The nine members of the new Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission took office on April 26 and began the hard work of implementing core reforms called for in the landmark policing reform law enacted last December.

The law and the rules developed by the commission, created by the law, will result in enhanced oversight and regulation of local police officers and departments as the state moves to improve accountability for policing practices and police officers and departments.

In addition to new rules on allowable policing practices, the law calls for enhanced training obligations and a variety of record keeping and reporting requirements for local government that will be implemented over the next year.

The Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission includes three members appointed by the governor, three members appointed by the attorney general, and three members appointed jointly by the governor and the attorney general. The chair of the commission is former superior court judge Margaret Hinkle.

After hiring an executive director and staff, the commission will begin to tackle the ambitious agenda set in the law (Chapter 253 of the Acts of 2020), including establishing minimum standards for the certification of police officers and police departments and setting rules governing suspension and revocation. The commission will also maintain a database with records for each certified police officer, including complaints, investigations and disciplinary actions. The policing reform law requires cities and towns to file disciplinary records of current police officers with the commission by Sept. 30 and records for former officers by Dec. 1.

Within the commission is a Division of Police Certification charged with setting uniform policies and standards for the certification of law enforcement officers. The reform law requires the division to work with the Municipal Police Training Committee in setting minimum certification standards.

Another part of the commission is a Division of Police Standards, charged with investigating officer misconduct and making disciplinary recommendations to the commission. Local police departments will be required to notify the standards division of any complaint and the results of a local investigation. The commission is empowered to act as the primary civil enforcement agency for violations of the law.

Special commissions
While the policing reform law covers a range of policing and justice issues, it also set up more than a dozen special commissions to take a look at a variety of sometimes-contentious issues that couldn’t be resolved during legislative deliberations last year. The MMA has representatives on two of the legislative commissions.

Special Legislative Commission on Civil Service and Personnel Practices: The law established a 29-member special legislative commission to study and examine the civil service law, personnel administration rules, hiring procedures and bylaws for municipalities not subject to the civil service law and state police hiring practices. The MMA has one representative on this commission, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting on May 5. This is an important commission for the MMA to pursue longstanding workplace diversity proposals.

A related 21-member special legislative commission will study the establishment of a statewide law enforcement officer cadet program. The MMA is not represented on this commission.

Special Legislative Commission on Qualified Immunity: The law established a 15-member special legislative commission to investigate and study the impact to the administration of justice of the qualified immunity doctrine in Massachusetts. The MMA has one representative on this commission, which was scheduled to hold its first meeting on April 30.

Alternative Emergency Response Practices: The law requires the existing Community Policing and Behavioral Health Advisory Council to study and make recommendations for creating a crisis response and system of care system that delivers alternative emergency services and programs, including identification of crisis response training programs and protocols for law enforcement officers and 911 telecommunicators that reflect best practices.

Written by