Massachusetts lawmakers are debating a sweeping police reform bill Wednesday that would create a new system to license officers and enforce limits on the use of force, despite criticism from police chiefs who call such legislation "a knee-jerk reaction."
Like the Senate bill, which passed just over a week ago, the House version would ban the use of chokeholds and require officers to intervene if they see their colleagues use excessive force. The House bill would also curb the use of qualified immunity, a controversial legal principle that can shield police officers from civil lawsuits in cases of misconduct.
Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled his own proposals about a month ago. House members will take it up for debate during formal session Wednesday. The legislative session ends next Friday.
On Tuesday, police chiefs from across the state lashed out at the bills.
"Who’s writing all this stuff? I don’t know. It’s like they took a bunch of garbage and threw it in one bill and tried to make some sense of it," Hampden Police Chief Jeff Farnsworth said during a press conference.
"And seem to think that that is going to solve every problem in our country, starting with police officers. We all know what that is: It’s pandering."
Farnsworth, the president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, argue that the bills are being rushed through the legislature in response to national unrest over incidents of police brutality.
The debate comes after protests erupted across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis as well as other victims of police brutality.
The MCPA, a group comprised of the state's 351 police chiefs, supports setting up a commission to certify and decertify officers, which is part of all three bills on the hill, but argue that the current bills are far reaching.
"As law enforcement leaders, our primary mission is to ensure the safety of our residents and our communities. We do not believe that this legislation will do that," Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson said.
"It has a very real possibility of doing just the opposite. The legislation, at a minimum, will diminish the pool of candidates who wish to become police officers."
Frederickson began calling for increased training after one of his officers, Sgt. Sean Gannon, was shot and killed in 2018.