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Massachusetts Governor Weighs Large Police Reform Bill

Gov. Charlie Baker is taking a cautious approach to the police reform bill on his desk, which includes — among other things — limits on facial recognition tech. Baker says clarity is needed to understand the limitations.

by Lisa Kashinsky, Boston Herald / December 7, 2020
The Massachusetts statehouse at dusk. Shutterstock/RozenskiP

(TNS) — Gov. Charlie Baker is playing his cards close to the vest over what he'll do about the sweeping police reform bill sitting on his desk.

"We're going to work our way through this thing from one end to the other," Baker said Sunday on WCVB's "On the Record," adding, "It's important given the significance of this issue that we make sure we get it right. And many of our colleagues in the Legislature didn't have a heck of a lot of time to look at this, in some cases less than 24 hours, and we're going to take our time to make sure we get it right."

Baker has until Friday to sign, veto or send the bill back to the Legislature with amendments, or he can let it become law without his signature by waiting out the 10-day review period.

The governor cheered the inclusion of reforms to the Massachusetts State Police. The compromise bill approved by the Legislature Tuesday includes items Baker had championed, such as allowing the head of the force to be appointed from outside the agency. It also makes it a crime to knowingly submit a fraudulent time sheet.

"Honestly the fact that the Legislature included virtually word for word all of the things we were looking for with respect to state police reform I thought was terrific," Baker said.

Baker said language restricting the use of facial recognition technology was "an issue we think we really need to chew on a bit."

"There's a commission that's created to study that issue in the bill, which made me wonder why they also chose to ban it at the same time," Baker said. "I want to make sure we understand exactly what's being banned and if there are purposes in which this is used to save lives and protect people, I think that's an important element."

Baker, while asked, did not directly address qualified immunity, a doctrine that protects officers from civil liability in instances of misconduct. The reform bill creates a committee to study qualified immunity and would revoke those protections in cases in which an officer's actions result in decertification.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley lauded several aspects of the bill — including decertification, limiting no-knock warrants and banning chokeholds — in an interview with WBZ's Jon Keller that aired Sunday.

"That being said, this national reckoning on racial injustice and specifically on police brutality has everything to do with accountability," Pressley said. "We will not have accountability without ending qualified immunity. It is an unjust doctrine."

Police unions have pushed Baker to veto the bill. The State Police Association of Massachusetts said the legislation "misses the mark."

©2020 the Boston Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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