On New Year’s Eve, Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation that creates a mandatory certification process for police officers, increases accountability and transparency in law enforcement, and gives police departments a greater ability to hire or promote only qualified applicants.

The new law creates a new civilian-led police oversight board – the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission – with subpoena power and decertification authority. The nine-member independent state entity will have the authority to establish policing standards, certify law enforcement officers, investigate allegations of misconduct, and suspend or revoke the certification of officers who are found by clear and convincing evidence to have violated its standards.

The duties of the state’s existing municipal police training committee will remain under the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

The reform law also bans chokeholds and limits “no-knock” warrants; creates a duty-to-intervene for police officers and a duty to de-escalate; bans racial profiling and puts enforcement powers behind the ban; and will end the requirement of police officers in schools.

The Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission will include six individuals from outside of law enforcement, and will also be responsible for investigating and adjudicating claims of misconduct, maintaining databases of training, certification, employment, and internal affairs records for all officers, and certifying law enforcement agencies. By creating a central entity to oversee officer certification, the commission will ensure that those officers’ training and misconduct records are available both to the commission and to those officers’ current and future employers, improving accountability.

Gov. Baker said Massachusetts now has “one of the best laws in the nation” on this “hugely important issue.”

“Police officers have enormously difficult jobs and we are grateful they put their lives on the line every time they go to work,” he said in a prepared statement. “Thanks to final negotiations on this bill, police officers will have a system they can trust and our communities will be safer for it.”

The much-anticipated law was developed with and endorsed by the Black and Latino Caucus and has the support of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

Former House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who resigned from the Legislature on Dec. 29, called the law “one of the most comprehensive approaches to police reform in the United States since the tragic murder of George Floyd,” whose killing at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis in May sparked nationwide protests.

Senate President Karen Spilka called the law “a necessary first step towards achieving systemic change.”

Gov. Baker amended the bill to strengthen its due process protections for law enforcement, add police labor representation on the commission, and strengthen the bill’s facial recognition provisions.

The new law identifies the general circumstances under which police officers can use physical force, and specifically bans the use of chokeholds and prohibits firing into a fleeing vehicle unless doing so is both necessary to prevent imminent harm and proportionate to that risk of harm. The law generally precludes officers from using rubber pellets, chemical weapons or canine units against a crowd. Violations of any of these provisions may provide grounds for an officer to have their certification suspended or revoked.

The law places strict limits on the use of so-called “no-knock” warrants, requiring such warrants to be issued by a judge and only in situations where an officer’s safety would be at risk if they announced their presence and only where there are no children or adults over the age of 65 in the home. The legislation provides for an exception when those children or older adults are themselves at risk of harm. The law requires law enforcement to seek a court order when conducting a facial recognition search except in emergency situations.

The legislation includes key provisions of the State Police reform legislation that the administration filed in January, providing new tools to improve accountability and discipline within the department and to enhance diversity in the department’s recruitment and promotional practices.

Final version of the policing reform bill that was signed by the governor (408K PDF)