SJC lobbies lawmakers on police reform

As conference committee members negotiate a final version of a police reform bill, the committee’s senators just got a powerful ally: The Supreme Judicial Court. The SJC on Thursday, in an unusual move, explicitly urged the Legislature to pass a provision that the Senate included in its bill mandating the collection of more racial data on traffic stops.

“This type of data collection would help protect drivers from racially discriminatory traffic stops, and also would protect police officers who do not engage in such discriminatory stops,” Justice Frank Gaziano wrote for the majority of the court in Commonwealth v. Edward Long.

The SJC decision makes it easier for a black defendant to claim in court that he was subjected to a traffic stop because of his race, so any evidence gathered from the stop should be suppressed.

Until now, the standard for proving racial profiling, handed down in the 2008 Lora case, required statistical analysis of other stops in that jurisdiction. In Thursday’s ruling, the court decided this was too difficult a bar to meet, and they set up a new test involving the specific circumstances of the traffic stop at issue.

The reason the court decided the statistical test was too large a burden is that a lack of available data about racial profiling in police traffic stops made it too difficult for defendants to gather the information.

In 2000, the Legislature passed a law requiring police departments that appeared to have engaged in racial profiling to collect detailed data on stops made by each officer, including the race of each driver. But the law expired, and nothing replaced it. As Gaziano wrote in the opinion, “Our effort to ease the burden on defendants has been unsuccessful due to inadequate or inaccessible data.”

The most recent statewide data set made available about racial profiling was a report compiled by Northeastern University researchers in 2004, which found that 249 of the state’s 336 police departments appeared to have engaged in racial or gender profiling.

In 2019, the Legislature passed a bill prohibiting the use of handheld cell phones while driving. Amid concerns that the law would be enforced in a racially discriminatory way, the Legislature included a requirement that the police record details about every traffic stop that results in a ticket or written warning, including the driver’s race. An annual report will be released with consolidated traffic stop data by town. No report has yet been released.

However, many advocates for racial justice warned when the bill was passed that the data collection provisions were inadequate. In a police accountability bill being considered this year, the Senate included in its version a provision that would replace the 2019 law with more expansive data collection.

The Senate bill – which the SJC is now urging lawmakers to adopt — would require data collection on traffic stops by officer, rather than by department, and make that information available to municipalities and the Registry of Motor Vehicles. It would require police officers to collect demographic data on all traffic stops, not only those that result in written citations. It would require each police department to publish a statistical analysis of the department’s stop and search data. The House version of the bill does not include the provision.

Justice Kimberly Budd, in a concurring opinion, said neither the 2019 law nor the 2020 bill would be adequate to show evidence in court since officer-level data would not be public. She added, “If past is prologue, we have no assurance that such information will be available in the future.”

Matthew Segal, an attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts, said the lack of adequate racial profiling data is the fault of the Legislature and the police, and puts an unfair burden on victims of racial profiling. “We know from our own advocacy for years on this, it’s like pulling teeth to get data from police departments,” Segal said in an interview.

Despite growing pressure to get the police accountability done quickly, it remains behind the closed doors of the conference committee. Whether the SJC’s views will matter remains to be seen.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

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Grappling with “driving while black,” the Supreme Judicial Court sets a lower bar for proving racial profiling during traffic stops. The court separately expanded a 2016 ruling that held that it’s not evidence of guilt when black people flee police; now “nervous or evasive behavior” can’t be used, either.

School districts are coming up short on reporting school-based arrests of students.

Although state tax revenues are up 3.1 percent through the first two months of this fiscal year, Senate budget chief Michael Rodrigues is projecting a $5 billion shortfall for the year. (State House News)

The Baker administration’s revised medical parole rules draw fire for continuing to discourage the release of medically incapacitated inmates.

Boston leads an effort protesting a major hike in naturalization fees.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB            

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker gets his flu shot as he urges others to do the same. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Gateways Podcast hosts Mayors Kim Driscoll of Salem, Jon Mitchell of New Bedford, and Dan Rivera of Lawrence to talk about their challenges during the pandemic.

Worcester is newly designated a high-risk community, and the city manager attributes the uptick in cases to family gatherings where people not in the same household are not wearing masks. (MassLive)

A former Fall River school that a local developer bought four years ago for $5,000 with a promise to turn it into a boutique hotel has been boarded up by the city after sitting idle and falling into further disrepair. (Herald News)

Black Lives Matter demonstrators and demonstrators supporting local police both staked out ground to promote their views at a Scituate rotary. (Patriot Ledger)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A heavily criticized recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on who should get tested for coronavirus was not written by CDC scientists and was posted on the CDC website despite their objections. (New York Times)

Lower levels of vitamin D levels are associated with higher risk of contracting coronavirus, according to a study co-authored by a Boston University School of Medicine professor. (Boston Herald)

State health officials have logged nearly 1,000 complaints about violations of the state’s reopening guidelines. (The Salem News)

A new UMass Medical School survey finds four in 10 Americans would refuse or would hesitate to get a COVID-19 vaccine. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump described efforts to teach children about racism and slavery an insult to the nation’s founding principles and vowed to establish a commission to promote “pro-American curriculum” in US schools — though the federal government has no authority over local school curriculum. (Washington Post)

US Sen. Ed Markey urges the FCC to take steps to boost internet connectivity for students learning from home. (MassLive)

ELECTIONS

The Globe’s James Pindell says new polling this week suggests “the bottom might be falling out” on President Trump’s reelection bid in a way similar to the downward shift in numbers for John McCain at this point in the 2008 race.

Olivia Troye, who served as a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence and senior advisor on the White House coronavirus task force and describes herself as a lifelong Republican, said she will vote for Joe Biden because of what she called President Trump’s “flat-out disregard for human life” in handling the pandemic. (Washington Post)

Republican Caroline Colarusso, who is challenging US Rep. Katherine Clark, charged that her opponent is too busy jockeying for the assistant speaker post in the House to worry about issues in her district. (Boston Herald)

In his bid to unseat Sen. Ed Markey, Republican Kevin O’Connor is channeling Scott Brown. (WBUR)

John Oliveira, a Trump-supporting New Bedford school committee member, has installed an electric fence around his campaign lawn sign for the president after he says his Trump signs were repeatedly stolen. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Waltham-based Raytheon plans to eliminate more than 15,000 jobs. (Associated Press)

EDUCATION

Northeastern University will not back down from its suspension of 11 freshmen for violating pandemic guidelines, but it will refund about three-quarters of the $36,500 cost of their first-semester program. (Boston Globe)

The Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, a union-backed education advocacy group, is stripped of its tax exempt status due to a failure to file paperwork. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Boston’s school superintendent said Monday could be a bumpy start to the school year. (Boston Globe) Advocates say hundreds of Boston students have not received laptops they requested from the district. (Boston Globe)

Vocational technical schools try to figure out how to teach hands-on skills in a time of COVID-19, with limited opportunity for in-person education. (Telegram & Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Wildfires on the West Coast are causing hazy skies in Massachusetts. (Telegram & Gazette)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Jury trials are set to begin next month in Massachusetts on a limited basis. (State House News)

The Cambridge Police Department is investigating racist tweets posted by a police lieutenant. (Associated Press)

The Springfield Republican editorial board urges Gov. Charlie Baker to appoint an SJC justice from Western Massachusetts.

The Berkshire Eagle digs deeper on the traffic stop and license status of Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, but the full story remains a bit murky.

MEDIA

Biogen, which has been mostly in the news of late because of its February conference in Boston that became one of the first US coronavirus “superspreader” events, will now team up with the region’s biggest news organization through a subscription and events agreement with the Boston Globe. The Globe story on the deal reports Biogen executives have found the paper’s comprehensive coverage of the pandemic to be of “particular importance for their employees” — but it makes no mention of the superspreader event, which one study says was responsible for 20,000 cases of COVID-19.

The Reminder, a hyper-local weekly owned by Advance Local, is expanding its coverage area beyond East Longmeadow and Easthampton to include Granby, Holyoke, and South Hadley. (Western Mass Politics & Insight)