POST Commission’s Intents and Purposes Discussed
Senator William Brownsberger, President “Pro-Tempore” of the Massachusetts State Senate, and key member of the conference committee, that brokered the passage of the 2020 Police Reform bill, addressed MAPLE’s December 15th General Membership meeting held at Stonehill College, and shared his personal insight into the legislature’s intent in passing the bill. He said there was a sense that “a crisis of confidence” had developed in society about policing, and while he did not believe that the majority of officers would ever put their knee on a man’s neck, as was done in Minneapolis, he believed it was still necessary to ensure, that persons with concerns and complaints relating to police abuse, had somewhere to register them. The POST Commission (POST -C) is now that place.
The Senator said that the Police Reform law seeks the same goals and objectives as MAPLE, which are to improve the performance and quality of the police service, and in doing so, elevate its public reputation. “Gone are the days, when someone can simply put on a badge and holster a firearm, and go out and direct traffic at Foxborough Stadium”, he said. He added: “not that they can’t do it, but they won’t do it as sworn police officer.” Senator Brownsberger said POST licensing and certification will extend to all sworn personnel, from the rank of patrol officer, up to and including the rank of Chief. All sworn ranks are subject to POST standards.
POST priorities were discussed. The Senator identified them as “ the investigation of allegations related to abuse of force, evidence tampering and truthfulness.” Responsibility for routine disciplinary matters related to the administrative and operational control of a local department would be retained by that jurisdiction. Senator Brownsberger noted that there is a very close interface between the POST commission and the Municipal Police Training Counsel ( MPTC), which he described as a law enforcement body. He noted that this was particularly true on matters involving use of force policy. He specifically commented on the prohibition against choke holds, noting that the legal prohibition was very specific, it did not prohibit contact with the neck, but only deliberate efforts to purposely render a person unconscious, by cutting off their oxygen flow.
Senator Brownsberger expressed confidence in the competence of the POST commission. He said that former superior court justice Margaret Hinckle sets an excellent deliberative tone as the chair. He said that the intent of the legislature was to establish an independent, citizens commission, reflecting those disciplines, that impact policing, in order to provide direction and oversight to the police service. The Commission stands alone in the discharge of its duties and does not report to either the Governor or the Attorney General, who appoint the members. The Senator made it a point to mention POST commissioner Clementia Chery, of Roxbury, whose son was a victim of gang violence. The Senator expressed his pride in the commission and in the police reform law itself, suggesting that Massachusetts broke new ground.
In a very generous and open question and answer period, MAPLE members had the opportunity to ask the Senator about particular concerns. One question involved “look back” authority on misconduct, particularly that related to officers, who have been placed on “Brady Lists” (a list of officers prohibited from testifying because of credibility issues). The Senator said that the commission had the discretion to look back, at past circumstances, if they believed it was necessary. Another question was related to the final disposition of complaints. Would the commission be authorized to exonerate a police officer, if an investigation found that an officer acted appropriately ? The Senator responded that he believed repeated investigations involving one officer would be rare. If multiple complaints were received on a particular officer, that would raise concerns. He also noted that the level of proof required to actually revoke a certification was governed by the “clear and convincing” evidence standard. As to the release of information about investigative outcomes, the Senator said that the commission has the authority to set that policy.
In closing Senator Brownsberger said that he understood the frustration that Massachusetts police officers often feel, when some glaring act of misconduct occurs in some other part of the United States, leading to action taken here to restrict their discretion or heighten oversight, but he shared that it is the same with politicians. One brush seems to paint all and he stoically remarked: “that is something that we are all just going to have to live with”.