Police Union Brings Suit Over Transparency and Due Process Issues
In December 2020, Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation creating the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. The bill was signed in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. Opponents of the bill warned that it was not ready for prime time and was a knee jerk reaction to that horrendous incident, but the proponents prevailed and the bill became law. It has now been over eighteen months since the law was enacted and issues relating to transparency and due process are emerging.
Michael Perreira, the labor relations manger for the Massachusetts Coalition Of Police, ( MassCOPS), one of the state’s larger and more reputable police unions, was the featured speaker at MAPLE”s 13th general membership meeting held yesterday in Harvard MA. Perreira painted a disconcerting picture about the rollout of this legislation, raising a concern that the orientation of the commission may be more political than professional.
The first issue cited by Perreirra was transparency. The Commission began utilizing subcommittees to address the plethora of issues that it was confronting. However, the meetings of these subcommittees were never posted and minutes were not kept, which are all violations of the state’s open meeting law. Perreirra disclosed that his union made numerous requests for meeting postings and for minutes and these were all ignored. Consequently, the union filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office and the open meeting law violations where affirmed. The Secretary directed POST to ensure that minutes were provided and that all meetings were posted. This directive was ignored. The Commission did agreed to stop its subcommittee activity and to conduct all its work in public, but the minutes of past meetings have yet to be provided. The union has filed suit in order to force the production of these documents. The law suit has been joined by the Boston Police Detectives union and the Boston Police Superior Officer’s union.
Perreirra noted that there were also issues related to due process. The POST commission does not directly control an officer’s employment. The commission only controls his status to work, which is done through licensing. When an officer faces a suspension or a decertification of his/her license, the law currently allows for a judicial review, under MGL Chapter 30A Section 14. This law limits the scope of the review to only the procedural aspects of the proceedings, not the substantive issues. Perreirra said that his union has filed H1723 through state representative Lawn of Watertown that would change the scope of the review to a “de novo” process, where all facts could be examined.
Other actions have called the mission of the POST commission into question. Perreirra noted that the original scope of POST was standardizing police training. The scope expanded to include licensing with decertification authority for specific infractions such as; untruthfulness, criminal activity and excessive force. This has now expanded further into areas involving the personal ethics and morality of individual officers. The Commission has issued a questionnaire to every Chief of Police in Massachusetts, who has been ordered to have each officer under his/her authority complete it by July 31stof this year. Questions include: whether the officer has paid all taxes owed; whether an officer has ever been served with a restraining order, and whether officers are aware of anything in their past that would preclude them from serving as police officers? These questions must also be answered truthfully under the penalty of possible suspension or decertification of license. Perrierra described the questionnaire as a gross violation of fifth amendment rights. He said that the questions were “unfair and vague”, and exceeded the jurisdiction of the commission.
Perreirra pointed to some adjustments to POST policy that were influenced by the active involvement of his union. When the body camera regulations were promulgated, the commission had originally intended to prohibit officers from reviewing body camera footage before writing their report. Masscops was able to change this so that now officers may review body camera footage before writing reports, provided their department permits this. The union tried to clarify some issues with regard to complaints against officers. The Commission has the disciplinary files of every officer in the Commonwealth. In rendering their decisions they were going to utilize all offense in an officer’s record to determine eligibility for licensing. The union was able to reach an agreement to the effect that lookbacks can occur only if an officer is facing a similar violation in the current time. Masscops also has legislation filed to make filing a false complaint against a police officer a felony.