QUALIFIED IMMUNITY AND POLICE HIRING REFORMS RATIFIED

Police Leadership and State Mental Health Dysfunction Will Be Addressed in 2022

The General Membership of the Massachusetts Association For Professional Law Enforcement (MAPLE) ratified the work of two committees, formally endorsing support for the retention of the Massachusetts Qualified Immunity statue, MGL Chapter 258 Section 9, and calling for a roll back of the Absolute Veteran’s Preference civil service standard for police hiring, coupled with an upgrade in the educational requirements for police officer candidates.

           President Galvin presented the work of the “Ad Hoc” committee on Qualified Immunity, which he chaired.  The committee did extensive research on the history of the so-called Federal “Qualified Immunity” doctrine.    The doctrine which evolved following the enactment of 42USC section 1983 during the reconstruction era, extended a “good faith” defense to public officials, who are sued under a statue, for civil rights violations.  The original statute imposed strict liability for any infringement upon an individual’s civil liberties, even if  probable cause could be offered as a defense.  The US Supreme Court permitted a good faith defense for an action brought under the statute in Pearson v Ray in 1961.   During the course of the last two years, the police defund movement and police critics have sought to abolish the doctrine seeking to impose the strict civil liability standard on police.    By endorsing the Ad Hoc Committee’s report, MAPLEgave its support to the Massachusetts Qualified Immunity Statute (MGL Chapter 258 section 9) which extends indemnification of up to one million dollars to government officials, providing that  the official(s) accused of a violation of civil rights, can establish, that the action precipitating the suit, was taken within the legitimate scope of duties. 

           Marcel Beausoleil, the chair of MAPLE’s Standards Committee, presented a case for rolling back the absolute veteran’s preference standard under the Massachusetts civil service system, toward a more competitive point system, similar to that of Federal Civil Service.  Evidence was presented that the “Absolute Veteran’s Preference” policy has been a detriment toward hiring qualified candidates, because it has excluded large pools of qualified persons, and the exclusionary standard itself has no relevance to job requirements.   It was also recommended that residential preference be abolished as well, and that the overarching public policy governing all police hiring, must be the identification and selection of the best qualified candidate.  The committee also urged the adoption of an educational requirement consisting of the successful completion of a 60 credit hour college level course of study in subjects related to policing. These courses would be selected and approved by the POST Commission.  Evidence was presented that the nature of policing is becoming increasingly more complex, requiring more developed academic skills, and that officers with higher educational preparation are less likely to resort to force.

           Members were provided a direct report from the street by member Timothy Galvin, a  municipal police officer in a medium sized city in Massachusetts.  He described the bulk of the service calls as involving domestic violence, drug and alcohol intoxication and dealing with the mental ill.   Galvin said that the intensity of the demand has increased over the past five years since he has been on the street.  He noted that there is considerable anxiety among officers overthe rollout of POST, which is forcing many officers to retire, transfer to non-patrol units or simply leave the department.  He advised that 15 officers have left his department over the course of the past year creating an acute personnel crisis, which is creating significant stress among the officers, who have remained.

             The “report from the street” was followed by a higher level look at police management across the country.   Member Ed Denmark, an international police consultant, related his observations and assessments from two significant assignments, he has been involved with, reviews of Minneapolis and Chicago Police.    Denmark described events during the violent summer of 2020 in Minneapolis, following the murder of George Floyd.  The city was the scene of continuous rioting night after night.  In one instance a mob attacked one of the precinct stations trapping officers inside.   Repeated calls for help from the trapped officers went unheeded until a tactical commander decided to break protocols and rescue the officers from the precinct.  In Chicago, the Mayor’s office, the Chief of Police and the Police Union are at constant loggerheads making any unified action impossible.  The lack of cooperation is now obstructing the implementation of a Federal Consent Decree.  Denmark commented that both of these departments have proper policies in place, they have POST oversight commissions, they have consultants ready to assist, but the problem is a complete and utter lack of leadership.   No one seems to want to take charge and this deficiency is rooted in the civilian authority, which has ultimate oversight over police operations.  Quoting Sir Robert Peele, Denmark said, “ the police are the people and the people are the police”.   He added; “if we are looking for someone to blame” for the problems affecting the police, everyone should look in the mirror.”  Until we come to common agreement about what we expect from our police, the chaos will continue.    

             A round table discussion followed Denmark’s presentation.  The membership conveyed its expectation that the strategic planning committee would address issues relating to police leadership.   On a unanimous vote the membership also directed that a committee be formed to make recommendations concerning the apparent breakdown in state mental health care, which now seems to be falling on police agencies to solve.           

            In other business, several members were recognized for their contributions during the year. Certificates of Recognition were issued to Ed Denmark, Marcel Beausoliel, Anne Marie Rocheleau, James Martin, Arthur McLaughlin and Ralph Mroz for their work on police hiring standards.   James Marr, Jason Paynich, Kathleen Dennehy and Joe Kittredge were recognized for their work on the Qualified Immunity issue.   Former MAPLE Secretary Robert Murphy was presented with a plaque commemorating his four years of continuous service on the Board of Directors.  Bill Rose, the MAPLE treasurer reported that the balance in the treasury is currently $3,120.22 and that final payment to the law offices of Liz Reinhardt, regarding our incorporation, was made in July, clearing that cost item off our books.  Special thanks to members Anne Marie Rocheleau and Kathy Dennehy, who helped to plan this event, and to Anne Marie who actually did the nuts and bolts organizing.

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