Expert Panel Presents Roadmap And Challenges Related To Implementing Police Reform
Three very competent subject matter experts shared their insights and expertise on the issue of police reform with members and guests of the Massachusetts Association For Professional Law Enforcement (MAPLE), during a webinar conduct Wednesday evening April 28, 2021. The webinar was produced jointly by MAPLE and Stonehill College and it featured three panelists; Robert Ferullo – current executive director of the Mass Police Training Committee (MPTC); Attorney Joseph Kittredge – a specialist in police defense and Police Chief Frank Frederickson of the Yarmouth Police Department. MAPLE President Dennis Galvin moderated the event. Technical assistance was provided by MAPLE board members Anne Marie Rocheleau and Jason Paynich. 33 Members participated.
Robert Ferullo walked the attendees through the challenges faced by police trainers. The varying degrees of training and hours for reserve police officers have presented themselves as a major concern. Most notable were the Boston Police reserves and the intermittent reserve officers, who provide much of the police services in the western part of the state. Ferullo informed the webinar attendees that their hours of training are insufficient to qualify for certification under the new law. In order to meet the requirements, a “bridge academy” of 150 hrs is being planned. Reserve officers will be required to attend this academy on weekends. Reserve officers comprise about 20% of the total police compliment for the Commonwealth. Campus police officers are now fully grafted into the public policing community under this law, as are Deputy Sheriffs. One group that will face challenges are officers whose training was obtained out of state. This applies to about 40 chiefs and 300 officers. As of this time, the law does not recognize their training.
The law also calls for one statewide academy. This is also creating problems because a prospective site in western Massachusetts presents access problems for the bulk of attendees coming from eastern Massachusetts. Ferullo indicated that 12M has been set aside to fund the effort to achieve training compliance.
Attorney Kittredge presented a very detailed, power point focusing on the legal issues involved in the certification/decertification of officers and the impacts on the disciplinary process. He informed everyone that police officers have a constitutional right to their jobs. They can only be removed through due process. The law will impact the current disciplinary mechanism by inserting the Peace Officer’s Standards and Training Commission into the process. Chiefs are now mandated reporters. They are responsible for sending all complaints received on officers under their authority to the POST commission within 2 days. The local department has one year from the date of the receipt of a complaint to conduct and complete its internal investigation, at which time the POST commission can decide to accept the department’s investigation and findings or pursue a parallel investigation. When Chief’s conduct their investigation they will be required to offer a recommendation to the POST commission as to whether action on certification should be taken.
The POST commission will maintain a Division of Police Standards. This Division has been granted subpoena power and full investigative authority to conduct probes into police misconduct. The commission has the authority to compel testimony. Its’ investigations are confidential to a point, an officer must be given notice that he or she is the target of an investigation, within 30 days after receipt of the complaint. The key issue for officer’s is decertification. Attorney Kittredge addressed that issue directly. He indicated that there is a two-tiered level of infractions. which have separate burdens of proof and consequences. Officers who engage in activity involving such things misdemeanor offenses, or who exhibit behavior that warrants some form intervention can find their certifications suspended for a period of time. The evidentiary standards required to sustain such a suspension is “ preponderance of the evidence”. The next and most severe tier of offenses involve those in which decertification is permanent. These include instances where officers are charged with felonies, wrongful deaths, failure to intervene, choke holds and truthfulness issues. These offenses can result in revocation of certification. Findings to sustain such revocation must meet the standard of “clear and convincing” evidence. Attorney Kittredge explained that this standard was about 75% of the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard. He also pointed out that the POST process will operate outside of Civil Service. The current right to a “de noveau” review was not carried over to the POST adjudication process. Officers are permitted an appeal of their decertification under Chapter 30A, which involves a review by a superior court only on the question of fairness. Non-Disclosure Agreements are also permanently banned.
Rounding out the presentations was Chief Frank Frederickson, who updated the attendees on the current tensions and challenges faced by both officers and chiefs in the wake of the passage of the police reform law. He said that his personnel face on a daily basis: drug overdoses, the mentally ill, domestic violence issues. These tax the energy, patience and dedication of officers everywhere. Now they will face this heightened scrutiny. The Chief said that he and his officers are resolved to make this happen, to see that it is fully and properly implemented. However, he noted that there have been impacts on police recruitment. The most recent civil service exam saw 9,400 applicants which was significantly lower than the 12,000 which has been the average. He noted that many chiefs are retiring rather than face the challenges presented by police reform but he reiterated that he and his officer are in this to make it work.