The Massachusetts State Senate has passed a revised version of a police reform bill that was initially passed earlier this month. The revisions became necessary after Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker indicated that he would refuse to sign the bill in its original incarnation.
The new version relaxes some of the restrictions that were put in place to limit the police use of facial recognition. Most notably, the bill now allows the police to use public-facing facial recognition technology in select cases, and in particular in manhunt situations in which a person or a group of people is believed to be an active threat to the general public. Local police would need to file a written request with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Massachusetts State Police, or the FBI when using facial recognition in those cases.
The amendment also strips the proposed Peace Officer Standard and Training (POST) Commission of some of its powers. The independent Commission would have established a new division to oversee police training. Instead, the municipal police will retain control, giving civilians less oversight of the training process. The new bill also places a police union representative on the POST board, though civilians still outnumber police by a six to three margin.
The original bill would have banned the police use of facial recognition in any kind of surveillance application. However, the police would have been able to apply for a warrant to search for a facial recognition match as part of an investigation.
The authors of the original bill argued that a watered-down version of the bill is better than no bill at all, but nevertheless expressed frustration in the final outcome. The bill still needs to clear the House of Representatives before getting sent to the Governor for a signature.
“When given the choice of making necessary compromises or letting this bill be vetoed, it was unconscionable to me to not do what was necessary to lay this important foundation of accountability and transparency,” said Senate President Karen Spilka.
“Many of us secretly, quietly, with fear for the heart-break it made us vulnerable to, allowed a spark of hope back in June that this time it might be different, that our generation might step with contrition out of the patterns of America’s past, but it is not to be so,” added Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz. Chang-Diaz is a member of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.
Source: Government Technology
December 22, 2020 – by Eric Weiss