(BOSTON – 07/06/2020) The Massachusetts State Senate today unveiled 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—the Reform, Shift + Build Act—a comprehensive racial equity bill designed to increase police accountability, shift the roles of law enforcement away from surveillance and punishment, and begin to dismantle systemic racism. The bill is a direct response to statewide demonstrations for equity and justice, and the result of the work of the Senate’s bipartisan Senate Working Group on Racial Justice, appointed by the Senate President in early June.
Components of the bill include strengthening the use of force standards for all law enforcement agents, creating a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Commission (POSAC), redirecting funding from policing and corrections towards community investment, placing a moratorium on facial surveillance technology, reducing the school-to-prison by prioritizing student safety over criminalization, removing barriers to expungement of juvenile records, demilitarizing law enforcement, banning racial profiling in law enforcement, creating a commission on the status of African Americans, and requiring increased data collection and reporting.
“Today is a humbling – yet hopeful – day for the Commonwealth,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “For more than a month, thousands have marched to State House steps to demand change. The Reform, Shift + Build Act seeks to make that change by reforming police standards, shifting resources to communities, and building a more equitable Commonwealth. The work we need to do on racial justice is both a sprint and a marathon, and the members of this Working Group have done incredible work on this first sprint. But I promise that this will not be the last you hear from us on this issue. Thank you to the members of the Working Group, in particular the co-chairs Sen. Brownsberger and Sen. Chang-Diaz, thank you to the NAACP and the ACLU, and thank you to the many activists and stakeholders who have brought these issues forward and held our feet to the fire to start us on the path to change.”
"We have an urgent responsibility to dismantle structural racism that has disadvantaged and harmed communities of color for decades, and that includes biased, harmful, and in the worse cases, deadly force in policing” said Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). "I have tremendous respect for the members of the Senate Working Group on Racial Justice and the Senate President for all of the work that went into assembling the Reform, Shift + Build Act. I will be proud to vote for the bill on Thursday. Once it’s law, I look forward to working with police chiefs in our communities on a meaningful rethinking of policing and first response that prioritizes equity, health, and public safety."
“The killing of George Floyd may have been a catalyst for our current moment, but it is unfortunately only one of many tragedies that underscore the opportunity we have, and the work we must do in this moment to live up to the words that founded our country to ensure liberty and equal justice for all,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D- Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. "I applaud the Senate President for her steadfast leadership, and I applaud the thoughtfulness and urgency of Senator Brownsberger, Senator Chang-Díaz, and the Senate’s bipartisan Senate Advisory Group on Racial Justice for their hard work. I look forward to the Senate debating and passing a bill later this week that reforms the role of policing by increasing accountability, empowers communities impacted by our criminal justice system, regains public trust and confronts core causes of systemic racism.”
“There's no bill we can write to replace the generations of culture-building work needed to root out systemic racism in our Commonwealth, but this bill is a vital step towards that horizon,” stated working group co-chair Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston). “With this legislation, we can put in place structures that force institutions to respond to incidents of injustice with vigor rather than silence and complicity. We can create a shift in law enforcement towards prevention and de-escalation and we can start to reprioritize public safety funding away from criminalization and into community investment. I want to thank the Senate President for her commitment to bringing this bill forward, and the other members of the Racial Justice Working Group—my co-chair, Senator Brownsberger, Senator Collins, Senator Comerford, Senator Moore, and Senator Tarr—for crafting rigorous legislation with such thoughtfulness and care.”
"We intend this legislation to meaningfully reduce the risk of overuse of force by law-enforcement in Massachusetts,” said working group co-chair Senate President Pro Tempore William Brownsberger (D-Belmont). “It will also begin to shift street resources from force towards helping. Finally, it speaks to the continuing challenge of reducing racism."
“We have heard far too many egregious examples from Black and Brown communities to delay taking the bold actions envisioned in this legislation,” said Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem (D-Newton). “The comprehensive reforms in this bill recognize the disparate impact the criminal justice system has historically had on communities of color, and the need to rethink the current model of policing. I am proud that the Senate President has embraced this opportunity to focus the Senate on these difficult issues and to enact meaningful and overdue reforms.”
"This is a critical time for leadership in our communities, states, and in our nation; being a catalyst for change and equity starts with listening, learning, and then taking action," said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).
The bill prohibits excessive use of force by law enforcement, creates a duty to intervene for any officer who observes another officer using excessive force, and limits qualified immunity so an officer may be held civilly liable for excessive use of force. The bill bans chokeholds, removes evidence preservation as a reason for so-called no-knock warrants, restricts use of crowd control tools, and creates a commission to review use of force rules in corrections.
The bill creates a statewide police certification authority, the POSAC, composed of law enforcement professionals, community members and racial justice advocates to standardize the certification, training, and decertification of police officers. The POSAC will receive all misconduct complaints, investigate complaints involving serious misconduct, maintain a disclosure database, and oversee a commission to
consider a similar process for correctional settings. It will also strengthen civil remedies for misconduct by preventing a qualified immunity defense for excessive use of force, allowing the Attorney General to bring lawsuits for pattern or practice of discrimination, and prohibiting nondisclosure agreements in police misconduct settlements.
The bill includes reforms to the state police, including allowing the Governor to select a colonel from outside the force. It also creates a state police cadet program and gives the colonel greater ability to apply discipline. Further, the bill creates a body camera taskforce to review all aspects of body camera use. The use of facial surveillance technology is prohibited pending the findings of the taskforce.
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, to move towards equity and justice, 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.
"This legislation is a major step forward on necessary work for greater police accountability and training, as well as efforts to prioritize community-based crisis response,” stated working group member Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton). “Thank you to Senators Chang-Díaz and Brownsberger for their stellar leadership and similar thanks to Senate President Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Rodrigues and their incredible teams for their tenacity and vision."
“While there is much work to be done to build a more just and equitable society for people of color, this legislation represents an important step in our work toward racial justice here in the Commonwealth,” said working group member Senator Nick Collins (D-Boston).
“I am proud of what we have been able to achieve with this legislation,” stated working group member Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury). “Change has long been needed to address social justice issues in the Commonwealth and this legislation is a step in the right direction.”
The Reform, Shift + Build Act is an initial step towards addressing issues of racial justice and equity in the Senate.