The Massachusetts State Senate approved a sweeping police reform bill in a 30-7 vote in a session that stretched from Monday until the early hours of Tuesday this week. Among several reforms, the bill seeks to create a new certification process for police officers that is separate from police departments, ban the use of aggressive tactics like choke holds, and limit the use of tear gas.
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said the goal of the bill is to address three different areas: police misconduct, aggressive policing, and racism. During an interview with Boston Public Radio on Wednesday, Chang-Diaz said she hopes the bill can help make Massachusetts a leader in police reform by creating a robust certification process overseen by a new group called the Police Officers Standards and Accreditation Committee, which will also have the power to investigate police misconduct claims independent of district attorneys and police departments.
“This is something that 45 other states in the union have, some version of a system for certification and decertification. So, Massachusetts is way behind the curve in this regard,” Chang-Diaz said. “We’re hoping through this bill that we will actually sort of leapfrog the pack here, and go from having no system to having one of the strongest systems in the nation.”
Some, like Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, have called for legislation that would end the legal doctrine of qualified immunity, which shields government officials, like police officers, from civil lawsuits unless they violated a clearly established statutory or constitutional right that a reasonable person would have known about.
Though the Senate bill does not eliminate qualified immunity, Chang-Diaz said it does reduce the doctrine’s high standard to what she described as a more reasonable one.