the circumstances.
"Today begins to address decades of demands to bring reform & accountability to law enforcement institutions," said Rep. Carlos González, chair of the Black & Latino Caucus. "Today will go down in history as a necessary step to begin the healing process between the police and the Black and Latino communities."
"This law represents a mile-marker, not an end," added Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz. "Among the 50 states, it will create the first civilian-led police oversight board with subpoena power and decertification authority; it will ban chokeholds and limit no-knock warrants; it will create a duty-to-intervene for police officers and a duty to de-escalate; it will ban racial profiling and put enforcement powers behind that ban; it will end the requirement of police officers in schools. But no one bill will dismantle structural racism — in policing, or in all the other places it exists. As much as we celebrate these hard-won steps forward today, we must equally resolve to keep walking the road of racial justice in 2021."
The proposal had received some pushback from police unions, but last week the State Police Association of Massachusetts said in a statement that it recognized the importance of the legislation.
Edward Dunne, president of the Massachusetts Chief of Police Association, said in a statement Thursday that his group is confident the new legislation "will serve to renew an elevated sense of faith, confidence, and trust that the residents of the Commonwealth will have in their law enforcement agencies across the state."
Some activists have said the bill does not go far enough, for example, by not doing away with qualified immunity entirely. Qualified immunity largely protects police from being civilly liable for excessive use of force.