Time for standardized police training in Massachusetts?
Mass. has standards, but currently no one enforces them
IT HAS LONG BEEN KNOWN that Massachusetts is lacking in its standardization of police training – but there was little urgency on Beacon Hill to do anything about it. Now, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the resulting national outcry over police brutality may be the impetus needed to finally reform the process.
Nowhere is the problem laid out more clearly than in a November 2019 report by state auditor Suzanne Bump.
The problem is not standards. Massachusetts actually has some of the strictest standards in the nation for police training, requiring all police officers to undergo 40 hours of in-service police training annually.
However, it is left up to each municipal police department to enforce the training requirement, and no one at a state level tracks whether police officers actually undergo the training.
The state has a Municipal Police Training Committee, but as The Republican/MassLive.com reported in a 2019 story on Bump’s report, the agency is inadequate to fulfill police training needs. There are few courses available, not enough instructors, and the facilities lack even a firearms range or vehicle track. Some larger departments conduct in-house training, while smaller departments cobble together training regimens through neighboring police departments, outside consultants, or online courses. Departments also need the money to pay officers – and the officers who cover their shifts – to attend trainings.
One proposal to address this inconsistency is a POST system, or Police Officer Standards and Training. POST is a method used in 45 states where a central system sets standards for police training, tracks each officer’s training, and can decertify officers for misconduct.
Bills to move Massachusetts to a POST system have been languishing on Beacon Hill for years.
The Boston Globe broke the news Wednesday that Gov. Charlie Baker is preparing to introduce a bill that would create a POST system to certify – and decertify – officers, based off a working group he created last year.
Also Wednesday evening, House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced that he was outlining legislation, along with the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, to create an independent Office of Police Standards and Professional Conduct, which would write statewide policies and procedures for law enforcement and provide statewide oversight and accountability, including officer certification and enhanced training.
Attorney General Maura Healey has come out in favor of POST.
The Senate’s position is unknown, although Senate President Karen Spilka announced Wednesday that she was creating a Senate advisory group on racial justice, led by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and President Pro Tempore Will Brownsberger. Chang-Diaz is part of the Black and Latino caucus, which released a 10-point plan to address police misconduct, which includes support for POST.
It remains to be seen if calls for “defunding” the police could shift to “reallocating” police money to make sure all officers are properly trained.