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Police reform bill needs changes, not passage

Boston Herald logo Boston Herald 12/12/2020 Boston Herald editorial staff
Charlie Baker wearing a suit and tie: BOSTON, MA. - DECEMBER 9:  Governor Charlie Baker updates the CommonwealthÕs COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan on December 9, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald) © Provided by Boston Herald BOSTON, MA. - DECEMBER 9: Governor Charlie Baker updates the CommonwealthÕs COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan on December 9, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

While it won’t gain him any points with progressives, Gov. Charlie Baker’s move to send the police reform bill back to the Legislature with amendments deserves kudos.

Police reform legislation has been top of mind for civil rights, police leadership and lawmakers of both parties since protests around the country this spring following the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

“Abolish the police” and “defund the police” have been the rallying cries of many marches, with little to no distinction made between the actions of officers in Minneapolis and Kenosha and police departments around the country.

And as various iterations of police reform are enacted across the U.S., it begs the question: is the legislation about addressing problems within respective law enforcement units and working to better practices and community engagement, or is it punitive redress for historic injustices?

Baker’s move injects a welcome note of reasoned scrutiny.

In a memo to lawmakers this week, Baker agreed the bill “overall … promotes improved police accountability” but rejected some provisions he said “introduce barriers to effective administration and the protection of public safety.”

At issue: facial recognition technology and police training.

Baker said he would not sign a bill that bans police from using facial recognition systems to solve crimes or leaves the development of training programs for police to a civilian-controlled commission.

“This is about making compromise and I’m ready to do that on almost everything with respect to improving accountability for law enforcement. But there are parts of this bill that were never part of that conversation about accountability that I can’t support,” Baker told the State House News Service.

The compromise bill before Baker includes a nine-member Peace Officer Standards and Training certification system that skews the balance toward the civilian side. Civilian input is important, but diluting the impact of experienced officers with knowledge of police operations is more about virtue signaling than advancing practices to better serve the community.

The Massachusetts Coalition of Police Executive Board weighed in on the legislation, citing flaws “that do harm to public safety, police officers and their families, and do nothing to achieve the Commonwealth’s goal of enhancing the professionalism and accountability of police and protecting the civil rights of all citizens.”

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley wants lawmakers to reject Baker’s amendments, calling recognition technology “fundamentally flawed and discriminatory.”

“The whole reason why we have a crisis of police brutality and mass incarceration has everything to do with communities that have historically been under-resourced and over-surveyed and police, that has to be rejected outright,” Pressley said on GBH Friday morning. “I’m calling on all state legislators to strike down these amendments. They’re weakening what is already a modest proposal given the depth of the hurt caused by generations of brutality by police unchecked.”

Police need tools and resources to do their job of keeping people safe. Communities that have historically been treated unfairly need to have equal treatment and law enforcement responsive to their concerns.

The two approaches to police reform can co-exist — with respect from both sides.

Baker’s move strikes the right note.

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