BOSTON (CBS) – The Massachusetts Senate passed a police reform bill after a 17-hour-long session that concluded with a vote early Tuesday morning. Lawmakers voted to pass the bill 30-7 around 4 a.m.
The bill would ban police from using choke-holds, create an independent oversight board, and certify officers. It would also create guidelines for use of force, police training on racism, and requires police to intervene if excessive force is used by a fellow officer.
“There is no doubt that we are in a difficult moment, both nationally and in our Commonwealth, but I’m proud of the Senate for listening to calls for racial justice and beginning the difficult work of reducing institutionalized violence, shifting our focus and resources to communities that have historically been negatively impacted by aggressive policing, and introducing many creative ideas to build greater equity and fairness in our Commonwealth,” said Senate President Karen Spilka.
The measure also clarifies the use of qualified immunity, which protects government employees from legal claims.
“Qualified immunity has been stretched well past its original intent and purpose. All too often serious and egregious cases of misconduct are protected by the doctrine,” said Sen. Becca Rauch on the debate floor.
Sen. William Brownsberger said the independent committee is “what’s really going to make a difference in the lives of bad officers. It’s going to make the lives of good officers better because it’s going to weed out the bad officers.”
Critics came down hard after the overnight passage of the bill.
“I stand here today as a black man who will unequivocally tell you that there is absolutely a need for change in policing, but we cannot correct centuries of wrongdoings in a few weeks,” said Boston Police Sgt. Eddy Chrispin, who heads up the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers.
“This bill is an insult,” said Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association representative Larry Calderone. “Its lack of public dialogue and discussion, its lack of proper hearings, and the general lack of transparency.”
He continued, “taxpayers: it’s going to cost you money for the tremendous amount of court cases that are going to have to be litigated.”
Carol Rose, Executive Director of ACLU Massachusetts said, “All these scare tactics that the police are bringing out, about how they’ll lose their homes or they’ll be personally liable, or they can’t recruit, those are all red herrings, that’s not what the law will do. Rather, what it would do is just offer a common-sense reform that would ensure the police are held accountable.”
The bill now goes to the house for debate. Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, who heads the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus hopes it passes before the legislative session ends. “July 31 is right around the corner,” said Gonzalez. “Shame on us if we can’t get something done because the people have demanded it, and government should obey the will of the people.”