Licensing Pitched As Way to Address Police Misconduct
By Katie Lannan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- If Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes were to fire an officer for misconduct, a reference-check phone call would likely keep that person from getting a job at another department.
But, Kyes said Monday at State House panel, if the same officer resigned in lieu of being terminated, they might be able to apply and be hired at another law enforcement agency.
Kyes and others at the forum, hosted by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, voiced support for establishing a process through which police officers are certified to do their jobs and can be decertified if they commit misconduct.
Kyes, who is also an attorney, drew a parallel to the bar certification he needs to practice law.
“You take the bar exam, you’re licensed and you do something where there’s some type of misconduct, you can lose that license,” Kyes said. “I agree wholeheartedly that I think police officers should be licensed as well.”
Roger Goldman, a professor emeritus at St. Louis University School of Law whose work focuses on police licensing, said Massachusetts is one of five states without a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) system, along with California, Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
“Who else has the immense power to search, seize, deadly force?” Goldman said. “There’s no way to, for example, make sure they don’t continue in law enforcement if they have committed an obviously unfit act of misconduct. It’s really astounding when you think about it.”
Falmouth Republican Rep. David Vieira and Mattapan Democrat Rep. Russell Holmes filed a resolve this session that would create a 25-member commission to make recommendations around implementing a statewide POST system.
Rahsaan Hall, the racial justice program director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, told two stories he said illustrated a need for police licensing.
Hall said a Brockton sergeant once used department resources to collect a debt for a friend from a Cape Verdean man who owned a cleaning business, and racially taunted the man. The sergeant had left a job at another department, where there were allegations he had used his position to steal from a construction site, Hall said.
Hall also discussed Jennifer Garvey, an MBTA police officer from Wilmington who was convicted in July 2017 on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and filing a false report. Garvey hit Mary Holmes -- Rep. Holmes’ sister -- with her baton when Holmes became concerned with how Garvey was dealing with an intoxicated person and tried to intervene. Garvey then claimed in an arrest report that Holmes charged at her.
When Garvey was sentenced last year, a judge imposed a condition that she not seek or obtain a law enforcement job.
Hall said a police certification process would mean such a decision would “not be subject to the whims of a judge or a district attorney’s office that may or may not decide to prosecute a case.”
Rep. Holmes said his sister spoke up in that instance because she was a “strong, confident lady” who saw something she thought wasn’t right, but “that lady doesn’t exist today.” She now hesitates to go outside or come to family events, Holmes said.
“We may have not lost her life that day, but we lost her as a person,” he said.
State Police Exemption
Holmes urged audience members to advocate for the bill he filed with Vieira, which the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee included in a study order in February, according to a committee aide. Study orders typically mark a dead end for legislation.
Looking at the bill’s list of 23 cosponsors, “literally you will see, you don’t get any farther right and you don’t get any farther left,” Holmes said.
Kyes identified an “elephant in the room” with the bill -- its exclusion of the State Police. The bill specifies, “any proposed POST system shall not apply to the Department of the State Police.”
“At the end of the day, there’s municipal police, there’s Department of Correction personnel, there’s sheriffs, there’s college and university police and State Police, and I think that something like this in terms of certification, being certified as a result of your training and then possibly being decertified as a result of misconduct, should apply across the board to all police officers,” Kyes said.
Holmes said the State Police exemption was negotiated a year and a half ago in hopes of getting more people on board with the bill.
“We’ve had some incidents with the State Police, so we might be able to certainly revisit that conversation in a very different way now,” Holmes said.