War on law enforcement: Massachusetts Senate passes police reform bill, bans chokeholds and racial profiling

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BOSTON, MA – A bill passed by the Massachusetts Senate – that still requires both approval from the state House and the governor – aims to introduce police reform in numerous manners. 

When reviewing some of the proposed reforms, it seems to be a hodge-podge of reasonable reforms, redundant reforms, hamstringing of police reforms and seemingly pointless reforms. 

During the approval by the state Senate on December 1st, members of the Senate held a “moment of silence” for George Floyd. While perhaps performative to a degree, at least this moment of silence was devoid of kneeling with kente cloths

A general rundown of what this police reform bill, approved by the state Senate, covers is a limitation on qualified immunity protections of officers relating to lawsuits, banning chokeholds, racial profiling and the use of facial recognition technology. 

The bill also calls for the creation of a Standards and Training Commission to certify police officers and aid in alleged police misconduct cases. It also requires police officers to step in when a colleague is exerting excessive force. 

Massachusetts state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz referred to the passing within the Senate as a proud moment of her time within the legislature: 

“It is one of the proudest processes and pieces of work that I have had the privilege to participate in in my 12 years in this body.”

But, when affording an honest examination of some of the proposed reforms set forth in the bill passed by the Senate – there seems to be a mixed bag of sensical, nonsensical and essentially reforms of posturing rather than attainable substance. 

For instance, when looking at the reforms that make sense and seem to serve best interests, the Standards and Training Commission portion and compelling officers to intervene when a colleague oversteps their use-of-force or authority, make sense. 

With the SATC being involved in officer certifications and helping to investigate wrongdoings by police, it’s as simple as assembling the outfit and letting them get to work. 

There’s certainly nothing wrong with adding an additional facet to the process of ensuring great officers are onboarded and alleged misconduct is thoroughly investigated. 

When it comes to enabling good officers to put other officers ‘in check’ when they’re coloring outside of the proverbial lines, that’s also a great thing. If there’s one thing that good police officers cannot stand, it’s a bad police officer putting a stain on the badge. 

Then there’s the nice-on-paper seemingly redundant, and almost difficult to both enforce and monitor portion of the bill that bans “racial profiling” in policing. 

According to Oxford’s definition of “racial profiling” in a criminology context, it is defined as the following: 

“Racial profiling denotes the practice of targeting or stopping an individual based primarily on his or her race rather than more appropriate suspicious characteristics or behaviors.”

Obviously racial profiling is bad, but also, racial profiling (if it genuinely transpired in a policing scenario) is extremely difficult to prove unless there’s just some blatant giveaways betraying the act. 

Furthermore, the act of racial profiling is already admonished and, generally speaking, prohibited in one way or another at every police department across the country. 

Then there are the portions of the bill that hamstring police officers in certain scenarios – namely the banning of chokeholds. State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the following about that aspect of the bill: 

“So we now have a situation where a law enforcement officer whose life is in jeopardy would not be allowed to use a chokehold in a defensive way.”

Tarr’s mentioning of such makes complete sense.

If chokeholds are banned, why not just ban police having guns as well since they’re considerably more lethal than a chokehold? 

Rhetorical questioning aside, the idea of banning chokeholds makes zero sense considering that when in a combative scenario where a suspect is trying to grievously harm an officer, there shouldn’t be anything dubbed as a “banned” practice of defending one’s self. 

Which then brings us to the qualified immunity aspects as well.

If an officer is getting attacked, but either cannot or chooses not to use their firearm and opts for a chokehold, then there’s now an officer who didn’t commit a crime but is open to a lawsuit due to trying to take on qualified immunity. 

Police officers do not have the leisure of avoiding a dangerous situation when criminal conduct is involved and they’re present.

Their job compels them to inject themselves into scenarios where the subject or subjects they must detain will likely not be abiding by the very rules imposed on officers when it comes to a de facto Geneva Convention sort of rules of engagement when matters become combative. 

Furthermore, this proposed bill has already introduced language aimed at preventing excessive force when witnessed by other officers. Excessive force is already illegal as well, as it is tantamount to battery. 

So, of course, whether an officer yanks a driver out of a car or drops a chokehold two-seconds into a roadside stop for a turn signal violation, that is already covered through-and-through. 

But the idea of attempting to ban a defensive technique no matter what the circumstances are, is simply terrible legislation and betrays an inability to acknowledge the nuances of police and suspect interactions. 

As for facial recognition technology, well, that’s been a hot topic around the country. 

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We at Law Enforcement Today reported on how Portland passes a ban related to the technology and the rationale as to why. 

Here’s that previous report. 

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PORTLAND, OR – The Portland City Council recently passed a ban on specified uses of facial recognition technology across the city – and this ban happens to the strictest ban ever enacted within the nation.

Facial recognition technology has been a topic of heated debate when it pertains to citizens’ rights to privacy and now Portland is among the cities pushing back against said tech. Now the software is banned from use by city bureaus and extremely limiting the manner in which they’re used by private businesses.

This ban is the first ever in the United States to be enacted that specifically restricts how private companies use facial recognition software.  

So the restriction being imposed on private businesses doesn’t bar business owners from having and using facial recognition software exactly – but business owners cannot have the software used in a way where the technology is facing a public area like a sidewalk or street.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty introduced the agenda on September 9th, and the matter was passed unanimously across the City Council.

Commissioner Hardesty mentioned privacy concerns being the most important element to enacting said ban and restrictions:

“We own our privacy. And it’s our obligation to make sure that we’re not allowing people to gather it up secretly and sell it for profit or fear-based activity.”

During public testimony on the then-proposed ban before it passed, Darren Golden, policy strategist for the Urban League of Portland, was among those in favor of banning and restricting the use of the technology:

“The opposition to these bans will say [facial recognition technology] could be good, that we need to wait to see if this can be made better, that the algorithm can be made perfect. All of that is wrong. You cannot consent to having your facial data taken by camera on any public access way. Ever. You just can’t.”

Considering the sentiments mentioned by Golden, stating that people can’t consent to having their “facial data taken by camera on any public access way” – it’s rather interesting that Portland still uses red light cameras.

Albeit, while the technology between red light cameras is vastly different from facial recognition software, the result is somewhat synonymous. Because while a red light camera isn’t using one’s face to identify them – the technology is using their license plate which leads to the same outcome.

However, one blaring caveat is that facial recognition software has a bit of an issue when it comes to those with a darker hue skin. While the error rate for Caucasian men was .08% on positive matches, a study revealed that there’s a 34.7% error rate on positive matches when it comes to darker skinned women.

Basically, facial recognition software has a tendency to think that black women look fairly alike.

But there are some concerns that this ban wasn’t due to wanting to protect the privacy of innocent Portlanders – but rather make it so that the tech can’t be used in the event of rioters in the streets.

However, considering that this ban won’t go into effect until next year, it is uncertain whether that was a genuine hidden motivation by those who proposed the motion to enact the ban and restrictions on the use of said tech.

The latest set of bans and restriction on the software are reportedly going to go into effect on January 1st of 2021.


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