Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday that he is filing legislation aimed at improving public safety and increasing transparency and accountability in law enforcement.
"The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police officers made it clear this is the time to get this done," the governor said. "This bill will create a more modern, transparent and accountable system for law enforcement credentialing and training. It will provide police departments with the tools they need to build trust and strong relationships with every community across the Commonwealth — at a time when we need it most."
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At the same time, he acknowledged that "there are no easy answers, and improving our law enforcement is only one piece of this process." He said this is only the first step in a larger discussion about police reforms.
The bill would create a certification program for law enforcement officers that must be renewed every three years and a database of certified officers to make sure their training and conduct records are available to current and future employers.
The legislation would also create a process with community involvement for decertifying a police officer who does not live up to their training or oath, including if they are found using a chokehold or other excessive force or if they fail to intervene when they witness a fellow officer violating standards.
In addition, Baker said the bill would create incentives for advanced law enforcement training and education so officers can better serve their communities.
“Massachusetts is one of four states without a police certification process,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said. “But the high standards of training we require for our police departments give us a strong foundation on which to build one. This bill will allow police departments to make better-informed recruitment and hiring choices while improving accountability for all the communities we serve.”
Baker said he has been working with the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus for several months on the police reform legislation unveiled on Wednesday.
The governor's bill does not encompass all of the priorities that some lawmakers have already outlined, and both he and lawmakers stressed Wednesday that they hope to have changes implemented into law before the July 31 end of formal lawmaking sessions, which is about six weeks away.
"We have lots of work left to do," Baker said. "The session ends July 31st. It's critically important that by then we have a certification process."
Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, chairman of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, said Baker's bill addresses "one issue" among a 10-point plan the caucus prepared to reform law enforcement.
"We are here today because the protests have been heard," Gonzalez said. "Today is the beginning of some candid and uncomfortable conversation. As Martin Luther King would say, 'We have some difficult days ahead.' We want to get this through this session and onto the governor's desk and signed."
Legislation that would move the state a step closer to implementing a new standards and certification system for police officers has been filed for years on Beacon Hill without reaching the floor for a vote in the House or Senate.
But now, in the wake of local and national protests against racism and police brutality, the idea appears to be gaining traction.
"Many of us have been out shouting in the desert for years and years and it has fallen on deaf ears. I think now because of the time there's a tidal wave that we have to be smart to ride," said Russell Holmes, a member of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. "We have been shouting — absolutely screaming in the wilderness — and for so long this bill sat and languished and was forgotten about."
Baker also provided an update Wednesday on the state's coronavirus response and phased reopening.
Downward trends continue for fatalities linked to the virus, while they remained close to the status quo for hospitalizations and overall infections. Public health officials reported 195 new cases in Massachusetts on Tuesday and 18 new deaths.
"This progress is obviously encouraging and shows that we continue to move in the right direction," Baker said Wednesday. "It also puts us on a good trajectory with plans to reopen."
The governor has said he expects to announce this week when the next step will come in the gradual plan to welcome consumers and employees back to brick-and-mortar businesses, including the return of indoor dining at restaurants.
"We're going to be careful and vigilant about the reopening process," Baker said. "It's important that we respect the virus and not get too far ahead of ourselves."
State House News Service contributed to this report.