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Mass. Senate Unveils Plan for Sweeping Police Reforms

Senate President Karen Spilka and other senators revealed details of their bill on Monday morning

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A bill moving through the Senate Ways and Means Committee would create a new Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee that would certify law enforcement and be able to revoke or modify that certification, along with investigating misconduct complaints.

Officers would need to be re-certified every three years, under the bill, and the committee would have to maintain a publicly searchable database of complaints against officers.

The bill also proposes requiring law enforcement officers to intervene if another is using unnecessary force and would limit use of "tear gas or other chemical weapons, rubber pellets or dogs to control or influence another person's behavior," according to the committee.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee began polling its members on the bill Sunday evening ahead of a Monday morning press conference where Senate President Karen Spilka and other senators unveiled their proposed police reform legislation.

"Today is a humbling yet hopeful day for the Commonwealth," Spilka said Monday as she introduced the legislation, which has been dubbed the Reform, Shift + Build Act.

"While change is long overdue, the time for action is now," she added. "We must seize this moment."

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who helped craft the legislation, said the bill "represents a first step in rethinking what public safety should look like. It prioritizes de-escalation, prevention and care and rejects -- anywhere that it exists -- a culture of aggressive force and impunity in law enforcement."

After national protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo expressed interest in passing a police reform bill by the July 31 end of formal sessions. The House so far has outlined broad principles for reform, and has not released a formal legislative proposal, making it unclear how much common ground the two branches will share on specifics of their bills. Gov. Charlie Baker also filed his own police certification bill.

Dr. Howard Henderson, director at the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University, speaks out on the critical need for police reform and the disconnect between training and implementation on the streets.

The Senate's bill would also remove the requirement that the state police colonel be appointed from within the ranks of the department, a change Baker sought in separate legislation.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee estimated the annual cost of its police reform package at $5 million.

The bill also would establish a Commission on the Status of African Americans and require the Municipal Police Training Committee to "to include training on the history of slavery, lynching, racist legal institutions and racism in the United States in its in-service training," according to a summary.

The ACLU of Massachusetts issued a statement Monday applauding the Senate's proposal.

“Across the country, people are demanding a complete shift in policing, moving away from a system that enables violence and racial injustice, and towards alternatives that respect community autonomy and Black lives. This bill responds to that call to action, and the ACLU is grateful for the Senate’s leadership," said Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The bill is scheduled for a floor vote at Thursday's formal session. Senators will be able to file amendments until 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

State House News Service contributed to this report.

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