By Chris Van Buskirk
State House News Service
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON – The newly-minted commission tasked with certifying and regulating law enforcement officers in Massachusetts has a long road ahead of them before members can dive into the bulk of their work, the chair of the body said Monday during a swearing-in ceremony.
Almost a year after George Floyd was killed while pinned at the neck by a Minneapolis police officer and two years since state officials began working on the idea of an oversight and adjudicative body that oversees law enforcement in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker swore in the nine members of the Police Officer Standards and Training Commission at the State House.
Former Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle, selected by Baker to lead the commission, said next steps include hiring an executive director, general counsel, finding suitable work space, determining a budget, and crafting a public database of decertified officers. The former judge said “it is impossible to determine” how long the hiring process will take.
“And then we will, as quickly as possible, with the assistance of the staff, start working on the dates that have been set forth in the statute with regard to setting certain standards. And those are pretty aggressive dates,” she told the News Service after the ceremony. “We will also be working with the Municipal Police Officers Association on the certification standards and we will start some dialogue immediately with regard to that.”
At least one key date is fast approaching. The commission needs to issue guidance by June 30 on “developmentally appropriate” de-escalation tactics and procedures for the use of force when minor children are involved. The guidance, according to the law, must take into account contextual factors like the person’s age, disability status, mental health, and linguistic limitations.
Most of the commission’s work kicks in on July 1, according to the statute, but much remains to be done ahead of that. The Republican governor said he has “probably inappropriately high” hopes for the commission.
“The training, accountability and transparency issues this commission will wrestle with are complex and highly charged,” he said during brief remarks at the ceremony. “But you start with a unifying principle that we all agree with, and that is we must raise our game here in the commonwealth if we wish to create a criminal justice system that is proactive, responsive and fair.”
The commission will need to tackle the job of creating a public database made up of three components: lists of decertified officers, suspended officers, and those who have been ordered to undergo retraining.
That information will help the POST commission cooperate with the national decertification index and other states to “ensure officers who are decertified by the commonwealth are not hired as law enforcement officers in other jurisdictions,” according to the law.
Speaking to the members before they were sworn in, Attorney General Maura Healey said each commissioner “is someone who brings an incredible depth and wealth of experience and circumstances.”
“They come with a shared commitment to help enhance accountability and transparency in our state and local law enforcement,” the attorney general said. “They’re ready to ensure enhanced training and to support our police officers. And they represent importantly, a diverse approach.”
The other eight members are Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn; Charlene Luma of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office; Lawrence Caldernone of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association; Boston Police Detective Larry Ellison; Marsha Kazarosian, a trial attorney at Kazarosian Costello LLP; Dr. Hanya Bluestone of Labyrinth Psychological Services; Clementina Chéry of Louis D. Brown Peace Institute; and Kimberly West of Ashcroft Law Firm.
The regulatory body was set up under police reform legislation Baker signed into law at the end of December after a lengthy negotiation process between the House and Senate. It was the subject of long, and at times tense, debates in each branch of the Legislature over the summer.
And it came in response to Floyd’s death last May, which sparked protests against police brutality and systemic racism across the nation. The Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, Derek Chauvin, was convicted last week of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
In Boston, Floyd’s death led to a series of massive peaceful gatherings throughout 2020 where protestors called on state and federal officials to implement policing reforms. Baker said conversations around creating a POST Commission between the administration and Black and Latino Legislative Caucus began two years ago.
“We were one of maybe a handful of states that actually passed major legislation last year around training and accountability and transparency in law enforcement,” he said during a press conference earlier in the day. “I would argue it got done in a way that reflected a lot of the hopes and aspirations of many of the people who protested and who marched, and many of the people who felt that this was long overdue.”
As for getting the commission up and running, Hinkle said she hopes members can start working immediately.
“My hope is that we will be able to start immediately now that we’ve been sworn in, that we will have our first business meeting as soon as we can mutually agree on the time to do that,” she said.