There is no such thing as one bad apple. As science makes clear — a single rotting apple actually accelerates the rotting of the entire bunch.

This fact might not matter if the decaying fruit hadn’t come to symbolize the corrosion in our system of criminal justice. A system in which police accountability is more often the exception, not the rule. And the imagined single bad apple is part of a mythology used to excuse rampant brutality, unethical behavior, and even outright crimes by officers. You’ve heard the comments: ‘Most police officers are hard-working public servants; it’s just a few bad apples that give the rest of them a bad name.’

Heed the science, it just takes one to spread the rot.

And the lived experiences of victims of police misconduct tell an ugly story. It’s that reality that has long motivated protests against criminal justice abuses, calls for defunding the police and campaigns for legislative policy reform. Some veteran activists, especially, feel vindicated after last week when the Massachusetts House and Senate passed a police reform bill. Jamarhl Crawford, creator of the Blackstonian newspaper and a community organizer, told GBH News, "This came from decades of push from the grassroots and community folks, myself among them, who have pushed and prodded these people and informed these people on these issues for decades."

Most notably, the new bill would empower a civilian review board to remove officers found guilty of wrongdoing. And it would also require officers to be certified every three years, certification that can be denied for violations like excessive use of force.

Predictably, the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, the state’s largest police union, issued a statement criticizing the bill as “a final attack on police officers by lawmakers on Beacon Hill.”

From the outset, police officers complained they were left out of the process and claimed the then proposed measures were unnecessarily restrictive and would hamstring the way officers worked. Many were convinced that the Massachusetts reform was driven by public reaction to abuses elsewhere, specifically the death of Minnesota’s George Floyd, killed by police officer Derek Chauvin who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

But police misconduct happens here, too. From the documented terrorizing encounters, to the racialized stop and frisks, and the SWAT teams carrying out violent door knocking raids, often at the wrong address. That, plus the internal corruption detailed in cases like those of Sean Ellis — who spent 22 years in prison based on tainted Boston police evidence. What’s more, the city has paid out millions of dollars in settlements to victims because of police abuse.

There’s always been plenty of debate about the extent of police abuse and the culture in which it thrives. This bill reflects the tension of lawmakers’ effort to support corrective measures preventing police abuse, as well as their reluctance to repudiate police.

The strength of the bill is at risk, since lawmakers failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to override amendments from Gov. Charlie Baker.

But, if this carefully crafted policy compromise is significantly watered down, then I fear it may be impossible to get rid of the stink of rotting apples.