Interfaith Leaders Laud Police Reform Law; Look Forward to Monitoring its Implementation

“Millions around the world are marching and demonstrating to demand justice for Black lives,” said Beverly Williams, co-chair of Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO); “And thanks to the work of persistent organizers, legislators and leaders, Black and Latino Legislative Caucus members, and Governor Baker, the Commonwealth took a historic leap towards justice today. The era of total unaccountability is over.”

The Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement law signed by Governor Charlie Baker today brings Massachusetts forward as a national leader in police accountability reform. “The law creates a first-of-its-kind independent, community-inclusive Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) commission with investigatory, subpoena and decertification power,” said Alan Epstein, Strategy Team member of GBIO. “If the POST commission is empowered to its fullest, residents of the Commonwealth will no longer be subjected to unregulated racial profiling, excessive force, and limitless no-knock warrants, all of which disproportionately target our communities of color. This could be a game changer.”

“The key is what happens next,” said GBIO Executive Team member Rev. Ray Hammond of Bethel AME Church, Jamaica Plain. “The makeup of the commissions, and in particular the POST commission, will be carefully scrutinized to ensure that it is not a rubber stamp for the police unions and command structures. In addition, the rulemaking process will be monitored so that POST has real veto power over the use of force regulations that result. Our work is not done just because this law was passed.”

The POST commission will be authorized to oversee new certification standards for police officers. Most importantly, it empowers the commission with disciplinary oversight to determine whether officers may maintain their certification. Crucially, the law requires the commission to decertify officers in certain extreme cases, including if they fail to intervene when fellow officers engage in barred practices, and strips decertified officers of immunity from civil suits. 

“Hope, for me, comes from the fact that the Ten Point Coalition was part of a group of organizations that asked for an independent civilian review board with real subpoena power in Boston, starting almost thirty years ago,” said Rev. Hammond. “I wasn't sure I would live to see it happen in Boston, and I sure didn't expect to see it happen in Massachusetts, along with all the other items this bill contains. This bill is far from perfect, but for those of us who've been waiting and working for thirty years, it's a beautiful sight for sore eyes.”

“The health and well being of our community has required such a statute for a very long time,” said GBIO Executive Team member Dr. Jeanette Callahan of Bethel AME Church, Jamaica Plain. “Abuses by police have no place in our democracy, and what we have achieved with this law is a step towards real accountability for actions that harm residents and destroy neighborhoods. We can celebrate this watershed moment with eyes wide opened as the even harder and most crucial work begins. GBIO will fight to ensure that the commissions outlined in the law have sufficient funding to work toward our community’s welfare.”

With thousands of phone calls, emails, tweets, and meetings with legislators across the state, GBIO pushed hard for passage of a comprehensive reform law through every stage of the process. “In the days since this bill was put on the Governor’s desk, GBIO members and clergy sent over 1,400 calls, e-mails, and tweets demanding a significant bill,” said Rev. Burns Stanfield, co-chair GBIO Fourth Presbyterian, South Boston. “We are thrilled that Governor Baker and the legislature heard our voice and compromised by signing this historic bill into law.”

“While we are disappointed at the extent to which Governor Baker weakened the final bill,  we made very significant progress with this package,” said Sajid Shahriar, Strategy Team member of GBIO. “We think qualified immunity reform should have gone further so that individuals and families harmed by civil rights violations by law enforcement personnel are guaranteed their day in court without delay. Our long-term efforts will be directed not only to the makeup of the POST commission, but toward the work of the commission studying qualified immunity.”  

Many cases of police interventions resulting in civil rights violations are cases where policing was not the needed intervention. This law requires the Department of Health to study and propose alternatives to policing for crisis response situations. “Conversations with police officers support the fact that they are often not trained or equipped to manage mental health or school truancy emergencies,” said Dr. Callahan.  “Justice reinvestment, which made it into the final budget bill, is one way to shift our response towards alternative and more appropriate interventions to many of the psychosocial needs of our community. GBIO will be a strong voice in the fight to shift the needed resources and will be vigilant in monitoring implementation of this landmark legislation”.