2020 brought substantial scrutiny to policing nationwide. This scrutiny led the Massachusetts Legislature to enact Chapter 253 of the Acts of 2020, An Act Relative to Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement in the Commonwealth. Once signed by Governor Baker, what has come to be known as the police reform law overhauled police tactics, called for study of issues like qualified immunity, and perhaps most significantly created the Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (“POST Commission”).
The legislation created a nine-member POST Commission to carry out 29 specifically enumerated statutory functions. Its authority includes setting minimum standards for law enforcement officers, certifying applicants, denying applicants, revoking certifications, conducting investigations, certifying agencies, conducing adjudicatory proceedings, referring cases for criminal prosecution, among other duties.
The POST Commission must setup a Division of Police Certification, which functions as a licensing authority for law enforcement officers and police agencies. This Division certifies qualified applicants and maintains data about law enforcement officers and agencies statewide.
The POST Commission must also setup a Division of Police Standards, which functions in some respects as a statewide internal affairs division. However, it is not internal, and the POST Commission has subpoena power. It may conduct its own investigations, and law enforcement agencies must provide the results of its internal affairs investigations to the Division of Police Standards. The Division of Police Standards’ mandate includes tracking data on unprofessional police conduct, police bias, excessive force, police actions causing to serious injury and death, untruthfulness, agency discipline.
The POST Commission must revoke the certification of law enforcement officers for 16 enumerated reasons, including conviction of a felony, knowingly filing a false police report, use of excessive force resulting in death or serious bodily injury, failure to intervene to prevent another officer from engaging in excessive force, among others. The POST Commission possesses discretion to suspend or revoke certification in more limited circumstances. It may also order a law enforcement officer to complete retraining.
The POST Commission’s mandate is one of transparency and accountability. Thus, its databases are available to police agencies and it must report considerable data that it collects in an annual report to the Legislature.
The POST Commission’s decisions are subject to appeal like any other administrative agency’s decision pursuant to G.L. c. 30A.
The POST Commission’s legislative mandate is substantial. Standing up a new agency from scratch is a daunting task. Needless to say, the inaugural POST Chair and Commissioners have their work cut out for them. Once the POST Commission begins its work, it is my hope that its regulations and transparency will provide better guidance to law enforcement officers, leading to results that keep the public safe and restores the public’s faith.
Written by Patrick Hanley