Out of more than 8,500 law enforcement officers who must meet the state's new policing standards by Friday, at least seven will not be approved for recertification by the new Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission and could be barred from the profession in Massachusetts.
Executive Director Enrique Zuniga said Thursday morning that the POST Commission has the necessary information to process recertification applications for 6,366 of the 8,567 officers whose certifications expire as of July 1, and another 2,181 officers are under an extension for their agencies. Zuniga said the commission estimates there are 20 officers up for recertification who work for agencies that have not properly applied for an extension.
Of the 6,366 officers whose recertification applications are ready to be processed, 5,606 or 88 percent will be recertified and 693 or about 11 percent are on track to be recertified with some minor conditions. The recertification applications of 60 officers will need further review, Zuniga said, and seven will not be recertified. Departments will be informed of the recertification status of their officers Friday.
The law that created the POST Commission certified all officers who completed training by July 1, 2021 and set out a three-year cycle of recertification based on each officer's last name. All law enforcement officers with last names starting with letters A through H are supposed to be recertified by July 1, 2022. Without that certification, a person cannot be hired or employed as a law enforcement officer in Massachusetts.
The POST Commission's initial determination not to grant recertification to those seven officers does not necessarily mean that those officers will be off the job Friday. The commission said an officer deemed "not certified" can seek a review within 21 days.
"Until the conclusion of any review or hearing or the expiration of the time for seeking review or hearing, the application for recertification previously submitted will not be deemed 'finally determined' by POST. During such time, an officer will be deemed conditionally certified, and thus 'certified' as that term is used in" the statute, the POST Commission says in an FAQ page on its website. "If, at the conclusion of that period, the certification is not maintained, the statute will preclude all Massachusetts law enforcement agencies from appointing or employing that person as a law enforcement officer unless the person is certified anew in the future."
The 2,181 officers who are under an extension mostly work for the state's two largest police departments, the State Police (980 officers) and Boston Police (882 officers). There are five agencies — Tolland Police, Swampscott Police, Wellesley College, St. Vincent Hospital and Cambridge Health Alliance — that have not yet submitted the rosters of their officers who are due to be recertified that are required for their extensions.
And one agency — the Franklin County sheriff's office — had not submitted anything to the POST Commission as of Wednesday, Zuniga said.
"But I believe they will submit something literally today," he said Thursday morning. "So I'm fairly confident that we will get close to 100 percent compliance."
Also Thursday morning, the POST Commission voted unanimously to revise use of force regulations to clarify the outright prohibition on chokeholds that the Legislature baked into the 2020 policing reform law. Members of the POST Commission said that representatives brought to their attention the fact that the language of a regulation related to sitting, standing or kneeling on a person's neck could be interpreted by officers as allowing them to engage in conduct that would constitute a banned chokehold.
"Clearly, what we were trying to do is to make sure that we mirrored or were consistent with the ... statute that bars chokeholds and there is no exception for anything. It just bars chokeholds," Marsha Kazarosian, a trial attorney appointed to the POST Commission by Attorney General Maura Healey, said. "And this, without this clarification, does cause some confusion. And I know it has been a concern by at least a couple of the representatives, they've reached out to us about trying to resolve this."
The change that the commission unanimously approved Thursday would remove the word "neck" from one section of the regulation and add to the end of that paragraph a new sentence that will say, "In no event may a law enforcement officer intentionally sit, kneel, or stand on an individual's neck."
The entire new provision would read: "Except to temporarily gain, regain or maintain control of an individual and apply restraints, a law enforcement officer shall not intentionally sit, kneel, or stand on an individual's chest or spine, and shall not force an individual to lie on their stomach. In no event may a law enforcement officer intentionally sit, kneel, or stand on an individual's neck."
The change cannot take effect unless the Municipal Police Training Committee also approves of it.
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn, who serves on the POST Commission, said he was part of a briefing with state representatives about the use of force regulations and "I understood their need for clarification."
"I've been teaching this stuff for a long time and this is already prohibited conduct, so I don't have any problems with amending the language," Wynn said.